Adele Bloch-Bauer

The Girl Behind the Gold

Snooki wore a gold mini-dress to her 24th Birthday bash in Las Vegas. Kim Kardashian launched her own perfume brand, ‘Gold’.

But Snooki-Kardashian bling doesn’t begin to compare to Adele Bloch-Bauer, ‘The Lady in Gold”, immortalized in Gustav Klimt’s famous gold-leaf artwork.

The 1907 painting, originally titled, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”, was commissioned by Adele’s husband, a Czech sugar magnate. The work was a labor of love and lust for Mr Klimt, a notorious seducer of his models, which might partly explain why he took a leisurely three years to finish this masterpiece.

So who is the lady behind the glitter? Adele Bloch-Bauer was a frequent scenester at the Salons of Vienna, circa 1900s. (The Viennese Salons were the equivalent of TED Talks, “Ideas Worth Spreading”, but with Absinthe and cigars). On any given night, there’d be an elite gathering of artists, intellectuals, writers and anyone who wanted to be inspired by ideas and intelligent conversation. It was here that the waif-like beauty became entwined with the charismatic, sexually charged and irreverent Gustav Klimt. It was during this cultural golden age that Klimt, having pulled himself up from poverty and into fame as a workaholic artist and serial philanderer, created his best-known works. Unfortunately, the gritty details of the affair between Klimt and Bloch-Bauer are left to our imaginations as nothing of their liaison has been recorded. But given Bloch-Bauer’s love of conversation and Klimt’s lusty, animal persona, we could speculate that there was at least some high-brow dirty talk going on.
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But this is just the beginning of the story. During WWII, Bloch-Bauer’s portrait was seized by the Nazis and renamed ‘The Dame in Gold’ to erase her Jewish identity. Sixty years after the theft, the painting became the subject of lengthy litigation between Bloch-Bauer’s surviving family members and the Austrian government, a case that somehow ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The painting was eventually returned to the heirs and sold at auction for a record sum of $135 million in 2006. The painting was purchased by Ronald Lauder, son of beauty industry legend, Estee Lauder. The Lady in Gold now stands as majestic and timeless as ever in the Neue Galerie, NYC.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Celebrate NYC: Mia Fonssagrives Solow’s New York-Inspired Design Collection Opens March 28th

Sure, summer in the city might be so good it warrants a song (and a whole lot of tourists), but true New Yorkers know the city is in its prime during the spring; happy hours move outside, picnics replace nights in on Netflix, and the underground subways don’t yet feel like a urine-saturated, scalding underworld.

So when the city is at its best, why not celebrate it! On March 28th, artist and designer Mia Fonssagrives Solow launches her New York-inspired collection at The Museum of the City of New York. A testament to the beauty, brilliance, and eccentricity of NYC, the collection showcases a sundry array of home goods, fashion pieces, and jewelry. Trace the skyline and towering skyscrapers gleaming in the scarves, vases, and cuff links; follow the city’s grid fashioned on a fashionable dress. When you’re done, try to piece together NYC with a wooden puzzle.
 
Gleaming with the skyline, crystalline city lights, and even its signature sports colors, Fonssagrives honors the city and the people who have helped shape it. In a way, its almost like celebrating yourself – so, why not?
 
Mia Fonssagrives Dress

Yayoi Kusama

Painter/Sculptor & Director of Orgies

In her day, Yayoi Kusama was as popular as Warhol amongst Pop Art aficionados. She was both prolific and daring, making headlines with her Nude Body Painting Festivals and anti-war demonstrations. In her spare time, she also directed performance-art orgies in secret Manhattan bunkers, paying police bribes to avoid arrest. Who knew you could do so much with polka-dots?

Her journey to Pop Art icon came via Japan, where Kusama grew up in a wealthy but oppressive home. It was here she developed an ability to imagine or ‘hallucinate’ her way out to infinity by painting and drawing polka dots.

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Inspired by the work of Georgia O’Keefe, Kusama traveled to New York in the late 1950’s. Despite having no English language, little money and few friends, she began creating large-scale polka dot paintings and selling them as fast as she could. Before long she developed a reputation as an avant-garde artist and was embraced by the New York art scene.

Not content with the vast polka-dotted universe she’d built, Kusama began to design her own clothing range, Kasuma Dress and Textile, which sold at department stores and boutiques all over the United States.

But Kasuma’s journey through Pop Art world would eventually come to an end. Due to mental illness, she returned to Japan in the late 1970s and by choice, checked herself into a mental hospital. It was here that Kasuma began yet another artistic incarnation, this time as a writer. She has since written and published over 23 novels, short stories and poetry books, including the shocking and surrealistic novels, The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street (1983) and Violet Obsession (1998).

In 2008, Christies New York sold a work of Kasuma’s for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist at the time.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Frida Kahlo

One of history’s greatest Divas.

She was a tequila-slamming, dirty-joke telling bi-sexual who hobbled about in colorful indigenous dresses and threw wild dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo certainly deserved to party. The great artist spent most of her life suffering enormous pain, inflicted first by a serious bus accident, then by a tempestuous love affair with Diego.

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Frida had already survived polio, but at 18, she suffered a more lasting devastation as a result of a bus accident in Mexico City, where she was studying medicine. The impact shattered her pelvis and caused multiple fractures to her spine and ribs. She spent over a year in multiple casts staring at a blank canvas – the white ceiling above her. It was here, caged in a plaster cast, that Frida began to paint. She started painting on her own body cast and then took her visceral, pain-filled colorful images onto much larger canvases. The rest is history.

