— Life Ball (@lifeball) March 23, 2015
Life Ball, the extravagant Austrian charity event put on by AIDS LIFE every year to benefit organizations that support people living with HIV/AIDS, has just released its Life Ball 2015 poster. The poster features Austrian singer Conchita Wurst in a stylized version of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. A version that is quite beautiful. A version photographed by famed German photographer Ellen von Unwerth.
In the Life Ball 2015 poster, Conchita Wurst stands against a backdrop painted to look like the golden throne Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer sat on. She is wearing an elaborate gold colored dress decorated with more than 12,000 Swarovski crystals and 0.5kg of pearls, and a jewelled neckband.
According to the organizers of Life Ball, the dress, which is more of a work of art than a dress, took more than 1,250 hours to make. Conchita, of course, looks stunning in it.
And while this poster for one of Europe’s biggest charity events is beautifully created, superbly photographed, and sure to be a big hit for Life Ball, two things about the subject and the person posing for it struck me.
Two things that made me think Life Ball could not have chosen a better person as Vienna’s modern day Adele than Conchita Wurst. And yet a choice that may eventually prove to be in one way, sadly, prophetic.
Conchita Wurst and echoes of Adele Bloch-Bauer
Since I first learned about Conchita Wurst almost a year ago, I’ve been fascinated by many things about her and her life. One thing in particular, however, has always intrigued me. The way Conchita Wurst (Tom Neuwirth), after years of being bullied as a child for being gay, moved from her hometown of Bad Mitterndorf to Graz. She was only 14 years old, yet already knew a life in such a small, provincial place was not for her.
But what fascinates me about this, isn’t that she went to Graz, or that she was so young when she did. It’s instead that, after Graz and graduation from fashion school, she headed to Vienna where she soon became part of a group of artists, some of whom are now influential in the artistic and cultural life of Vienna.
Much like the real life Adele Bloch-Bauer, who hosted her own Viennese salons to bring together artists, writers, poets and composers, and who sometimes seemed to live in a romanticized fantasy world, Conchita Wurst involved herself in a similar group and created the same kind of world for herself.
So, yes, it’s fitting Conchita Wurst is now, in some respects, immortalized as the modern day Adele Bloch-Bauer in the Life Ball photograph, just as Gustav Klimt immortalized the real Adele in his painting.
Conchita Wurst, Adele Bloch-Bauer and a Parallel Reality
There is another fascinating aspect in the choice of Conchita Wurst as ‘Goldene Adele’, and that is in a possible parallel reality between Adele Bloch-Bauer and Conchita Wurst. A reality I hope does not come true. And that lies in the story of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and what eventually happened to this astounding work of art.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was painted by Gustav Klimt as a commission by Adele’s husband, wealthy industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. When Adele Bloch-Bauer died in 1925 at the age of 43, in her will she asked her husband upon his death to leave the painting and other Klimt paintings the couple owned to the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere (the Austrian State Gallery).
But, when the Nazis took over Austria, being Jewish, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer escaped to Switzerland leaving most of his belongings behind, including Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and the other Klimt paintings. The paintings were then seized by the Nazi Party.
When Bloch-Bauer died in 1945, his will left the paintings to various nieces and nephews, including a niece, Maria Altmann, who had fled Austria for America after Austria was annexed by Germany. Later on, the paintings were eventually reclaimed by Austrian authorities and given to the Austrian State Gallery.
The story that follows is a complicated one involving a legal battle between Maria Altmann, Bloch-Bauer’s heir, and the Austrian government for ownership of the paintings. It culminated in Altmann winning the case in a US court, and all the Gustav Klimt paintings, including Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I , being awarded to her. (You can read about the painting, its history and the legal battle in Anne-Marie O’Connor’s fascinating book ‘The Lady in Gold‘).
Months later, Altmann sold Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I for an, at the time, record $135 million to Estée Lauder cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder who said about the painting “This is our Mona Lisa”.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is now on display in a New York art gallery. It is still a painting many Austrians feel belongs to the people of Austria, as it is a masterpiece by one of the country’s greatest painters, and it was bequeathed to them by Adele herself.
Which leads me to the idea of a parallel reality when it comes to Conchita Wurst as Adele Bloch-Bauer in this recreation of Gustav Klimt’s famous painting.
Because wouldn’t it be sad if history repeated itself, and this modern day Adele also eventually left Austria to go to a country where money and prestige is more important than history, culture and art. A country that did not create her, but wanted her for their own.
After all, as the recently added gender-neutral line to Austria’s national anthem says Austria is “Heimat großer Töchter und Söhne” (“Home to great daughters and sons”), and shouldn’t this daughter (and, in this case, also this son) always remain part of it?
Special Note: Conchita Wurst’s debut album ‘Conchita‘ will be released on May 15th, 2015. You can currently pre-order it on iTunes.
You can also read more about the lovely Conchita Wurst here:
Conchita and her darling personality — if you really want to know why she’s going to get to superstardom above and beyond the usual reasons.
Love Conchita? You’ll love her more than life after this, because if you already think she’s lovely, you may just not know about these things.
Conchita debuts new single ‘You Are Unstoppable’ in Germany, rather than Austria this time.