Like Manna in the desert

The Batliner Collection in the Albertina

Klaus Albrecht Schröder / photo: Christian Wind

With the permanent loan of the Batliner Collection, the Albertina has for ten years boasted an “educational trail of Modernism,” to quote director Klaus Albrecht Schröder. Eva Komarek talked to him
about acquisition decisions, the collection’s future, and the indivisibility of art.

The Batliner Collection has been in the Albertina for ten years. In what way has this permanent loan repositioned the museum?
Klaus Albrecht Schröder: The major change was the fact that we now had a permanent exhibition for the first time in our history. The range covered by the collection – international Modernism, painting from French Impressionism through to Picasso, and in particular the figurative trends of Pointillism, Fauvism and German Expressionism right up to Surrealism – was already existent in the Albertina’s collection of drawings, but we didn’t have a public collection. This is because Archduke Friedrich, the last resident of the palace, hadn’t signed the abdication from the throne after the Monarchy had collapsed in 1918 and had taken all collections with him, apart from the drawings and prints. The Batliner Collection enabled the Albertina to show tangible proof that art is indivisible not only in its doctrine of exhibition and presentation, but also in the public collection.

You succeeded in winning this collection for the Albertina. How did this come about?
Klaus Albrecht Schröder: Senator Herbert Batliner and I have been close friends for many decades, and I put his collection on show for the first time in the 1990s in Vienna. I was also agent for showing part of it in Salzburg, after which he gradually came to the conclusion to preserve it for posterity and put it at the disposal of the general public as his legacy. The concept devised by the Albertina utterly convinced Dr Batliner, and I believe there hasn’t been a day since that he hasn’t been happy about this decision. For Vienna, where 800,000 to 900,000 visitors see the collection every year, this history of painting, this educational trail of Modernism, appeared like manna in the desert. There’s no comparable collection of modern painting in any of the Viennese federal museums. In the early 1960s, Werner Hoffman attempted to do something like this sporadically in the Museum of Modern Art in the 20er Haus, just founded at the time, but this became stuck in the rut at the outset for lack of possibilities.

Will the collection be expanded?
Klaus Albrecht Schröder: Herbert Batliner has never stopped collecting since we were given charge of it in 2007. He extended the collection to the value of more than 35 million euros. With a few exceptions he mainly purchased contemporary art, with Georg Baselitz, Arnulf Rainer, Anselm Kiefer and Alex Katz at the core.

What will happen to the collection in the case of Dr Batliner’s decease?
Klaus Albrecht Schröder: His children have signed a contract providing for the collection’s retention in the Albertina. It is indivisible and inalienable as the legacy of the married couple and collectors Herbert and Rita Batliner.

How are acquisition decisions made?
Klaus Albrecht Schröder: Basically this is his decision, but I suggest things to him. Normally nothing is purchased that we don’t think is good. It has to fit his personality, his collector’s eye, and fill gaps in the collection. I was fortunate to suggest to him acquisitions like “Reclining Woman” of 1909, probably one of Erich Heckel’s most important works, or the last picture painted by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner in Dresden before he moved to Berlin in 1911. He was delighted to follow up my recommendation and purchase the works for the collection.

To what extent are museums dependent on such loans?
Klaus Albrecht Schröder: Totally. In Germany it’s common practice: the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum of Contemporary Art of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin consists of two major permanent loans: the Brandhorst Collection in Munich, for which the Bavarians have built a large museum, still belongs to Brandhorst; half of the Kunsthaus Zurich consists of permanent loans.We are fortunate that people exist who make their collection available to the general public. This is a long and tedious process and not every collector is willing to do it. Dr Batliner had been collecting for more than 40 years before he made the resolution to put his collection at the disposal of the general public. There isn’t a museum anywhere that would be able to acquire from the public purse the Francis Bacon, the ten Picassos, early Mirós and Chagalls that we have. But this is nothing new. Two hundred years ago Wilhelm von Humboldt said: we collect collectors because we’re so poor.

Text by Eva Komarek:

Eva Komarek inherited the love of art from her artist father. Professionally, she has devoted herself to business coverage for Dow Jones, the “Wall Street Journal,” Reuters and “WirtschaftsBlatt.” She started the art market column in “WirtschaftsBlatt” and served as its editor from 1996 on.

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