It wasn’t long before Kahlo became a respected artist, but her fame was over-shadowed when, at 22, she married Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist, who was twenty years her senior.

Their wayward, passionate relationship survived infidelities, career pressures, divorce, remarriage, poor health and finally her inability to have children. Frida once said: “I suffered two grave accidents in my life…One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego.”

During her lifetime, Frida created over 200 paintings, 55 of them self-portraits. In 1953, Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico. Against doctor’s orders, she arrived in an ambulance and was wheeled in on a stretcher-bed so she could celebrate with guests and horizontally swill champagne.

Today, more than half a century after her death, her iconic paintings are highly sought after, fetching prices that would’ve paid for those awesome tequila-filled dinner parties, and more. Her work and many of her personal belongings are on display in her house, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacan, Mexico.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Leigh Bowery

The Polysexual Performance artist who shocked London.

As a plump and studious young man growing up in a working-class Australian town, Leigh Bowery was made to feel uncomfortable in his own skin. So it’s probably no coincidence that he spent the rest of his life making others feel uncomfortable in theirs.

He was a walking, talking mass of color and confrontation, wearing the most outrageous costumes wherever he went. He pushed the concepts of body-shape, fashion and art in bold new directions, inspiring a generation of designers and artists, including Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and The Scissor Sisters. Boy George called him “modern art on legs.” Lucien Freud painted a whole series of nude portraits of him.

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Using his loud, fun and abrasive wit, which matched the size of his body, Bowery shocked his way into London’s nightclub and art scene. He even started the infamous “Taboo” – a club night that became London’s version of Studio 54, only much wilder and without the celebrities – although they came flocking later. For everyone stepping through the doors of Taboo, it was a truly unforgettable experience. Through the late 80s, Bowery was invited to host numerous club nights from New York and Tokyo to Rome.

“The extraordinary thing was that it was never drag – it was really costume,” said William Lieberman, former chairman of 20th Century Art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “I mean, he wasn’t trying to imitate or personify anyone else. He was simply creating a new being.”

When Bowery died of an AIDS-related illness on New Year’s Eve 1994, his passing was marked by sizable obituaries in The New York Times, all the London broadsheets and, weirdly (but aptly), a large number of Japanese newspapers. Since then he has been celebrated in three books (two biographies and a collection of photographs); in a documentary movie by American filmmaker Charles Atlas and in a music video for U2, as part of their PopMart tour.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Peter Beard

The Half Tarzan, Half Poet who captured Africa.

Peter Beard, the original wild-man-poet-adventurer, has been as fearless roaming the nightclubs of Manhattan as the plains of Kenya. He liked to surround himself with dangerous things. Sometimes pretty women, drugs and booze; other times lions, guns and trampling elephants. For the son of a wealthy industrialist, this was not the typical career choice.

Beard’s dashing spirit inspired the likes of Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon. Andy Warhol, his friend and neighbor (in Montauk, NY) once described Beard as:

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“One of the most fascinating men in the world…he’s like a modern Tarzan. He jumps in and out of the snake pit he keeps at his home. He cuts himself and paints with the blood. He wears sandals and no socks in the middle of Winter. He lived in a parked car on 13th Street for six months. He moved when he woke up and found a transvestite sleeping on the roof.”

Even though this Tarzan had many Janes, the one who stirred the loincloth of his youth was the brilliant Danish author Karen Blixen (aka Isak Denison) who wrote Out of Africa. The novel inspired Beard to travel to Africa in the late 50s, barefoot and penniless, but it was the beginning of a creative period that would inspire his magnificent journals and artworks.

Beard’s defining secret may be that he does not care (or know) what the world thinks of him. He is a photographer who has contempt for photography, a diarist whose words are pictures and his pictures, words. He is a city playboy who only feels at home in the wild. He is a trust-fund kid who was perennially broke.

 Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Klaus Nomi

Intergalactic Space Punk Opera singer

It wasn’t only his space-punk-waiter look that mesmerized people, it was his beautiful otherworldly voice. Klaus Nomi, a trained opera singer from Germany, fell to earth in the late 1970s, landing in New York at a time where disco was dying or at least needed to be killed.

Like most artists of the day, he began waiting tables to pay the rent. But after late night shifts, he would belt out stunning arias for the tired staff. News of the impromptu space operas spread and Nomi soon landed a gig at Irving Plaza’s New Wave Vaudeville show, where freakishness was de rigueur. A promotional flyer at the time advertised for “acts like Egyptian slaves, B-girl hostesses, robot monsters, geeks…and emotional cripples”. Klaus had found his home.

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It was here that Klaus Nomi debuted an outfit that a late-night news reporter would describe as a “Weimar tuxedo spaced out in future shock.” But time and again, it was Nomi’s falsetto voice that out-shocked his physical presence. So much so, an announcer would often come on stage to remind the audience that his singing was real.

Nomi’s amazing act spread when David Bowie, the original frontier spaceman, used Nomi as a back-up singer on a Saturday Night Live show in 1979. (Bowie wore a Tristan Tzara-inspired tuxedo that closely resembled what would become Nomi’s signature look). The universe suddenly expanded and Nomi found himself performing alongside New York’s most beautiful vagrants, artists and musicians, which at times included Joey Arias, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, John Sex and Kenny Scharf.

After releasing just two albums, “Klaus Nomi” and “Simple Man,” he became one of the world’s first celebrities to die of AIDS. 1n 1983, at just 39, his ashes were rocketed into the sky and scattered over New York City.

Text by Howard Collinge 

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