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Debora Silverman
University of California, Los Angeles

Gold Rush, Congo Style: Gustav Klimt’s Marble Mosaic Frieze in the Brussels Palais Stoclet, 1905-1911

Gustav Klimt achieved what he considered the highpoint of his experiments with ornament not in Vienna, but in Brussels, where he designed, with unlimited budget, a large-scale frieze of gold and bejeweled mosaics to wrap the dining room walls for the Palais Stoclet (1905-1911). This remarkable work revitalized Klimt’s career and changed his style. The Stoclet project also concentrates myriad and unrecognized connections to Africa. Klimt became enmeshed in a web of links that tied his patron and circles of Brussels elites to the Congo and to Egypt. These shape not only the circumstances of his commission but the stylistic forms, raw materials, and figural compositions that he devised for it. Vienna, golden style, is reborn in the gold rush of the Belgian empire.

By restoring imperialism to the center of the story, this talk identifies two coordinates for our analytic field. First, the stylistic development of Klimt’s “golden style,” offering new evidence for his reliance on Egyptian tomb art for his Brussels project. Here Silverman suggests a link between ancient Egyptian archaeology and Belgian occupation of the Congo as conduits of modernist primitivism. Second, the Stoclet house as an imperial Gesamtkunstwerk, embodying not only a resplendent unity of all the arts but a voracious entitlement to global bounty, exemplified in Klimt’s patron, the banker-engineer Adolphe Stoclet. By close focus on this work of Gustav Klimt and his patron, a missing chapter of what Silverman calls “imperial modernism” comes into view. This history makes visible what has been invisible: the facts, artifacts, sources, resources—both financial and cultural—and raw materials that are inextricably linked to European expansionism in Africa.

Wednesday, December 1, 12:15 pm
Via Zoom

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Debora Silverman is Distinguished Professor of History and Art History at UCLA, where she holds the University of California Presidential Chair in Modern European History, Art and Culture. She received her BA, MA, and PhD from Princeton University. She teaches and has written widely on the visual arts, politics, and the emergence of the irrational in fin-de-siècle Europe, as well as critical studies of art, memory, colonialism, decolonizing the museum, and legacies of violence in the contemporary world.

This event will be held via Zoom and screened in the Lecture Hall. A link will be circulated to registrants by 10 am on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.