The Ulla and Heiner Pietzschs Collection
New National Gallery, Berlin
June 19, 2009 – November 22, 2009

When the Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection in the Eastern Student Building opened as an annex to the Neue Nationalgalerie vis-à-vis the Museum Berggruen last year, Berlin was given the opportunity to familiarize itself permanently with “Surreal Worlds” for the first time. With “Pictures Dreams” you now have the opportunity to continue this experience with the private collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch in the rooms of the Neue Nationalgalerie. The previous directors had rarely considered surrealism with purchases, so that, as indicated in the press conference and catalog, this second Berlin private collection would also like to be tied more closely to the house in the future.

In the 1960s, the Pietzschs started collecting works of classical modernism. It is surprising how long it took to show this “most private” Berlin collection at its place of origin, although Heiner Pietzsch was one of the founders of the Friends of the Neue Nationalgalerie in 1977 and was on its board of trustees and board. The collection is – according to the new director of the house, Udo Kittelmann, in the foreword to the catalog – “upon closer inspection, no unknown, rather a well-kept open secret”. Exhibitions in Dresden (2000), Venice (2005) and Vienna (2006) had preceded it, albeit with a different focus. Surrealism is now at the center with works by its most important representatives. It is connected to him as an important segment of the show of Abstract Expressionism, which in its beginnings in the USA was particularly fascinated by surrealism.

For the first time, another important aspect of the collection is referred to in the lobby of the exhibition. Almost all artists are also present in (often staged) portraits of mostly well-known photographers. In the first place are Man Ray, the surrealist among the photographers (including photographs by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Yves Tanguy) and Arnold Newman (Hans Arp, Alberto Giacometti, Sam Francis, Adolph Gottlieb, Henry Moore, André Masson , Jackson Pollock). André Kertesz (Alexander Calder), Martin Munkacsi (Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera), Aaron Siskind (Mark Rothko) and Irving Penn (Wifredo Lam and Arshile Gorky) are also represented. There are also two German exile photographers: Walter Reuter photographed Wolfgang Paalen in Mexico, Hans Namuth portrayed Theodoros Stamos in the USA. Victor Brauner, Hans Bellmer and Man Ray appear in self-portraits. Additional photos complement the actual exhibition.

The entire basement of the Mies van der Rohe building is available to the works of art, which otherwise usually fill the spacious, partially built house for and around them. The walls are dipped in different pastel shades, a specific course is specified, with ceiling-high transparent walls and wall views creating optical connections. The exhibition opens with the “most striking” artist in the collection, Max Ernst, who through semiautomatic techniques such as frottage, grattage and decal comedy, as well as his collage novels, created important working foundations for surrealism. The hall dedicated to him shows important paintings such as “Dark Forest and Birds” (1927), “The Head of the“ House Angel ”(around 1937),“ Paintings for Young People ”(1943) and“ The Chymic Wedding ”(1946). A special feature is the famous sculpture “Capricorn” (1948): it can be seen as a tinted plaster and bronze version owned by the Nationalgalerie, while fragments of the original cement version come from the Pietzsch Collection. Ernst’s painting “Young man, disturbed by the flight of a non-Euclidean fly” (1942-47), for which the artist used the practice of dripping paint he called oscillation, then forms the link to the Abstract Expressionists. Pollock later adopted the technique under the term dripping.

The exhibition is usually divided into juxtapositions of two aesthetically related artists. There are pairings by Paul Delvaux and René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Yves Tanguy (to which Hans Bellmer is assigned with drawings, photos and sculptures of his doll fetishes), Wifredo Lam and Victor Brauner, Roberto Matta Echaurren and André Masson, Hans Arp and Richard Oelze , Alexander Calder and Joan Miró. Sculptures by Henri Laurens and Jacques Lipchitz, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore find their place as well as collages by Roland Penrose and Joseph Cornell, collective “Cadavre exquis” and showcases with important publications by the Surrealists, such as the magazines Minotaure and La Révolution Surréaliste, as well as the “Box in a suitcase” by Marcel Duchamp. Another focus is on the surrealists with Leonor Fini (whose painting “Two Women” from 1939 inspired the keyhole metaphor of advertising for the exhibition), Meret Oppenheim and Dorothea Tanning (a double portrait of Tamara de Lempicka appears rather out of place here).

In addition, there is the rather fragmentary chapter Spain / Mexico, which refers to Paris as a focus of work by Spanish artists and Mexico as an exile for Europeans and a place of mutual inspiration. On display is a drawn self-portrait by Frida Kahlo (a watercolor of her husband Diego Rivera does not really belong in this context), paintings by Juan Soriano, Leonora Carrington and Wolfgang Paalen, of which the fascinating oil painting “Feathers” is complemented by Fumage , as well as sculptures by Julio González.

Numerous works on paper by the future representatives of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, including works by William Baziotes, Sam Francis, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Alfonso Ossorio, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey the European roots become clear, which are nourished primarily by surreal and abstract emigrants such as Lam, Matta and Tanguy, but also by Jimmy Ernst and Hans Hofmann. The later effects of surrealism are still diverse today and hardly manageable. The two collectors set very idiosyncratic accents here by selecting large-format paintings by Domenico Gnoli, Konrad Klapheck and – as the last acquisition – Neo Rauch with “Escape attempt” (2008). There is nothing left of the “pure psychological automatism” that Surrealist Pope André Breton once spoke of. The watercolor “The Swing” (1954) by Gerhard Altenbourg, with which the collection had started, is an artistic gem. Photos of the collector’s house are the final point before you can take your printed goods home with you in the obligatory museum shop, as a bargain on top “The most beautiful French” as a special offer.

Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch have created a collection of high standards concentrated on their subject. Notable works are represented, including by lesser known authors. It is a pity that the opulent catalog book hardly details the composition of the collection, its composition or the motives of the collectors. Contributions by Werner Spies, Jasper Sharp and Ludger Derenthal refer to individual aspects such as the relationship to Abstract Expressionism and the role of photography in the collection. The extensive and well-founded text by Dieter Scholz collects the “Splinters of Surrealism in Berlin” and spans an arc from Herwarth Walen’s “Sturm”, Hanah Höch, René Crevel’s visit to Berlin in 1928 to the “fan buttons” in post-war Berlin. Ultimately, the opening sentence, “Berlin is not a city of surrealism”, is confirmed again and again. If it weren’t for the wonderfully beautiful Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch collection with their museum appearance at the Kulturforum.

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