Art, Art Museums, Museum Exhibitions

Miro or Caravaggio? Is it possible one of the world’s greatest collections of old master art – the Berlin Gemäldegalerie – could be put into storage?

[in part artlog, theguardian] Rarely does a massive donation of art cause discontent, but Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch’s contribution to Berlin’s museums has fueled public outcry by pitting the old against the new in a fight for museum space. Berlin has struggled of late for that precious commodity as renovations continue at Museum Island and facilities across the city. The donation, which includes works by Miro, Rothko, Ernst, and Pollock and is valued at €150,000,000, was made on the condition that it be displayed immediately and in its entirety. As the plan stands, displaying it will force much of the Berlin Gemäldegalerie’s Old Master collection into storage.

Caravaggio (1573–1610), “Amor Vincet Omnia” (Love Conquers All)
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Berlin’s collection is of almost unimaginable scope and contains what are unarguably some of the world’s greatest works of western art by such artists as Dürer, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Raphael, Rembrandt, Brueghel, Vermeer, and van Eyck. Over 10,500 (up from 7,200 last week) have signed a petition asking the Berlin State Museum authorities to reconsider storing the collection.  Written by Harvard professor of German culture Jeffrey Hamburger, the petition has attracted support in the German media. Two of the nation’s leading newspapers, Die Zeit and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, published different pieces entitled “Rettet die [Save the] Gemäldegalerie.” A signatory to the petition called the move analogous to emptying out Madrid’s Prado or Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.

Critics fear that the Gemäldegalerie’s treasures are playing second fiddle to the 20th-century collection and will be put in storage indefinitely to be shown only in piecemeal fashion for the foreseeable future until they have their own dedicated space, which could take years.

Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream”, 1645
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

A new building for the Old Masters’ collection has yet to be proposed, let alone financed and built.

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), “Portrait of Cardinal Trevisan”
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, accused critics of failing to appreciate the huge task of reorganising Berlin’s museums after decades of war and division, which led to a large part of Berlin’s art collections being broken up and dispersed.

Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), “Ugolino Martelli” (1536-37)
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

“Historically speaking, the Gemäldegalerie works belong on Museum Island, which with its collection from antiquity to the 19th century, has the potential to rival the Louvre, and until they’re back there this vision is incomplete,” he told the Guardian. “But it’s a process which needs to happen step by step.”

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), “Lady Sutherland” (1786)
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

He said part of the process involved creating a dedicated space for 20th-century art in the building currently now housing the Gemäldegalerie, which is conveniently located next to the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin’s leading space dedicated to modern art.

Parzinger said: “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.

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), “The Glass of Wine” (1658-1660)
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

“The wonderful Pietzsch collection fits perfectly into this concept and will help reinstate Berlin as a superior art capital as it was before 1933 and the rise of the Nazis – who labelled much of its art degenerate – when it was itself a role model for museums like Moma.

“In short, we’re rectifying the wrongs of history and re-establishing our cultural landscape, which is our calling card to the world.”

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), “Wife of Dr Johann Stephan Reuss” (1503)
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

In what was interpreted as an indirect threat to withdraw his donation, the 82-year-old Heiner Pietzsch said: “If the whole thing collapses, my heirs at least will be happy. They’ll make a lot of money from my paintings.”

Please sign the petition asking the Berlin authorities to reconsider the current plan to empty the Gemäldegalerie to make room for a display of twentieth-century art from the Pietzsch collection.



2 thoughts on “Miro or Caravaggio? Is it possible one of the world’s greatest collections of old master art – the Berlin Gemäldegalerie – could be put into storage?

  1. I almost can’t believe this is a true story! At the very least, the old master pieces should go on a very long international tour while this is worked out. There is no way a Caravaggio, Vermeer etc. should be crated up while museums in Europe and America have space for traveling exhibits.

    Posted by Shtina | July 21, 2012, 7:25 pm
  2. Shtina, I can’t believe this will come to fruition. I have my eye peeled for further developments! Thanks for feeling the pain!!

    Best. Elliott

    Posted by elliottingotham | July 23, 2012, 8:57 pm

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