Museum Stories

Life In Motion Review: Egon Schiele And Francesca Woodman At Tate Liverpool

Jon Kelly 2 August 2018 min Read

The current Life in Motion exhibition at Tate Liverpool features a dual display by two equally compelling artists. Captivating studies by Austrian painter Egon Schiele are accompanied by the mesmeric images of American photographer Francesca Woodman. Whilst the pairing isn’t intended to provoke clear comparisons between their distinct perspectives, this combined retrospective offers a collective display of physical vibrancy and unsettling allure.

The Tate’s frank yet highly commanding showcase is a rare chance to experience Schiele and Woodman in startling synthesis. Their output runs parrallel in the shared scrutiny of time and space via the disintegrating human figure. Through potent compositions, both artists investigate the eternal struggle between liberated bodies and mortal frailty. Fleeting self- reflections are candidly revealed through both mirror and lens.

Schiele and Francesca woodman
Egon Schiele, Standing Male Figure (Self-Portrait), 1914, gouache & graphite on paper, National Gallery, Prague
Francesca Woodman, from Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silver print, courtesy of Charles Woodman/Estate of Francesca Woodman

The exhibition’s curators, Marie Nipper and Tamar Hemmes, have avoided placing Schiele and Woodman alongside each other throughout most of the Tate’s show space. This approach enables visitors to formulate their own connections between each artist as individual collections of work are explored. The presentation feels less prescribed as a result. Themes emerge through the shared approaches and explorations of two artists active at opposite ends of the twentieth century. Binding their visual language is a sensuous treatment of beauty and decay. Schiele heightens his figurative intensity through rapidly sketched skeletal frames lay splayed in a canvas void. Woodman’s studies are similarly bare but seemingly melt into the deteriorating interiors of her rotting studio via long photographic exposures.

Egon Schiele, Standing Man, 1913, gouache, watercolour & pencil on paper, Ömer Koç collection
Francesca Woodman, Then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silver print, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, courtesy of Charles Woodman/Estate of Francesca Woodman

Chief amongst many striking elements throughout each artist’s work is the timeless quality of these perpetually absorbing compositions. Schiele’s vigorous outline and flickers of colour are a joy to behold in such intimate proximity. His selected materials are very much apparent as we are witness to the luscious sway of pencil marks and dazzling dashes of watercolour or gouache. Simple pleasures are gained through the delicate crumple of ancient paper or the humble stain of watermarks in paint, observations absent from standard reproductions in books or prints.

Similarly, Woodman’s photography is direct and intimate. She evokes a tangible visual domain amidst the unsettling shadows of her perishing spaces. The monochrome austerity informing her images only serves to heighten the dank, gothic air of her deteriorating environment. Experiencing these works in relaxed proximity will leave a firm impression on visitors to the exhibition. The pleasure in viewing these pieces at close range serves to bring us closer to the profound links that exist between this unique pairing.

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait in Crouching Position, 1913, gouache and graphite on paper, Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silver print, courtesy of Charles Woodman/Estate of Francesca Woodman

Ultimately, Life in Motion presents an impressive range of work from both Schiele and Woodman. Pieces have been secured from an array of sources including private collections, museums, and family estates. What is satisfying about the Tate’s tandem display of two corresponding artists is the sense that art continually renews itself in terms of style and medium, but remains largely embroiled in the human condition. Schiele and Woodman represent the body ensnared in time; contorted within the flowing passage of reality. Both artists died tragically young at the height of their creativity, but each provides a perfect glimpse into their transitory existence. Thankfully, we are left with these haunting traces of two insightful artists struggling to establish their physical impression against the lurching sway of time.

Egon Schiele, Standing Male Nude, 1910, watercolour, goache, black chalk and graphite on paper, Ömer Koç collection
Francesca Woodman, Untitled New York, 1979, gelatin silver estate print, courtesy of Charles Woodman/Estate of Francesca Woodman

Find out more:

The Life In Motion exhibition runs until Sunday 23rd September at Tate Liverpool.

Further details can be found on the museum’s website.

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