Impressed By The Impressionists
Rachel Stern tours one of Germany’s most stunning art collections, housed inside the renovated Barberini Palace in Potsdam.
Masters of impressionism at the newly opened Barberini Museum.
D uring a World War II air raid, Potsdam’s majestic Barberini Palace, built in 1772 as an assembly house for art and culture societies, was left in ruins. Now freshly reconstructed, the palace reopened on 20 January this year as the Barberini Museum (Humboldtstr. 5-6, 14467 Potsdam, www.museum-barberini. com) with an exhibition on impressionist art. Art aficionados as diverse as Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bill Gates were present to celebrate the grand opening.
I was impressed by the museum, situated about 45 minutes from Berlin's center by S-Bahn, even before setting foot inside. Its intricate Italian High Renaissance-style facade – modelled after its namesake palace in Rome – is the focal point of Potsdam’s Alte Markt, a square originally commissioned by Frederick the Great. The royal feel continued inside the museum, with airy, high ceilings and corridors central to the original palace.
But most stunning were the hardwood halls of hundreds of art masterpieces, filled with both classics and lesser-known impressionists and GDR-era works that largely comprise the private collection of Hasso Plattner, founder of software company SAP. When I visited in May, the collection centered on its opening exhibition: an array of impressionist art, including lesser known watercolor landscapes from Monet, Renoir, and Caillebotte. Starting on 17 June and running until 3 October, the museum will unveil the exhibit From Hopper to Rothko: America's Road to Modern Art, also showcasing rarely seen art works from American impressionism to abstract art expressionism normally on display at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. . Many museum gardens I’ve seen are filled with whimsical statues matching their environment, but Plattner purposely chose a controversial centerpiece: the bronze sculpture Century Step by Wolfgang Mattheuer (1984). Showcasing a statue with both a clenched fist and a raised salute, it makes reference to two totalitarian regimes: the communists and the Nazis. Perhaps the museum’s most modern and unique feature, not surprisingly the brainchild of its techie founder and his team at SAP, is the 3x5- meter Smart Wall. Visitors can juxtapose impressionist landscapes mostly from the 19th century with current photographs of the location by German photographer Christoph Irrgang. Some of the landscapes were left astonishingly untouched over the the years, and I left the exhibit questioning not only how much art mirrors life, but how much life mirrors art.
From top to bottom: Exterior of the Barberini Museum; Sunday ,1926, Edward Hopper; Red Sun,
1935, Arthur G. Dove; Apache dance, 1938, Max Beckmann; White Noise, Vassily Kandinsky. Inset, left: the museum's interior.