Industry Star: The Neue Galerie
Everyone loves an elegant “house museum,” where the art is superior and the scale human. New York has long had two such places, the Frick Collection and the Morgan Library. Now it has a third, the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue. Conceived by Ronald S. Lauder and the art dealer Serge Sabarsky, the Neue Galerie’s mission is to exhibit early-twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design, traditionally a significant weakness among the great collections of modern art in New York. The establishment and growth of this museum in the past few years is a gift, marvelous and unexpected, to the cultural life of the city.
Although Sabarsky died in 1996, Lauder never gave up their shared dream of a museum of German art. His June purchase of Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I, reportedly for $135 million, is what provided the young museum with institutional solidity—and a defining jewel. (Lauder’s wallet will likely affect the entire market, as his Klimt-and-Kirchner taste makes its way down into the galleries.) Not least, the Neue Galerie has charm. It occupies a gracious Beaux-Arts mansion, and it knows how to balance the serious with the playful. Should the erotic melancholy of Egon Schiele prove overpowering, you can retire, as any Viennese would, to a delightful café. From anomie to pastry.
The lousiest show in the art world was not, this year, a traditional museum or gallery exhibition. It was The Money Show. The big money show at the auction houses, galleries, and in the press. No work of art excited the art world half as much as the extraordinary prices paid for art. In one Impressionist-and-Modern sale, Christie’s did about $500 million worth of business. A hedge-fund magnate reportedly paid $137.5 million for a de Kooning Woman painting. What stank was not the money per se—money, after all, is just money—but the abject surrender of the art world to careerist, cash-grubbing attitudes.