Friday, September 14, 2012

Berlin's Culture War: Debate Pits Modern Art against Old Masters

September 14, 2012

All summer long, a heated debate has simmered in Berlin over the future of its world-famous collection of Old Masters paintings. The city wants to move the Gemäldegalerie to make room for a modern art museum that would rival MOMA. Critics say it will cause at least half of one of Europe's most important art collections to be put in storage for years.

It may have a few glaring omissions in its collection -- there is, for example, not a single Leonardo da Vinci -- but Berlin's Gemäldegalerie can still hold its own against the best of Europe's classical collections. Any talk of moving or splitting the works quickly stirs up passions in the German capital.

The Feuilletons, or culture pages, of Germany's newspapers have been brimming with a heated debate this summer over the future of the Old Masters. Following a wave of public outcry from prominent intellectuals, the city is reconsidering plans to move its 3,000-strong Gemäldegalerie collection out of its current home near Potsdamer Platz.

Spanning five centuries and including important European works by Vermeer, Brueghel, Caravaggio and Hans Holbein the Younger, the Gemäldegalerie collection of paintings was to be moved to a much smaller space on the city's Museuminsel, or Museum Island, to make way for a new museum of 20th-century art, including works from the private collection of German billionaire industrialist Heiner Pietzsch and his wife Ulla.

Earlier this week, the Prussian Cultural Foundation, which operates many of the city's top museums and is in charge of the proposed move, announced the commission of a feasibility study to weigh various alternatives. "Against the background of the controversial debate, it is a question on the one hand of developing an appropriate opportunity for exhibiting the Old Masters and on the other, of doing justice to the Nationalgalerie's 20th-century collection and the inclusion of the Pietzsch collection." The foundation is still standing behind its position to move the collection, but the study could slow or possibly end those plans.


Caravaggio, Armor als Sieger

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