Marcin Maciejowski

Having been invited by Thomas Trummer, curator of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, to be an artist in residence at the Atelier Augarten for the summer of 2006, the Polish painter Marcin Maciejowski could hardly help responding to the Belvedere’s large Gustav Klimt collection and the countless works by Egon Schiele in Vienna. Maciejowski studied these local fin-de-siècle heroes, painted as if obsessed for nights on end, and then cavalierly populated the Augarten’s international group show “after Schiele” with his own works; he also mounted a solo show at the Galerie Meyer Kainer. The residency further afforded him a front-row seat from which to witness the scandal that unfolded around the restitution of Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, part of the Belvedere’s collection, to the American descendants of the painting’s original owner, who was forced to flee from the Nazis. The golden Adele recently sold for $135 million, and it now hangs in the Neue Galerie in New York, where it is attracting record numbers of visitors.

This important piece gave the show its title: “I Used to Live in Vienna.” Maciejowski’s painting of this name (all works 2006) shows Adele together with her heir Maria Altmann and Elisabeth Gehrer, the public official responsible for organizing the restitution. Maciejowski has placed quotations from these women in speech bubbles and has them all circling a pictogram of a deteriorated Belvedere. This concise mapping of a conflicted situation creates a comic-book, ornamental work that nonetheless defines the historical and thematic framework of the exhibition.

Like Wilhelm Sasnal and Rafal Bujnowski, Maciejowski used to be a member of the painter “boy band” Grupa Ladnie (Polish for “pretty group”). He observed the incredible passion for “Klimt’s women” as evidenced by countless exhibitions, museum gift shops, and kitschy feature films, and then transferred this matrix of medial fictions—the dandy, la vie bohème, and the eroticism of the avant-garde—onto his own artistic practice. In addition to his ten-part appropriation of Klimt’s studies for the portrait of Friederike Maria Beer, 1916, Maciejowski has provided a list of the subtle color differences in the types of paper used by Klimt for that piece. In 1910/1914 (G. Klimt/E. Schiele), a virtuoso grisaille painting that makes reference to black-and-white photography, he has combined iconic historical images into a large painted photomontage that brings Klimt and Schiele together.

Maciejowski offers his personal take on human relations, acting as commentator and reporter. The painting With Lidka shows him sitting drunk at the bar next to his muse, who is dressed as a dominatrix, and the portrait Lidia shows the same woman in a Basic Instinct pose. Elsewhere, we find portraits of Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale in boots and Stetsons, Do Not Copy (BB) and Do Not Copy (CC), and a legend of Polish theater, portrayed in Tadeusz Kantor (Wystawa Sztuki Nowoszesne, 1948) (Tadeusz Kantor [Exhibition of Modern Art, 1948]), surrounded by admirers on a visit to the last uncensored art exhibition in Poland until recent times.

Maciejowski does not invent; he simply records grim reality. Yet he is also open to all kinds of fictions, using them to reconstruct reality from interpretations. Melancholy and ennui, wit and irony are his tools for observing society and politics. He is a great satirist and a passionate painter.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.