The Gemäldegalerie in Berlin under Serious Threat

1. A Room of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin
Photo : Barbarelli/Wikimedia Commons

11/7/12 - Threat of closure - Berlin, Gemäldegalerie - Aix-en-Provence, where old master paintings are relegated to storage, is being emulated, but to a much more serious degree. The Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (a museum specialized in old masters) is now facing the threat of seeing a large part of its collections placed in storage in order to make room for a 20th century museum.
The affair started following the announcement in late 2010 of a donation project benefiting the Berlin Museums. Indeed, Illa and Heiner Pietzsch wish to generously offer 150 works, including many Surrealists (Magritte, Dali, Ernst...) and Abstract Expressionists (Rothko, Pollock...) provided the ensemble be exhibited on a permanent basis. Given the extent of the gift, this is a reasonable demand.
The only concern, however, is that the Foundation for Prussian Cultural Heritage, the government entity which manages the city’s museums does not have the money to erect a building or even add an extension to one of the current establishments. Therefore, last 13 June, the corresponding officials decided that 10 million euros would be granted for reorganizing the museums thus resulting in practically eliminating the Gemäldegalerie which is located in the Kulturforum not far from the Neue Galerie (devoted to 20th century art) so as to create a museum of 20th century art housing not only the Pietzsch collection but also the modern works currently in storage for lack of exhibition space. Some of the old masters would be shipped to the Bode Museum (they would in turn take the place of the sculptures held there).

2. Jan Gossaert (1478-1532)
Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane
Oil on Panel - 85 x 63 cm
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
Photo : Wikimedia Commons

3. Michelangelo Merisi, called El Caravaggio (1573-1610)
Amor Vincit Omnia
Oil on Canvas - 154 x 110 cm
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
Photo : Wikimedia Commons

If we were to look for a parallel in France, this would be the same as removing the works in the Département des peintures at the Louvre and replacing them by the works in storage at Beaubourg ! In fact, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin holds one of the most important collections of old masters anywhere in the world, despite the destruction suffered during the Second World War.
The Foundation for Prussian Cultural Heritage announced that after 2018, a new museum for old masters would be built near the Bode Museum, on the Museum Island. This project has so far not seen the slightest initiative in fund raising. The sad fact is this reorganization might just mean seeing the contents of the Gemäldegalerie remain in packing crates for decades...

4. Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681)
The Concert
Oil on Panel - 56 x 44 cm
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
Photo : Wikimedia Commons

The news has set off quite a scandal in Germany and abroad. Two petitions have been launched online, the first by Jeffrey Hamburger, a professor of German art and culture at Harvard University ; the other by the association of German art historians (Verband Deutscher Kunsthistoriker). You can sign them here and here (the authors of these two petitions are collaborating and agree that both should be signed). They do not of course demand giving up the Pietzsch collection donation nor abandoning the idea of creating this 20th century museum but rather that the old master paintings be kept in their current location until adequate exhibition space is found on the Museum Island to exhibit them in good conditions.
These petitions should be signed, not only to support the Gemäldegalerie, but also to prevent the same thing happening elsewhere in other cities, even other countries.

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Didier Rykner, mardi 17 juillet 2012

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