Monday, March 07, 2016

Testing, Testing: The Golden Tarot of Klimt

There are some gift bags that I just can't part with. Like this one, for instance; it hung on my bedroom doorknob for a while, then migrated to a spot on the floor with other homeless items, where it gathered dust and fell out of memory. I didn't know anything about the picture; I just knew that I loved it. 


A couple of months ago  I picked up this used DVD at the neighbourhood video store's 3-for-$20 sale. It had Helen Mirren on the cover; what more did I need to know, really?
Without bothering to squint at the plot in tiny print on the back of the cover, I watched the movie, and only at the end learned that it was based on a true story, moving back and forth in time between the horrors of the Nazi take-over of Vienna in 1938, and the present. In one day, the lives of accomplished and established Jewish families in that beautiful city twisted beyond recognition. Respected, loved, accepted skewed to despised, jeered at, hunted.

Helen Mirren's character is the 80-something Maria Altmann, whose cultured and well-to-do family had commissioned five paintings by the up-and-coming modern artist, Gustav Klimt. Among them is the famous Woman in Gold, a portrait of Maria's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was snatched by the Nazis along with the rest of the family's valuables. The story centers around Maria's battle to wrest this particular work from the Austrian government, and return it to its rightful owners - her family.
Both paintings above, The Kiss and Adele's portrait, come from Klimt's "Golden Phase", where he embellished his works with lavish applications of gold leaf.

The Klimt Tarot is likewise given the golden treatment, with every card decorated in some way with brilliant gold accents. Unfortunately, they're very difficult  (for me, anyway) to capture in a photo; here's a bit of an idea of its splendour.



1. Unfortunately the little white book that accompanies you includes no information about which of Gustav Klimt's paintings were used for each card. I realize that this is not your fault. Can you help me come to grips with this omission, please?

8 Chalices
I suggest that you leave behind your concerns about which paintings have found their way into each of my cards, and enjoy the visual feast that is here. There are, of course, many online references to Gustav's works, should you feel the need to know more.
My advice? Let go of your disappointment and delve into this lush gallery of images.


2. Many of the people in this deck are gaunt to the point of emaciation. Are we to assume some type of suffering if one of these cards appears?
Queen of Pentacles and 6 Swords
I see that you have brought two of us out for this question. Did you not think one of us up to the task?
I'm sorry, no, nothing like that. An extra card fell out while I was shuffling. Which of you would like to speak first?
Queen of Pentacles
As the Queen, I feel it is my duty to lead this discussion. I would like to declare at the outset that I am in no way gaunt or emaciated.
And now, to your question. People of many shapes and circumstances inhabit this deck. Do keep in mind that Mr. Klimt was rather an avant-garde artist for his time, and took some pleasure in showing the human body in shocking ways. To this end he drew full frontal nudity, the pregnant female form, and some questionable embraces between men or women. I believe he was drawing a stylized version of life, and did not mean to always imply suffering.

6 Swords
To add to Her Majesty's excellent points, I would suggest that perhaps your interpretations would be better served by observing, not our thinness or thickness, but our demeanors and facial expressions. As you can see, my features are restful, and though I have not much flesh on my bones, my forearm is well-muscled and I am sailing strongly.


3. Do you find your scope as a reading deck restricted by Klimt's distinctive, rather serious art style?
The Hermit
As with any quality tarot deck, much of the work must be done by the reader. Look at the details, observe the backgrounds, give some thought to what makes me stand out from more conventional decks. Set yourself the task of learning how the artist expressed himself. Learn to read Klimt's look. Once you have leafed through all 78 of us several times, you will begin to notice slight differences between cards that may not be apparent at a first, more cursory glance.
Strip off any prejudices or initial revulsions and fall into Gustav's world. It will speak to you.


And finally, a Klimt shoulder bag from Baba Studio.

Auf Wiedersehen!