PRINT January 2002

US News

the Neue Galerie

Countries come in and out of fashion, and this seems to be prime time, in New York at least, for Austria. David Bouley's Danube, with neo-Viennese food on the menu and faux Klimts on the walls, is doing bang-up business. And now there is Café Sabarsky, serving Trześniewski-style sandwiches, Sacher torte, and . . .

But here the Klimts are real. Before the schlag overtakes us: This very proper café, named after Serge Sabarsky, the late gallerist, collector, and champion of Austrian and German Expressionism, occupies the parlor of the Carrere & Hastings beaux-arts manse on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighty-sixth Street—home to the Neue Galerie, New York's latest addition to its Museum Mile. Founded by Sabarsky and former US ambassador to Austria and Museum of Modern Art board chairman Ronald S. Lauder, the boutique museum opened in November with a deservedly well-received show from its collection. Its objective is to “collect, preserve, research, and exhibit” fine and decorative Austrian and German art of the first half of the last century, including that of the Bauhaus, the Wiener Werkstätte, Neue Sachlichkeit, Die Brücke, and the Blaue Reiter. For temporary exhibitions it intends to tap its own small trove as well as the Sabarsky and Lauder collections, among others.

The new space's first focused offering will be “Oskar Kokoschka: Early Portraits, 1909–1914,” curated by Tobias G. Natter of Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, and on view from March 15 to June 10 (traveling to the Hamburg Kunsthalle July 5 to September 15). Almost a century has passed since, on the eve of the misnamed War to End All Wars, Kokoschka first showed his portraits of the Vienna and Berlin beau monde. This exhibition, offering more than thirty of his early oil portraits and drawings as well as posters and postcards designed for the Wiener Werkstätte, just might restart the fitful conversation concerning the crucial role Expressionism has played in driving twentieth-century art.

The show should also exemplify the Neue Galerie's refreshing blockbuster denial. Comprising seven galleries on two floors, a smalf bookstore and design shop, and the aforementioned cafe, the Neue Galerie, with its apt proportions and self-sufficient scale, paradoxically avoids claustrophobic preciousness. The finely finished renovation of the 1914 Louis X111–style building by Selldorf Architects is a sleek and quiet hybrid of period restoration and careful conversion to a modernist exhibition space that befits the transitional art the rooms will often house. Although a nation-specific museum might seem to balkanize its subjects, the Neue Galerie may instead provide a welcome chance to test the questionable boundaries between the so-called fine and decorative arts—no matter the country.

Jeff Weinstein is fine arts editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.