Wien Bar

New York

Left: Philanthropist Larry Leeds. Right: Neue Galerie cofounder Ronald Lauder with Neue Galerie director Renee Price. (All photos: Dawn Chan)

Arriving at the Neue Galerie on Monday evening for a screening (in fact, the US premiere, though it could hardly have been less red-carpet) of Klimt, a new biopic of the painter directed by Raoul Ruiz, I noticed that not one but two seats bore the name tags of its star, John Malkovich. It was as if my best efforts at suppressing thoughts of Spike Jonze’s mischievous fantasy Being John Malkovich (1999)—in which the actor is used and abused in the strangest of ways—were being consciously derailed; sipping my champagne in the tiny basement screening room prior to curtain up, I couldn’t help but picture the arrival of multiple Malkoviches, perhaps all squabbling with one another in the manner of Jonze’s unnerving restaurant scene.

But of course, it was not to be; Malkovich turned up unaccompanied by clones and, after some schmoozing over drinks, took his—beautifully designed, natch, but hard—seat among the well-heeled, mostly senior crowd of about fifty people, from which expected guests Don DeLillo and Chelsea Clinton were conspicuously absent. This being not a museum but a gallery (and a determinedly retro gallery at that), the screen itself was a modest size and the projection was from a DVD with a small but noticeable glitch. Still, with no popcorn, and with the star himself in attendance, full concentration was mandatory. Unfortunately, Klimt proved to test the caliber of one’s attention.

Ruiz’s treatment of the Austrian symbolist’s life story is nothing if not idiosyncratic, though the whirl of character and detail with which it begins makes the first third tough to follow. The movie is certainly visually seductive—its representation of the painter’s life as a sequence of deathbed fever dreams occasionally makes for an almost psychedelic look, and there’s usually at least one nubile life model on hand—but the characterization is marred at times by an overcooked mannerism (Malkovich’s undeniable presence notwithstanding). The interpolation of facts and figures about the artist and his circle also feels rather contrived and omits much that might have been illuminating. In Ruiz’s account, Klimt’s art takes a backseat to his constant womanizing and even to his occasional flan flinging; rarely was cake rubbed in an adversary’s face at such luxuriant length.

Left: Conservator Hermes Knauer with Katherine Knauer. Right: Designer Marjorie Nezin.

After the film had ended (to, it must be said, a rather cool reaction), we snaked upstairs for a buffet dinner courtesy of Café Sabarsky’s fiery head chef Kurt Gutenbrunner. Artnet’s Charlie Finch worked the room (overheard: “Barbara Gladstone still hates me”) while avuncular gallerist Perry Rubenstein and cultural PR guru Sara Fitzmaurice set up camp close to Malkovich and entourage. I dined with the animated Vera Mijojlic, in town from Los Angeles to represent the film’s distributor, Outsider Pictures. Gutenbrunner, belatedly joining our table, plugged his own upcoming project—an “art and food” book designed to clean up in museum stores. He also recalled watching Malkovich in a powwow with Julian Schnabel at his Tribeca eatery Blaue Gans, both men drawing on the tablecloth just as Klimt and mate Egon Schiele are shown doing in the film.

After dinner, it was up to the galleries for a quick preview of the new exhibition, “Gustav Klimt: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections.” (Lauder, of course, attracted copious attention last year for splurging $135 million on Klimt’s 1907 portrait Adele Bloch-Bauer I and has drawn fire recently for neglecting to issue documentation of his collection’s provenance.) Focusing on Klimt’s drawings—there are 126 of them on display, along with eight paintings—the show also features a wealth of related ephemera, including the artist’s iconic blue smock, selected correspondence, and a number of photographs that reveal Malkovich’s uncanny likeness to the artist. Perhaps there was something to that extra name tag after all.

Michael Wilson