Austria agreed yesterday to allow one of its most prized artworks, Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss," to travel to New York for the exhibition "Vienna 1900: Art, Architecture and Design," opening at the Museum of Modern Art July 3.
Walter Greinert, press attache' for the Austrian Embassy, said that although museums around the world have long tried to borrow it, this will be the first time the painting has been allowed to leave Austria.
He called it Austria's "effort to make this exhibit all the greater." Asked if the decision to send "The Kiss" had anything to do with anti-Austrian sentiments over allegations about the Nazi past of Austrian president-elect Kurt Waldheim, he said it is "a gesture to the United States."
Kirk Varnedoe, curator of the exhibition, said that the Vienna show has been planned since the 1970s. "We have no connection with the current political climate," he said. "The two things happen to coincide."
"The Kiss," almost six feet square, is a painting of a couple kneeling in embrace. They're enclosed in what Varnedoe describes as "a kind of nimbus of gold," the man bending to kiss the woman on the neck.
"The Austrians regard it as a national treasure," Varnedoe said, adding that the show will also feature a second Klimt, the portrait "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," which he described as "a supreme masterpiece of the golden style." Varnedoe would not estimate the paintings' value.
The show, which includes paintings, handicrafts, furniture and such recreated examples of Austrian cultural life as a Viennese coffeehouse, concentrates on Viennese contributions to early modern art between 1898 and 1918. Varnedoe called it the "high point of great Jewish culture in Vienna."
"Vienna 1900" was at the Pompidou Center in Paris before coming to New York, but Greinert said that "The Kiss" was not taken to Paris despite efforts by the French to have it included.
Greinert described the painting as "very delicate" and difficult to transport because it must travel in an upright position.