Berlin’s museum authorities announced plans to build a new home for the city’s collection of 20th-century art near Potsdamer Platz in the center at a cost of 130 million euros ($174 million).
The announcement is a change of position. Last year, museum authorities provoked online petitions and furious newspaper columns with a proposal to move the city’s Old Masters out of the Gemaeldegalerie on Potsdamer Platz to make way for 20th-century art -- in particular for a collection of Surrealist art donated by Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch.
To quell the uproar, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs Berlin’s museums, commissioned a study to look at alternatives for exhibiting the city’s Klees and Warhols without depriving visitors of the Botticellis, Rembrandts and Titians. The foundation’s preferred option -- to build a new home for the Old Masters on Museum Island -- was deemed too costly at more than 400 million euros.
A new museum for 20th-century art “is a solution to our most pressing problem,” Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, told reporters in Berlin yesterday. The building is needed urgently “not just because of the Pietzsch collection, but because there is no room to exhibit our own 20th-century collection,” he said.
The project adds to an ambitious program of museum-building in Berlin stretching far into the next decade. The city is renovating Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage landmark, at a cost of 1.3 billion euros. The 590 million-euro reconstruction of the royal palace on Unter den Linden began in June.
The new modern art museum, with an area of 9,900 square meters (106,563 square feet), may open as soon as 2022 if work starts next year, Parzinger said. The German parliament and government, which would foot the bill, need to approve the funding before construction can start.
German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann welcomed the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation’s change of course, saying it demonstrated “moderation and awareness of responsibility.”
“With a new building, the Nationalgalerie collection -- expanded by the Pietzsch collection and parts of the Marx collection -- could at last be exhibited permanently on a big scale,” Neumann said in a statement sent by e-mail.
Three locations near Potsdamer Platz are under consideration, the preferred site being on Sigismundstrasse because it would be possible to connect the new building to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie, Parzinger said.
The metal-and-glass Neue Nationalgalerie, the main space for 20th-century art, is too small to show even just Berlin’s vast pre-war collection, including dozens of works by the “Bruecke” group of Expressionists as well as by Edvard Munch, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz and Wassily Kandinsky.
Added to that, the city has an array of postwar art including works by Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer, Henry Moore, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella. Much of that is the collection of Berlin entrepreneur Erich Marx, which is on permanent loan and exhibited in the Hamburger Bahnhof museum for contemporary art -- despite no longer being contemporary.
The Pietzsch collection has an estimated value of 150 million euros and will add to the mix works by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Joan Miro as well as American Abstract Expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch have agreed to donate their collection, amassed over nearly 50 years, after their deaths on condition that Berlin finds a suitable home for it.
Berlin’s collection of Old Masters is one of the world’s greatest, encompassing more than 3,000 works over five centuries, including masterpieces by Raphael, Brueghel, Vermeer, Duerer and Caravaggio. A petition calling on Parzinger to reconsider the plan to move them closed with more than 14,000 signatures.
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