June 12, 2009
EGON SCHIELE (1890-1918) was the best thing about the blizzard I spent in Vienna. I had gone to see the remnants of a nervous splendor, expecting well-behaved aesthetic souvenirs from a once-hypermodern past. But when I got to the Schieles my careful tourism fell apart. They raged off the canvas — violent, distorted, explicit nudes, confrontational gazes, feverish spots of color against lead white, black sketchy outlines that would not be in vogue until the advent of the postpunk zine. Shot through it all was an incredible and paradoxical optimism that I could not then, and cannot now, reduce to any one aspect or combination. Schiele’s self-portraits (and they are all, in essence, self-portraits) have been categorized as expressionism, pornography, even anorexic chic. I would instead borrow Rod Steiger’s self-description in Dr. Zhivago, and call Schiele’s work “not high-minded, not pure — but alive.”
READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut Generation (1874–1883).