Alessandra Comini Honored by Egon Schiele Museum

Work by art history professor emerita is key part of new exhibit in Austria

Alessandra Comini, center, with Johanna Miki-Leitner, governor of Lower Austria, left, and Christian Bauer, curator of the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln. The plaque, written in German, translates to: “... The golden honor of merit for services to the state of Lower Austria, awarded April 6, 2018 ... to Dr. Alessandra Comini.” This is the second time Comini has received a service award from Austria for her research and work on artist Egon Schiele. Photo by NLK Pfeiffer, courtesy of the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln.

The life of Expressionist artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is explored in depth in a new exhibit at the Egon Schiele Museum in Tulln, Austria, featuring research by SMU Meadows Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita Alessandra Comini.

Comini’s contributions to the “Egon Schiele Private: A Biographical Approach” exhibit include six video monitor stations where visitors can learn about the life of Schiele, based on taped interviews she conducted with Schiele’s two sisters and sister-in-law 49 years after his death. The presentations, which use actors to represent Comini and the Schiele relatives, use Comini’s original interview recordings from 1967.

According to a 2011 article by William Boyd in The Guardian, Schiele’s paintings of candid and erotic nudes shocked 20th-century Vienna. The artistic talent shown by Schiele, a protégé of Gustav Klimt, was thought of as exceptional by many of his time. Others found his art to be obscene. In 1912 he was arrested on public immorality charges and spent 24 days in jail. On October 31, 1918, Schiele died from the Spanish flu at age 28, after which his art receded into the background for decades before interest in his work returned in the 1970s.

“Schiele, because of his extraordinary talent and unreserved depiction of sexuality, speaks to each new generation as they question the meaning of life and its secrets,” says Comini. “He broke away from the elegant style of art nouveau practiced by his mentor Gustav Klimt, and worked in a terse, angular style that did away with façade and penetrated into the psyche. Moving from the environmental to the existential, he thus mirrored what was happening in music, literature, dance and architecture in Freud’s Vienna.”

The State of Lower Austria honored Comini with a gold medal and service award on the opening day of the “Egon Schiele Private” exhibit at the new Schiele Museum in Tulln in April. It was the second time she received a service award from Austria for her work on Schiele. In 1990 the Republic of Austria gave Comini a similar service-to-the-nation award for her research, which included her 1963 discovery of the location of Schiele’s unknown, forgotten Neulengbach prison cell.

Schiele’s work can also be seen in four additional museums including the Egon Schiele Museum in Neulengbach, and in the Leopold, Belvedere and Albertina museums in Vienna.

“This speaks to the preservation of one of Austria’s truly great artists on whom there are novels, movies and even ballets,” says Comini.

Life of Egon Schiele
Museum visitors in front of one of the video displays about the life of Schiele. Photo by Martina Siebenhandl, courtesy of the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln.

About Alessandra Comini

Alessandra Comini, SMU University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, has published eight scholarly books and numerous reviews, essays and articles for national and international publications. She was awarded the Grand Cross of Honor by the Republic of Austria for her work on Germanic art and music in 1990 and the Golden Honor of Merit for Services to the State of Lower Austria in 2018. She has contributed chapters to a wide variety of specialist books while authoring a number of exhibition catalogues and opera booklets. Comini also offers several illustrated lectures, many of which have been commissioned by institutions such as The Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum, American Musicological Society and Curtis Institute of Music, among others. Her work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Swedish. In 2014 she began writing the Megan Crispi series of art history murder mystery books, including The Schiele Slaughters, The Kokoschka Capers, The Munch Murders and The Kandinsky Conundrum, among other titles.

“Egon Schiele Private: A Biographical Approach” opened on April 7 and will run through November 11, 2018 at the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln, in Tulln, Austria.

Read more about Alessandra Comini, the SMU Meadows Art History Department, and the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln.