UPDATE: Please help by signing the petition here; it asks for disclosure of the impact on the Old Masters and a concrete plan for their display in a different building. It does not oppose expanded galleries for modern art.
You may recall that in late 2010, the German collectors, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch (pictured below in 2009, at an exhibition of some of their collection), signed an agreement with the state of Berlin to bequeath their internationally renowned collection of modern art to the city. It now appears, however, that the conditions were too stringent — and will result in the emptying of the great Berlin Gemaeldegalerie, which houses the State Museums’ world-class old master paintings collection, and its conversion into a museum that would showcase the Pietzsch collection and related works. The Old Masters, mainly, would go into storage — paintings by Durer, Titian, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, on and on.
Everyone should be appalled by this development — and many in Germany are. They need international support, however, and Jeffrey F. Hamburger, the Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture at Harvard University, is helping to galvanize dissent here. He is seeking signatures from American art historians and museum curators to a protest letter. More on this later.
It is true that the Pietzsch Collection is outstanding. It comprises Surrealist works from Paris and Abstract Expressionist works by the New York School – paintings by Max Ernst, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Paul Delvaux and Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newmann, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. among others. At the time of the agreement, it consisted of about 150 paintings, drawings and sculptures, with an estimated value of €120 million. Announcing the deal, Hermann Parzinger, President of the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage, said:
Today’s agreement is a decisive step towards integrating the Pietzsch Collection into the National Gallery’s collection at the National Museums in Berlin. I am convinced that the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage will find the space to exhibit the works in the way Heiner and Ulla Pietzsch see fit. [Boldface mine.]
The couple wanted their treasure to go to “the National Gallery in particular,” Heiner Pietzsch said at the time. The announcement referenced above also said this:
The agreement will only come into effect under the condition that Berlin city council places the collection, in its entirety, in the hands of the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage as a permanent loan, and that the Foundation guarantees that parts of the collection are placed on permanent display within its own collection of modern art. [Again, boldface mine.]
On June 12, the German government allocated €10 million to renovate the Gemaeldegalerie to accommodate the Pietzsch collection. But the Old Master collection would have to go – some will be moved to the Bode Museum for display amongst sculpture of the same eras, but much more will, under this plan, go into storage until at least 2018, and probably longer, when it is hoped that a new museum space would be built alongside the Bode.
Many fear that, given the financial outlook, such an expansion will not occur by 2018, and all those wonderful pictures would be locked away in storage for a long, long time.
This plan should not stand. I’ll have more information on how to protest it soon.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Getty Images via Zimbio