Egon Schiele (h2so4 10)
Retrospective 
Museum of Modern Art, New York 

There are visible outlines to many of these paintings, but outlines which avoid the enclosure of a stark line, because they exist only as projected by the viewer's imagination into the foreground from the shapes which populate the background. In other words, what lies behind appears paradoxically to define the contours of what lies in front of it: this creates what might be labeled the paranoid effect of the back-space impinging on our frontal views. Which parts of these paintings are areas of fascination? There are some specific ones, but they are certainly not to be found at the site of the regularly exposed genitals. This fact could lead us to contemplate the idea that the fig-leaf has been displaced: in uncovering the genitals and covering up other parts of the body, the secret has not been revealed and unraveled, but rather housed somewhere else. It's as if the other parts of the body are finally getting their day in the sun: because they, too, get to be tantalizingly covered up, we are now free to enjoy them. However there is also a tantalizing quality to the spaces, the unfilled areas in between the painted pieces of flesh (whether covered or uncovered). The roles appear to have been reversed: the uncovered flesh in turn now acts as a cloak which hides the clear space behind it. Some bits of blank space show through, as if they were doing a striptease in which the fan covers an arm, the whole body is another fan, while behind the fan that the body makes lie the seductions of an empty space. This space, drained of content except as the potential for content, could in fact provide a new point of projection for fantasy, should we tire of the redundant display of bodies. And yet sometimes the white space too acts as a cloaking device (when contemplating these paintings, this Russian doll structure could go on forever). A white background jumps into the foreground when a dark piece of fabric is laid over it. The surrounding white area has become a frame, a keyhole, which delineates the amount of colored patterns to which we are given access. We imagine that the patterned area could extend on behind the white space, as if the blank paper had cropped it. 

All of this visual activity of sorting out the cloak from what it hides, of distinguishing the planes which obstruct our view from those which are obstructed, is made even more difficult by those places in the paintings in which the outlines are broken. A small line dangles like a hanging thread from Klimt's dead face, which is otherwise etchedly drawn. The contour of a girl's body, otherwise seamless, breaks off below her thigh, daring us to deny that it not only belongs to, but cannot be imagined apart from its context. This, by the way, I find a very different gesture than the one which makes a richly ornamented tapestry out of the background or foreground, and then asserts that the body, too, is an ornament, or that desire is to be rendered as an icon. Rather than leveling out all the elements on the playing field to assimilate them all to a uniformly decorated surface, Schiele's paintings raise all of these elements up one by one, making more fields for them, so that the severed nude figure and its cloak and its background seem at once independent from one another complete, severed-off shapes in themselves and impossible to visualize separately (try to do it). 

All elements in the composition are dealt with evenly not because equal portions of superficiality have been handed all around, but because nude, cloak, background, etc., are all similarly compromised and similarly unfathomable. (Perhaps this could help to provide a model for a new kind of aesthetic politics.) 

It thus seems either very fitting or very silly that I had to fight my way to the front of the crowd in order to get an unobstructed view of any one of these paintings, views which were nevertheless well worth shoving for.

Amy H. König