Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Berlin museum to sideline old masters

The cultural ministers of Berlin's Gemäldegalerie have generated a storm of criticism from art historians and the public as a result of their decision to place in storage one of Europe's great museum collections of traditional paintings, replacing them with a donated collection of fauvism and surrealism.


The 3,000 heritage works include Giotto, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Canaletto, Lucas Cranach, Rogier van der Weyden and Rembrandt. The plan calls for relocating the old masters into a smaller, temporary space, where only a fraction of the works will be accessible to scholars and the public, and where no funding is yet in place to build a new exhibit space.

The Gemäldegalerie's 72-room museum space will be cleared to make room for an offered gift of twentieth century works. The donor, Heiner Pietzsch, who made his fortune in wholesale synthetics, placed the condition that all the works in his bequest must always be on public view.
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Photo from "What to See in Berlin"
Article in the Guardian "Berlin plan for Old Masters to give way to modern art angers historians"
Gemäldegalerie on Wikipedia 
Thanks, Christian!

11 comments:

Cavematty said...

So they must display them always, or not get them at all? Bit of a pickle. I'm from New Zealand, and it's so hard to get to see old masters works at all, that I hate the idea of a major collection being hidden away.

I wonder if there is some minimum period after which the stipulation of permanent display lapses? At which point they could auction off a few to help fund a permanent facility for the collection, and then move the masters back into their old home?

I can see the pickle, but shelving the old masters just seems wrong.

Linda Schweitzer said...

All the works, all the time? Were there funds for the maintenance and upkeep, and possibly building new space to house them? They should have turned it down.

There are many tourists who go to Germany to tour the museums and see the old masters. I'm now sure about the fauves and surrealists...

Semphora said...

At this time, there are two petitions that try to prevent this tragedy from happening.

1. http://www.kunsthistoriker.org/offener_brief_gemaeldegalerie.html#c3189

2. http://www.change.org/petitions/stiftung-preussischer-kulturbesitz-berlin-reconsider-the-plan-to-empty-the-gem%C3%A4ldegalerie-of-old-masters

The first one is from the German Society of Arthistorians.

The second one is lead by Jeffrey Hamburger at Harvard University.

Both are open to the public, and as an arthistory student living in Berlin, I can honestly say, We'd be grateful for any singnature.

Semphora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janet Oliver said...

Curious. Heiner Pietzsch would seem wealthy enough to at least get funding started on a discrete facility to display his collection, or donate the collection to a city willing to raise funds to build a museum, much in the fashion that the Denver, CO Clyfford Still museum was founded and built. This strategy would fit perfectly with Hermann Parzinger's claim that "Twentieth-century art currently has no proper space in Berlin and it's long overdue that we have something to rival Paris' Centre Pompidou, London's Tate Modern, or New York's Moma . . ." And besides, the article states that the Gemäldegalerie stands next door to the Neue Nationalgalerie, "Berlin's leading space dedicated to MODERN ART." (emphasis mine) Berlin only has to take a quick look at Vienna, Austria, where the Kunsthistorisches is but a short from the Albertina, whose collection includes Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka, and contemporary photography. A little longer walk, or subway ride, will take the museum goer to the Secession.

Johan Derycke said...

signed both petitions, Semphora.
Good luck!

Christian said...

Thanks Jim!

Here's some additional information I could gather from a recent feature on the German radio ("Deutschlandfunk"):
according to their report the concrete plans are that half of the inventory of the Gemäldegalerie is supposed to be displayed in Bode Museum while the other half (!) plus one half (!!) of the collection of Bode Museum itself will be send to the depot.
"Surprised yet not impressed" by the rising criticism Parzinger states that they would go for that solution if it was one for 4-5 years (he also says they wouldn't do that if it would mean to merge the two collections for up to 10-20 years) .
(That's a bit of an eyewish considering the fact that there's no plans nor financiation yet for a new building, meaning that the period to give efficient new space will in every case take more time than four to five years...)
Georg Satzinger, Chairman of the Asosciation of German Art historians, states that the pressure, triggered by the endowment of Pietzsch, was used to hide half of the old master's collection. He furthermore says that he's thankfull that Berlin received the Pietzsch collection, yet the Gemädegalerie cannot be the place for it. ( On another note: the building itself, which cost about 25000 Deutsche Mark per squaremeter (!) 14 years ago, was especially built with an elaborate archtitectural technology designed to preserve the old paintings prefectly! As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung puts it:"It would be as if you use a Rolls Royce as a delievery van for veggies" :-P )
The claim of the critics is to only start the move of the collection when an adequate new place is found or completely built.
Parzinger's plans are that the Kulturforum at Potsdamer Platz shall exclusively be reserved for 20th century art (I wonder what he wants to do then with the collections of the Kupferstichkabinett (museum of drawings and prints, which include drawings by Dürer, Rembrandt and last but not least the main body of Adolph Menzel's drawings), the Art library and the museum of craftwork then...all being sited at Potsdamer Platz.)

Anonymous said...

I suspect we are going to see more and more decisions like this- as the baby boomers /sixties generation starts to get older and retire, they want to give one final "f-u" to the civilization and culture they despise.

Pete Hindle said...

I've been to this museum, as I'm very fond of Berlin, and it's really a very boring collection.

Without commenting on the quality of the contemporary art that will be housed in the museum, I want to say that the Gemäldegalerie is organised on very old-fashioned lines. It has such an amazing amount of art that it is hard to truly see the best works without becoming numbed by other, less-good works.

And this is in a city where there is no shortage of otherwise amazing art - even if a fifth of the 'masterpieces' they had were truly of that level, there are other Berlin museums with much better curated collections. The Islamic Museum, for instance, in the Pergamon Museum building, is astounding from start to finish.

Presumably, the collection of the Gemäldegalerie will be available for touring once moved out of it's current location. This would mean that more art can be seen in more locations - rather than stuck as part of the display in the dusty old Gemäldegalerie.

Who knows, perhaps a leading artist with a strong online following could curate an exhibition to show off some of the best paintings from the collection...

Casey Klahn said...

Older is not, perforce, better, and Berlin and Germany as a whole have had some tremendous influence via Expressionism and other Modernist schools. I, personally, just added a Kathe Kollwitz to my own collection, and am mindful of the importance of the era and the place of Germany in Modern art. Also, I just hung a large show of my works and the gallery took down the previous exhibit which was Otto Dix. I named my exhibit Color & Expression, Now, as a segue.

Sounds like display space is the greatest issue. They will find a compromise somehow, since there is pressure to so so. I also noticed that there are some american artists in the new collection.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.