At the age of twenty-two, Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) became famous overnight for his appearance in the seminal Vienna Kunstschau of 1908. Gustav Klimt, then president of the Vienna Secession, described Kokoschka as "the outstanding talent among the younger generation". Critics were more divided ; one, referring to the artist's agitated Expressionist style, called Kokoschka the "Oberwilding [super savage] of Vienna".
Oskar Kokoschka : Early Portraits from Vienna and Berlin, 1909-1914 focuses on Kokoschka and his early portraiture, perhaps the best-known and most esteemed part of the artist's wide-ranging oeuvre. By showing more than thirty oil portraits painted in Vienna and Berlin on the eve of World War I, the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue survey Kokoschka's art of this period and the intellectual milieu in which the artist worked. Among the key works are portraits of Peter Altenberg, Adolf Loos, and Alma Mahler, and the Self-Portrait as Knight Errant. The point of departure is the seven early portraits in the collections of Neue Galerie New York and its founders.
In addition to the oil portraits, the exhibition and catalogue include a rare selection of the artist's drawings, many featuring the same sitters he portrayed in oil. Examples of Kokoschka's work for the Wiener Werkstätte (postcards, posters, fans) demonstrate the artist's swift passage from Jugendstil to Expressionism, and from illustrator to artist. Of particular note are fans made for Alma Mahler, with whom Kokoschka had a legendary love affair. A special section is devoted to the architect Adolf Loos, who had a guiding role in the artistic development of the young Kokoschka.
The guest curator of the exhibition is Dr. Tobias Natter, Keeper of the Twentieth-Century Collection of the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna. The exhibition opens at the Neue Galerie New York, then travels to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany.