Saturday, March 30, 2024

Berlin's Berggruen Museum Takes Us on a Treasure Hunt Through Venice's Gallerie dell'Accademia & Across the Canal to Casa dei Tre Oci

The Yellow Sweater (Le chandail jaune) by Pablo Picasso (1939)
Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) You are in for a surprise when you enter Sala I of the Gallerie dell'Accademia. The first thing you see is not the usual room full of artworks from the 14th century. You see The Yellow Sweater by Pablo Picasso, a 1939 oil on canvas he painted of his lover and muse, Dora Maar, on loan from the Berggruen Museum in Berlin. The modern masterpiece opens a stimulating dialogue with the pre-19th-century works of art that are safeguarded in the Accademia museum gallery.

What a clever idea! The Berggruen Museum is presently closed for major renovations. So, this was a chance for 43 modern masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Giacometti, and Cézanne to come to Venice to sojourn with Venetian classics like Giorgione, Bosch, Tiepolo, Ricci, Longhi, and Canova in an exhibition that is laid out like a treasure hunt.

There are 17 modern works sprinkled throughout imposing halls of the Gallerie dell'Accademia, with the rest over at Casa dei Tre Oci on the island of Giudecca, the new headquarters of the Berggruen Institute Europe.

The exhibition is titled Affinità Elettive or Elective Affinities, a term originally used to refer to certain chemical processes. Then the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe got his hands on the concept and turned it into his famous 1809 novel that examines attractions and connections between certain individuals. In the novel, two guests arrive in the mansion of an aristocratic couple and flip their world on its head. 

Dora Maar aux ongles verts by Picasso (1936) in dialogue with La Vecchia by Giorgione (c.1506)

Likewise, the new arrivals from Berlin are livening up the venerable Old Masters in Venice. The modern works are hung next to Venetian classics, so it seems like the artworks are having a dialogue through space and time.

When you see Picasso's 1936 portrait of Dora Maar with Green Fingernails next to Giorgione's 1506 portrait of The Old Woman — created more than 400 years apart — you can just imagine the conversation the two women are having about how intense it felt to sit for those two demanding artists!

There is no set itinerary. The works of art are spread throughout the vast spaces of the Accademia, so pay attention as you wander through the halls. Here's a clue: there are four visitors from Berlin in the same room with with Jheronimus Bosch's Visions of the Hereafter.

Femme de Venise IV by Alberto Giacometti (1956) in dialogue with
Madam Letizia Bonaparte & Bust of Napoleon by Antonio Canova (1803-1806)
Photo by Massimo Pistrore courtesy of Gallerie dell'Accademia & Museum Breggruen

Museum Berggruen - Neue Nationalgalerie

Heinz Berggruen was born in Berlin on January 6, 1914. He immigrated to the United States in 1936 when things got too dicey to be Jewish in Germany. He moved back to Europe after WWII, eventually landing in Paris, where he met Picasso and other prominent artists of the era. He became an artists' representative and collector. 

Berggruen returned to Berlin in 1996 after six decades in exile. By then, he had assembled a precious collection of modern art with Picasso at its core. He lent, then sold, his collection to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), the German federal body that oversees museums and cultural organizations around Berlin. In 2000, 165 works were transferred from Berggruen to the SPK.

The Berggruen Collection has since morphed into the Museum Berggruen - Neue Nationalgalerie, set to reopen in 2026. Starting with almost nothing, by the time of his death at age 93 in 2007, Heinz Berggruen was considered one of the world's greatest art collectors. His family and heirs continue to support the museum and continue his legacy.

Billionaire philanthropist and investor, Nicolas Berggruen, is the oldest of two sons that Heinz Berggruen had with his second wife, German actress Bettina Moissi. He is the founder of the Berggruen Institute. His younger brother, Olivier, is an art historian and curator. His older half-brother, John, owns the Berggruen Galley in San Francisco. His older half-sister, Helen, is a San Francisco-based artist.

Michele Tavola, Gabriel Montua, Lorenzo Marsili, Veronika Rudorfer
in the new conference room at Casa dei Tre Oci

Casa dei Tre Oci - Headquarters of the Berggruen Institute Europe

The Berggruen Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit global network of thinkers whose goal is to create a better world. It is funded by the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust. After creating sites in the East in China, and in the West in the US, the Berggruen Institute decided it also needed to have a thought center at the crossroads of civilization. 

Venice has long been a crossroads between the East and West, so the Institute established its center of European activity at the Casa dei Tre Oci, an architectural gem on the Giudecca Canal. Lorenzo Marsili is the Director of the Berggruen Institute Europe.

After closing for restoration, Casa dei Tre Oci reopened to the public with the Elective Affinities exhibition. On display are four works on paper from the graphic collection of the Accademia, and 26 from the Berggruen Museum, including works on paper by Klee, Picasso, Cézanne and Matisse.

Elective Affinities is curated by Giulio Manieri Elia (who was in New York receiving the Foundation for Italian Art & Culture [FIAC] Excellency Award) and Michele Tavola, Director and Curator of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, and Gabriel Montua and Veronika Rudorfer, Head of and Curator of Museum Berggruen in Berlin. 

You can visit the exhibition and go on an Affinità Elettive treasure hunt until June 23, 2024. Go to the Gallerie dell'Accademia for more information.

And you can also travel behind the scenes to the Elective Affinities press preview with photojournalist Nally Bellati. Visit the Contessanally visual online diary to see dynamic images of people, art, and nibbles served by Harry’s Bar at the opening.

What is weird is that I just noticed that I happened to be wearing a yellow sweater similar to the one Dora Maar wore in Picasso’s painting…

Seen at Casa dei Tre Oci 
Cat Bauer 
and Fabio Marzari
Photo: Nally Bellati

Ciao from Venezia,

1 comment:

  1. You are in for a surprise when you enter Sala I of the Gallerie dell'Accademia. The first thing you see is not the usual room full of artworks from the 14th century. You see The Yellow Sweater by Pablo Picasso, a 1939 oil on canvas he painted of his lover and muse, Dora Maar, on loan from the Berggruen Museum in Berlin.