Wettkampf um Klimt-GemŠlde

(diepresse.com) 04.11.2006

Mindestens 93 Millionen Dollar Erlšs sollen die vier an Maria Altmann restituierten Klimt-GemŠlde bei einer Auktion erzielen.

Guy Bennett, der kŸnstlerische Leiter der Abteilung "Impressionismus und Moderne" beim Auktionshaus Christie's erwartet einen "harten Wettkampf von Sammlern aus aller Welt". Denn bei der am kommenden Mittwoch stattfindenden Herbstauktion in New York sind auch vier an Maria Altmann restituierte Klimt-GemŠlde im Katalog. "Alle Augen sind auf diese vier Meisterwerke gerichtet", meinte Bennett. Es handelt sich um "Adele Bloch-Bauer II", "HŠuser in Unterach am Attersee", "Apfelbaum I" und "Buchenwald".

Das Auktionshaus hofft, einen Gesamterlšs von 340 bis 490 Millionen US-Dollar (269 bis 387 Mio. Euro) einspielen zu kšnnen. Laut Bennett ist dies die grš§te und wertvollste Auktion, die Christie's in dieser Kategorie je organisiert hat. Die vier Klimt-Bilder sollen mindestens 93 Millionen Dollar Erlšs erzielen.

Die Nationalsozialisten hatten 1938 insgesamt fŸnf Klimt-GemŠlde aus dem Besitz des šsterreichischen Industriellen-Ehepaars Ferdinand und Adele Bloch-Bauer konfisziert. Nach jahrelangen Rechtsstreitigkeiten musste die šsterreichische Regierung die Kunstwerke im JŠnner 2006 an die Nichte von Adele Bloch-Bauer, die neunzigjŠhrige Maria Altmann, zurŸckerstatten. Im Juni kaufte ihr der Unternehmer Ronald S. Lauder das PortrŠt von Adele Bloch-Bauer aus dem Jahre 1907 mit dem Namen "Goldene Adele" um 135 Millionen Dollar ab.

Neben den vier Klimt-GemŠlden kommen am 8. November auch vier weitere ehemals restituierte Kunstwerke unter den Hammer. Es handelt sich dabei um Pablo Picassos "Nature morte au tableau" aus dem Jahr 1906, das Ludwig Kirchner-GemŠlde "Berliner Strassenszene" von 1913, Edouard Vuillard's "Le salon des Madame Aron", aus dem Jahr 1911 und ein Bild von Ferdinand Hodler mit dem Titel "Thunersee mit Niesen" (1910). Alle vier Bilder werden auf 25 bis 34,2 Millionen Dollar geschŠtzt.

Painting - The original sensationalists
By Jackie Wullschlager
Published: November 4 2006 02:00 | Last updated: November 4 2006 02:00
Too much mysticism destroyed Germany, too little destroyed France, Marc Chagall remarked at the end of the second world war. He meant that cultural tendencies to high emotionalism made Germany susceptible to Hitler; on the other hand intellectual France lacked the spiritual self-belief to resist Nazi occupation.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the history of art lay, as history always does, with the victors. Cerebral French paintings dominated at the cost of emotionally expressive German ones. This view of the story of art - by which the Ecole de Paris invented modernism around 1907 and then passed the baton to New York's abstractionists and minimalists in the 1950s - became the Allies' comfortable view. It shaped museum acquisitions, exhibitions and prices for 50 years. But by cold-shouldering German and Austrian expressionism, this story omitted a major chapter without which neither modernism nor contemporary art can be fully understood.

Britain's Tate collection, for example, contains just one work by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who transformed the modern vision of the city, and none by Egon Schiele, the 20th century's most radical painter of the nude and an essential influence - although the London painter denies it - on Lucian Freud. How stupid we were, for there is no chance of catching up now. At Christie's New York on Wednesday, Kirchner's "Berlin Street Scene" goes under the hammer at an estimate of $18m-$24m, and Schiele's "Single Houses" at an estimated $20m-$30m. In June, Schiele's "Autumn Sun II" made £11.7m.

"Street Scene" last sold in 1980 for $1m, when there was zero US interest in expressionism; until a decade ago, German art changed hands almost exclusively within continental Europe. To redress American ignorance, billionaire collector Ronald Lauder launched the Neue Galerie in New York in 2001, with a mission to show early 20th-century German and Austrian work. It was a catalyst that is driving the market wild: in June, Lauder paid $135m for Gustav Klimt's "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" making the Austrian work the most expensive painting in the world - ahead of Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir.

Europe looked on astonished. Frau Bloch-Bauer came from Vienna, city of Freud and pre-war hotbed of a feverish branch of expressionism, unravelling from Klimt's sexually charged symbolism to Schiele's blatant coupling figures. Under the long Nazi shadow, however, Austria's ambivalence towards its own cultural heritage was so strong that not until 2001 did it dedicate a gallery to the movement: the superb Leopold Museum.

Paradoxically, part of the lifting of that shadow has been restitution laws that return paintings unlawfully acquired from Jewish collectors to their heirs. The heirs often sell on, which results in the market appearance of exceptional works - in turn pumping international interest. "Street Scene", returned by Berlin's Brucke Museum, "Autumn Sun II", recovered in France after 60 years, and "Adele Bloch-Bauer I", from Vienna's Belvedere Gallery, are all restituted works. So are four more Klimts recently shown at the Neue Galerie, and also on offer at Christie's on Wednesday, estimated at $93m-$140m.

