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ESSAYS

Richard Gerstl

GALERIE ST. ETIENNE

A History in Documents and Pictures

As part of our ongoing series commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne, we have chosen to devote the summer months to examining our history per se. It probably goes without saying that any institution which is fifty years old has experienced a substantial number of major historical events, and the gallery--founded after Otto Kallir was forced by the Nazi Anschluss to leave his native Vienna--has surely survived some extremely turbulent times. However, our gallery has been more than simply a pawn to history. Many art dealers literally "make history" in the sense that they recognize important talent before others and help bring that talent to prominence. Otto Kallir was unusual in that his interests--and his instinct for recognizing things of importance--extended not merely to art, but to politics, literature, music and science: in short, to the entire realm of human endeavors. Over these past fifty years, Kallir's interest in documents of historic significance and the history of the Galerie St. Etienne have become intertwined, and the present exhibition offers an opportunity to view the specifics of our gallery's past within the broader context of world affairs.

 

There is little question that the preceding half-century has manifested a spectacular capacity for evil, as epitomized by Hitler's maniacal rise to power and the holocaust that he wrought. Nevertheless, though Otto Kallir meticulously collected documents recording this phenomenon and its antecedents, the vast majority of material assembled by him reflects a remarkable capacity for hope and faith in humankind's ability not just to endure, but to produce things of extraordinary beauty. Studying Samuel Morse's attempts to establish an American telegraph network, or the items relating to Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight, one is reminded of a time when scientific progress seemed to promise a better future, instead of the uneasy compromises it offers today. No less revolutionary than modern telecommunications and aviation were the musical and literary innovations of Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rainer Maria Rilke. Otto Kallir felt privileged to be a witness to such a plethora of extraordinary developments, and he made it his life's work to celebrate them.

 

Not just an art dealer and collector, Kallir sought to share his enthusiasms with a wider audience by functioning as both writer (he believed the catalogue raisonné to be the cornerstone of art connoisseurship) and publisher (of literary works and limited edition graphics by such artists as Beckmann, Kubin and Schiele). He was forever urging acquaintances to record interesting experiences, and thus it was that when he encountered Reinhold Hanisch, an artist who had known Hitler in his Vienna days, he encouraged him to write a memoir (later smuggled out of Nazi Austria) that remains a principal source of information on this early period in the Führer's life. While it may seem ironic to draw a parallel between the Hanisch manuscript and the autobiography, My Life's History, that Kallir coaxed out of Grandma Moses, there is in fact a very real connection between the two. Kallir was driven by the conviction that things must be preserved or they would otherwise be lost. It was this compulsion that inspired him to salvage the estate of the avant-garde Austrian poet Peter Altenberg, and to rescue from oblivion the legacy of the radical painter Richard Gerstl--who at the time of his suicide in 1908 was one of the most advanced artists in Europe. Perhaps most important of all, it was this that ensured that all the artists associated with his gallery were not just marketed in the conventional sense, but amply documented for posterity.

 

As the artists represented by the Galerie St. Etienne have become more firmly established in history, scholarly endeavors have become an increasingly substantial part of our efforts, but the present anniversary provides a reminder that such was not always the case. Our gallery, which has become so historical in its orientation, was in its youth a center for the contemporary avant-garde. Otto Kallir's original Neue Galerie, which he ran in Vienna for fifteen years before founding St. Etienne, was a showplace chiefly for living artists, the exclusive Austrian representative of Oskar Kokoschka and Alfred Kubin (among others). When Kallir came to New York in 1939, he brought with him not just Austrian art, but a treasure trove of modern European paintings by such artists as Cezanne and van Gogh. Just as he was sensitive to the historical forces that surrounded him, Kallir was interested in the full range and impact of the international modernist revolution, which provided a context for developments in Austria. This is why the present exhibition includes works by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Edouard Manet, Edvard Munch, Maurice Utrillo and Vincent van Gogh, in addition to such old favorites as Gustav Klimt, Käthe Kollwitz and Egon Schiele. These various artworks are complemented by letters, books and documents that either relate to the specific history of the Galerie St. Etienne, or reflect Otto Kallir's eclectic collecting patterns. The goal is to describe the context--aesthetic and historical--in which the Galerie St. Etienne developed over these past fifty years.

 

50th Anniversary Committee

 

Dr. Hubert Adolph, DIRECTOR, ÖSTERREICHISCHE GALERIE

 

Leon A. Arkus, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF ART

 

Dr. Robert Bishop, DIRECTOR, MUSEUM OF AMERICAN FOLK ART

 

Dr. Jutta Bohnke-Kollwitz

 

The Honorable Leopold Bill von Bredow, CONSUL GENERAL OF THE

 

FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY

 

Prof. Alessandra Comini, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY

 

Dr. Günter Düriegl, DIRECTOR, HISTORISCHES MUSEUM DER STADT WIEN

 

Lillian Gish

 

Paul Gottlieb, PRESIDENT, HARRY N. ABRAMS, INC.

 

His Excellency Friedrich Hoess, AMBASSADOR OF AUSTRIA TO THE U.S.A.

 

Prof. Arne Kollwitz

 

Mr. and Mrs. Leonard A. Lauder

 

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder

 

Gertrud Mellon

 

Thomas M. Messer, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM

 

Dr. Konrad Oberhuber, DIRECTOR, GRAPHISCHE SAMMLUNG ALBERTINA

 

Mrs. John Alexander Pope

 

Prof. Carl E. Schorske, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

 

Dr. Richard A. Simms

 

The Honorable Wolfgang Steininger, CONSUL GENERAL OF AUSTRIA

 

Dr. Alice Strobl, VICE DIRECTOR EMERITUS, GRAPHISCHE SAMMLUNG ALBERTINA

 

Dr. Wolfgang Waldner, DIRECTOR, AUSTRIAN INSTITUTE