Rarely does a massive donation of art cause discontent, but Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch’s contribution to Berlin’s museums has fueled public outcry by pitting the old against the new in a fight for museum space. Berlin has struggled of late for that precious commodity as renovations continue at Museum Island and facilities across the city. The donation, which includes works from Miro, Rothko, Ernst, and Pollock and is valued at €150,000,000, was made on the condition that it be displayed immediately. As the plan stands, displaying it will force much of the Gemäldegalerie’s Old Master collection into storage.
Over 10,500 (up from 7,200 last week) have signed a petition asking the Berlin State Museum authorities to reconsider storing the collection, which includes works from Dürer, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Raphael, Rembrandt, Brueghel, Vermeer, and van Eyck. Written by Harvard professor of German culture Jeffrey Hamburger, the petition has attracted support in the German media. Two of the nation’s leading newspapers, Die Zeit and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, published different pieces entitled “Rettet die [Save the] Gemäldegalerie.” A signatory to the petition called the move analogous to emptying out Madrid’s Prado or Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.
The Gemäldegalerie, constructed in 1830, sustained damage in the Second World War and was rebuilt in 1998. Much of its collection was assembled by the lettered Prussian King Frederick the Great.
Hermann Parzinger, head of the organization which oversees Berlin’s public museums and addressee of the petition, attempted to calm the petitioners. He promises a new museum to house the Old Master collection. However, construction would not begin until 2018 and is expected to last at least five years. Additionally, there has been skepticism that temporary storage would turn out to be indefinite. The new museum has not yet received funding and some suspect the project may be neglected as efforts to rebuild the Berlin Stadtschloß begin. Regardless, the petition states that storing the artworks “is not acceptable, even for only six years.”
Berlin’s cultural stock has soared since the Wall’s fall, with the German capital investing billions to bring its cultural hotspots up to Paris’ level. Yet appropriating funds and space is difficult, with disagreement among Berlin residents and art world potentates alike. The donation has laid that reality bare for all to see. The city plans to display its entire modern art collection by 2016. Current events, however, seem liable to complicate the effort.