20 Works for the 20th Century: the Pietzsch Collection

21.10.2014 to 31.12.2014
Neue Nationalgalerie

Twenty masterpieces of twentieth-century art, now on show until December 2014, ranging from Max Ernst to Mark Rothko, René Magritte, and Frida Kahlo, once again illustrate the great quality and depth of scope of the collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch. Started in 1964, their extraordinary collection is characterized by two interconnected core themes: European Surrealism and its reception in the United States by the Abstract Expressionists.

Painters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko picked up on new ideas and techniques brought over by émigré artists such as André Masson and Max Ernst and adopted them to their own ends. A brilliant example of such art-historical cross-pollination is the painting 'Young Man, Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly’ (1942-47), in which Max Ernst dripped paint onto the canvas laid flat. He thus anticipated the method of drip painting that would be made famous by Jackson Pollock a few years later.

The Pietzsch Collection has gone on show at the Neue Nationalgalerie before, in a 2009  exhibition entitled 'Picture Dreams’. Since then it has been the Pietzschs’ long-term goal to present their collection as a permanent loan, on the sole condition that a representative selection of works be placed on permanent display in combination with works from the Nationalgalerie. Indeed, the collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch would undoubtedly greatly enrich and complement our own collection of modern art, as it has never recovered from the decimation inflicted on it by the cataclysmic policies of the Nazis and the devastation of the Second World War. Staggeringly high prices on the art market for artworks by modern masters mean that it is now virtually impossible to fill the gaps in our original collection through subsequent acquisitions and re-purchases. Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch’s generous offer therefore presents us with a unique, almost historic opportunity that cannot be missed.

For an additional wing of the Neue Nationalgalerie

Completed in 1968 and designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Neue Nationalgalerie is already far too small for the Nationalgalerie’s collection. The staggered collection displays 'Modern Times’, 'Divided Heaven’, and 'Expansion of the Combat Zone’ (2009-2014) have clearly demonstrated that three times as much exhibition space is required just to display all the major 20th-century artworks in the permanent collection. These not only include outstanding works by artists such as Klee, Beckmann, Richter, and Beuys, but also our large holdings of the art of the GDR - works by Heisig, Tübke, and Mattheuer. If, in addition to that, we are ever to present a selection of works from the Pietzsch Collection, then we desperately need to expand.

At the end of this year, the Neue Nationalgalerie will close for long-awaited renovations. And while we are glad that the distinguished, iconic building is finally being restored, the question unfortunately nevertheless remains as to the pressing problems regarding space. If the Neue Nationalgalerie is not complemented by a new building soon, then our collection of modern art will again only be able to go on display in fragments. This would be especially tragic for the city of Berlin, as until the Nazis came to power, Berlin led the world with the breadth and scale of its public collections of modern art. In the 1920s, the Nationalgalerie opened a 'Gallery of the Living’ in the Kronprinzenpalais (on Unter den Linden), featuring then-controversial masterpieces by Nolde, Dix, Kirchner, Klee. This museum concept was admired far and wide, and inspired the famous Museum of Modern Art in New York. Today, all major world cities have gone on to create a museum dedicated to 20th century art. The German capital again needs a sufficiently large venue to house not just the Nationalgalerie’s own permanent collection, but also the magnificent endowment, presented by Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch, of an important collection of Surrealist works.

In the summer of 2013, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, the umbrella organization that oversees the SMB, proposed to expand the Neue Nationalgalerie with a new building at the Kulturforum. Only then will it be possible to show the collection of 20th century art in all its richness.

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