Ideas affect markets, but money talks loudest. If expressionism is the new impressionism, Lauder's project in the past five years has reshaped art history too, culminating in a momentous exhibition organised with Amsterdam, Vincent Van Gogh and Expressionism, which opens this month in the Dutch city before transferring to the Neue Galerie. It posits Van Gogh as forerunner of German modernism just as Cezanne led to cubism, and thus gives the weight of a tremendous historical lineage to the German movement. Among its highlights are the first public showing since 1937 of Schiele's record-breaking "Autumn Sun II". This poignant still-life of wilted sunflowers made on the eve of the first world war is hung here with heavy personal resonance alongside Van Gogh's iconic "Sunflowers". Other pairings will be the bold, pared-down self-portraits of Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff with Van Gogh's self- depictions; and Otto Dix's apocalyptic 1913 landscape of an explosive sun and huge scattering black birds, "Sunrise", with Van Gogh's late, tormented "Wheatfield with Crows".

Not to be outdone, the Leopold is responding with a thunderous show, German Expressionism. This exhibition emphasises the cohesion between the sex-and-mortality introspection of its home-grown Klimts (the tumbling fresco of bodies "Death and Life"), and Schieles (the cathedral-shaped lovers "Cardinal and Nun") with the German expressionism of the Brucke and Blaue Reiter groups, as exemplified in top international borrowings. The gravitas with which the museum presents Schiele, once jailed as a pornographer, increases his standing and makes us aware of how contemporary he is. This is particularly noticeable in the drawing of a twisted, knobbly, crimson-smeared body of what looks likes a sexual victim entitled "Kneeling Woman in the Nude" - a work that fetched £4.15m at Christie's this year.

Does early 20th-century expressionism strike a special chord with early 21st-century life? Certainly its immediacy, simplification and casual violence, and its apocalyptic undertow, fit our own hurried, instant-impact time. Avant-garde artists everywhere at the beginning of the last century looked to primitivism to slough off tired European academicism, but none did so more transgressively than the Germans and Austrians in the years either side of the first world war. Strident colour, brash contrasts; twisted outlines, extreme distortion of the human form; rushing rhythms and a primitive, direct visual language: all favour emotional expressiveness at the cost of harmonious composition.

Contemporary works made in France, such as Matisse's fauvist colour and Picasso's cubist still-lifes, look elegant in comparison with Kirchner's spiky prostitutes and jagged streets, Schiele's wiry nudes and Max Beckmann's and George Grosz's canvases crammed with disjointed limbs or fragmented bodies. For many decades, these works struck most people as crude and barbaric. Now, after Young British Artists' sensationalism, history has caught up with the visionary expression of what it feels like to be adrift, exhilarated, terrified, in a fast-paced, incomprehensible world.

Like impressionism, expressionism was rooted in the new experience of metropolitan life that transformed Europe between 1860 and 1930. But impressionism's fetes and drizzle-spangled boulevards belong to a romantic past. So does the symbolism of the gold-hued Klimts, overpriced anomalies whose gaudy sparkle, however, brilliantly allies the fin de siecle erotic and moneyed layers of Viennese society with the surface glitz of Fifth Avenue - it is not an accident that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is answering the Neue Galerie with Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, opening next week.

These shows dramatise how expressionism's savage concrete jungles echo our own troubled relationship with urban capitalism. Thus the appeal of the vertiginous perspectives, angular brush strokes, flat areas of vibrant colour in Kirchner's "Nollendorf Square" and "Railroad Underpass in Dresden-Lobtau", important works in Amsterdam; of the sharp, distracted figures brushing each other anonymously in the shady underworld of Grosz's "Street Scene (Kurfurstendamm)", a choice work in Vienna; of the Metropolitan's edgy New Objectivity portraits by Christian Schad, expressionist descendent.

Their feathered hats jutting the top of the canvas, the elongated streetwalkers in Kirchner's "Street Scene" arrest the viewer like plumed birds in a zoo, magnificently indifferent to the men before them in a scene that is fraught with sexual, animal tension. The harsh linearity of the figures, here and also in Beckmann's contorted characters at the Metropolitan, is unmistakably gothic, recalling Grunewald's suffering Christ, Cranach's calligraphic manner, Durer's expressiveness. Behind them all is the German metaphysical yearning that produced Goethe, Nietzsche, Wagner. "The German artist looks not for harmony of outward appearance but much more for the mystery hidden behind the external form. He or she is interested in the soul of things and wants to lay this bare," says Magdalena Moeller, Brucke Museum director.

"German art has to fly with its own wings. We have to separate ourselves from the French," wrote Kirchner. "The new German art will recognise Durer as its father."

Though the expressionists were branded decadent by the Nazis, the national character of expressionism rendered it unfashionable in postwar circles. In our global homogenous art network, by contrast, national distinctiveness carries a premium. As Europe shifts eastward, moreover, the German experience becomes more globally significant; at the same time new buyers, notably Russians, are emerging.

Meanwhile, we now dare to see that Kirchner and Beckmann are the greatest German artists since Durer because, while balancing lessons of international modernism - Beckmann was a medical orderly in the first world war, for "I won't shoot Frenchmen, I owe too much to Cezanne" - they developed a nationally authentic language and vision. Out of it came the renaissance in mid-20th-century German art, on both sides of the Berlin Wall, whose emphasis on drawing and painterly qualities continues today in work such as that of the Leipzig school. Its leading proponent, the wonderfully named Neo Rauch, has a solo show in 2007 at the Metropolitan. German art is firmly on the international map. Money may have put it there, but these three serious art-historical shows allow us to unpick its fascinating origins.

German Expressionism, Leopold Museum, Vienna, +43 1 525 700, to January 10; Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, +1 212 535 7710, November 14 to February 19; Vincent Van Gogh and Expressionism, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, +31 20 570 5200, November 24 to March 4, then Neue Galerie, New York, +1 212 628 6200, March 23 to July 2 2007; Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, New York, November 8.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006