The Berlin collectors Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch have donated their collection of 150 artworks, valued at €120m to the city of Berlin. But their gift was made on the condition that the artworks by artists including Magritte, Dali and Ernst will eventually be on permanent display. It is one of the most significant collections of surrealist art in the world, taking collectors Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch 45 years to assemble.
However the generous bequest comes with a condition: The collection must be on permanent display in a Berlin museum. There is no room for the Pietzsch collection in the New National Gallery in Berlin. It is already having difficulties showing its own collection.
The idea of a new modern museum was supported by many in Berlin and it has previously been suggested that such an institution could be situated inside one of Berlin’s least popular national galleries. In the year and a half since then, the government formulated a plan: it would place the Pietzsch collection in the Gemäldegalerie, which currently houses Berlin’s famed Old Masters collection.
Roughly a quarter of the Old Masters, an estimated 3000 artworks would be moved temporarily to the much smaller Bode Museum, and the rest of the collection placed in storage until the city builds a new home for it near the other museums on Berlin’s famous Museumsinsel (Museum Island). The Bode Museum houses an impressive collection of sculpture, therefore some of that would also have to go into storage in order to accommodate the Old Masters. Any Old Master that cannot be displayed in the smaller space will go into storage for an estimated six years until a new space is found for the collection on the capital’s Museum Island.
German Conservators have joined the protest over plans to relocate the world-famous collection of Old Masters in Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie. The relocation, which was announced at the beginning of July, poses a “significant conservation risk”, said a statement released by the Bonn-based Verband der Restauratoren (Association of Restorers). The association, which has around 2,500 members, argues that the Pietzsch collection should move into the Gemäldegalerie only when a suitable location has been found to accommodate the Old Masters. “Only then can transport be reduced and the possibility that large parts of the collection will disappear into stores for years be avoided,” the statement said. “Any handling, packaging and transportation—even within the building—means mechanical stress and climatic changes to the works, which weakens their substance.”
Around 12,000 people, including Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, have signed a petition against emptying the Gemäldegalerie of its Old Masters. The petition was set up by Jeffrey Hamburger, an art historian at Harvard University. Earlier, the Verband Deutscher Kunsthistoriker (Association of German Art Historians) wrote an open letter to Germany’s minister of culture, Bernd Neumann, protesting “vehemently” against the plans.
“However, finding that space in the Gemäldegalerie at the expense of one of the world’s premier collections of Old Master paintings, without also making concrete plans to display that collection concurrently in its entirety, would be a tragedy. In the current plan, it appears that once again the past is being asked to make way for the present without sufficient attention to its future. The disappearance into storage of whatever paintings cannot be displayed in the Bode Museum – which we call on you to disclose – is not acceptable, even for only six years. In the current political and economic climate, and with stiff competition for funding from politically more expedient, if culturally more dubious, plans to rebuild the Stadtschloß, we fear that six years could easily become a decade or more.”
But the Bundestag has already made €10m available for the renovation of the Gemäldegalerie, setting the wheels in motion for the move.
Heiner Pietzsch said that he originally wanted to gift the paintings to his birthplace, Dresden. But when the collection was exhibited at Berlin’s New National Gallery (Neue Nationalgalerie) from June 2009 to January 2010, almost 200,000 visitors flocked to see the exhibition.
“Berliners really took the show to heart,” the couple told reporters at the announcement of the gift. Pietzsch, who has lived in Berlin since 1951, said he and his wife were surprised at the popularity of the show and decided to bequeath the collection to Berlin as a result. However the paintings will only become the city’s once the couple has left their home in the Grunewald district of Berlin – which will happen, they say, once one of them dies or the house becomes too big for them.