Zurich: The Kunsthaus finds paintings and loses money

The Kunsthaus finds paintings and loses money

Published: 05/27/2024, 7:58 p.m.

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How strange… The two paintings that disappeared from the Kunsthaus in Zurich after the fire following the fire of August 2, 2022 mysteriously resurfaced a few days ago. Hello, here we are again! They are, according to laboratory analyses, in excellent condition. These works will therefore be able to return to the picture rails, as long as this honor is reserved for them. Only a small part of the Ferdinand and Karine Knecht Collection, deposited in the institution for around ten years, is hung on the walls due to lack of space. I would like to remind you that this collection, cooked up by the couple for several decades, is limited to Dutch painting. Mainly that of the “Golden Age”. It is above all composed of small, even tiny paintings. A choice undoubtedly dictated by the size of the collectors’ accommodation. This explains the ease with which the works were able to disappear into what we will here call nature. It would seem more difficult to remove a painting by Georg Baselitz measuring around ten square meters from the building.

Two small works

What remains less clear is the why and how. The museum now directed by Ann Demeester does not intend to communicate on the affair. The investigation remains ongoing, hence a press release that is evasive to say the least. According to him, the main thing would be that we found the military scene created by Robert van den Hoecke and the sumptuous bouquet of flowers that Dirck de Bray painted in 1673. The affair nevertheless remains intriguing. If no conspiracy theorist has yet dared to assert that the fire had intentionally broken out in order to remove the two works, they still remained invisible for almost two years. The museum initially spoke of “research to be done in the rooms”, as if we were in a labyrinthine shambles. Then he promised in June 2023 a reward “of up to 10,000 francs” for anyone who could provide information. Wanted!

It is unclear. I know. I have not found a better image of the bouquet painted in 1673 by Dirck de Bray.

Some people think today that the museum paid. Who and how many, we don’t know. Was there a ransom? No one will ever affirm or deny it. Hence a uneasiness which bothers me all the more since I have just read “Burglars at the Museum” by Philippe Durant, which I will tell you about soon. There is a lot of talk about payments, but not in five figures like the one the Kunsthaus posted last year. More like six. Or even seven. An unhealthy practice which of course encourages future thefts, armed or not. I am willing that institutions and politicians alike speculate a lot about forgetting. But this one took a hit with the internet. Everything ends up coming out of this diabolical machine: who, where, when and above all, what amount.

A view of the rooms dedicated to the Knecht Collection in the old building.

A bad thing never comes alone. The Kunsthaus today has heavy debts. The 2023 financial year turned out to be very negative. There would be a hole of 4.5 million, which the poly-subsidized institution will have to plug. The NZZ (read “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”) recently took issue with the management of what is after all also a commercial enterprise. The duo formed by the new director Ann Demeester, recruited in Haarlem, and the president Philipp M. Hildebrand, also appointed in 2022, would be particularly responsible for this. “The glamorous couple does not work.” Add to that the eternal waves of the Bührle Foundation (where things had to be put back on track), then the abrupt departure of the head of communications after 24 years of service (a very important position at the Kunsthaus Zurich) and you will shudder a bit. little. For the NZZ, which is politically more to the right, “the museum is going to the wall.”

“About Hodler.” a failed exhibition saved by Hodler and the pastel decor by Nicolas Party.

Unfortunately, it should be noted that the last exhibitions at the Kunsthaus were not very exciting. Above all, they were no match for those of the Kunstmuseum in Basel, or even the Kunsthaus in Aarau. At this moment, we are therefore allowed to wonder why the museum is redoing a Kiki Kogelnik shortly after La Chaux-de-Fonds. “Apropos Hodler” is saved by the national painter and the spectacular pastel decor by Nicolas Party. The rest seemed pretty much rubbish to me. There is certainly nothing there to attract the crowds, which have become difficult. The Kunsthaus lives today in a competitive world, which it finds difficult to realize. And it is not the feminist, diverse and inclusive policy (practicing, as it were, decompartmentalization) praised by Ann Demeester which will change the situation. It interests a small, very vocal minority, but which (alas?) counts for little compared to a silent majority voting with its feet, like the opponents in communist regimes in the past. People come… or don’t come anymore. Like or dislike. Advise or advise against. A reality that must, or should, be admitted one day. The cultural revolution does not happen overnight after beautiful declarations of intention. She must gently convince rather traditional visitors. A phenomenon close to conversion!

To be continued in the next episode…


“Etienne Dumont’s week”

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Born in 1948, Etienne Dumont studied in Geneva which were of little use to him. Latin, Greek, law. A failed lawyer, he turned to journalism. Most often in the cultural sections, he worked from March 1974 to May 2013 at the “Tribune de Genève”, starting by talking about cinema. Then came fine arts and books. Other than that, as you can see, nothing to report.More informations

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