INTERVIEW WITH FORMER KLIMT OWNER
Austria Bids Farewell to "Adele"
Gerbert Frodl, 65, director of Austria's Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, discusses the painting his museum has lost and addresses the $135 million question: Was Klimt's "Adele" worth it?
DPAFor years, Klimt's "Adele Bloch Bauer I" found its home at Austria's Belvedere Gallery. Now it is moving the Neue Galerie in New York.SPIEGEL: Mr. Frodl, only a few months ago the Klimt painting "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," together with four other works by the Art Nouveau painter, were still hanging in your museum. Now it's the world's most expensive painting. Are you proud or horrified?
Frodl: Neither. I cannot be proud, because this price isn't the result of anyone's efforts in Austria. At least it will remain accessible to the public, even if it's in a museum in New York.
SPIEGEL: Is it worth $135 million?
Frodl: That's the question. It's the same issue with each of these expensive pieces of art. The situation in the art market is overheated. The sky seems to be the limit. Klimt is now where Picasso and van Gogh have already been, except that those two artists painted far more than Klimt. The result is that there are many van Gogh sunflower paintings. But the "Golden Adele" is unique and unmatched in its quality. We'll have to see what prices the other four returned Klimt paintings will fetch on the market before we can determine whether the painter will remain in this price class.
SPIEGEL: Experts say that the speculative bubble in the art market should have burst long ago. When will it happen?
Frodl: I don't know. Art cannot be treated like normal merchandise. Each of these expensive paintings is unique. They have a life of their own.
RELATED╩SPIEGEL╩ONLINE╩LINKSThe Klimt Sensation: A Mona Lisa for America (06/26/2006)SPIEGEL: Ronald Lauder knows the previous owner, Maria Altmann, personally. Why didn't he buy the painting directly from her and why was Christie's involved?
Frodl: I can only guess that there may have been a sufficient number of potential buyers who made offers to Ms. Altmann. And Christie's essentially sifted through the offers.
SPIEGEL: If the (Austrian) republic had been more conciliatory toward the rightful heir in its long-standing legal dispute over the Klimt paintings, the paintings could still be hanging in your museum in Vienna. What went wrong?
Frodl: That's a difficult question. I don't like to talk about what one should have done. But it is true that the possibility of a settlement existed at one time. Perhaps we could have kept two paintings and returned three.
SPIEGEL: Do you have a clear conscience in the matter?
Frodl: Why shouldn't I?
SPIEGEL: There are those who say that in one of your museum's publications you referred to a controversial directory of Klimt's work that deliberately conceals the origin of the paintings.
Frodl: I wrote a simple visitors' brochure and not the kind of academic work one would expect to include a comprehensive description of provenance. However, this research was subsequently done at the Belvedere and was also used as a basis for the legal proceedings.
SPIEGEL: Now Austria has lost these magnificent paintings forever.
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Frodl: After the arbitration board issued its decision, the country expressed an interest in acquiring the works. But that interest quickly disappeared when we became aware of Ms. Altmann's anticipated price, █200 to █300 million╩for all five paintings. Besides, it isn't a good idea to buy when prices are highest. At the Belvedere we collect counter to cycles.
SPIEGEL: Can you even afford anything substantial anymore?
Frodl: Not in this overheated market. We can only watch and wait. Three years ago I was able to acquire a large Schiele portrait for █6 million, a considerable financial╩burden for us.
SPIEGEL: Sounds like a steal.
Frodl: You can certainly call it that, especially from today's perspective.
Interview conducted by Joachim Kronsbein.