“An artists’ salon called Neue Galerie has opened at Grünangergasse 1, on the corner of Schulerstraße, with a Schiele exhibition,” wrote the Neue Freie Presse newspaper exactly 100 years ago on November 29, 1923, about the gallery in Vienna that would come to have a major impact on the art scene in Austria in the following three decades with its multifaceted and modern program. Founded by the art dealer and publisher Otto Kallir-Nirenstein, the gallery initially focused on Austrian modernism and the avant-garde of the years between the world wars. Later, it was influenced by the cultural policies of the Allies and the search for an Austrian cultural identity – all against the backdrop of political shifts that left a deep impact.
The Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, initially called Galerie St. Stephan, has been located in the rooms of the Neue Galerie since 1954. Celebrating its founding 100 years ago provides us with the chance to reflect on the period between 1923 and 1954 and thus also to discover more about the history of our own gallery. The history of the Neue Galerie was directly influenced by fundamental shifts in political power, society, and art historical paradigms. These shifts become visible in the exhibition as through-lines, breaks, and new perspectives represented in the rooms, which are themselves the theme of the presentation. Selected documents, such as correspondence, photographs, documentation of exhibitions, catalogues, invitation cards, and press reports from the archives of the Neue Galerie and the archive of the Kallir Research Institute capture the history of the Neue Galerie in the context of historical turning points.
The debut exhibition in November 1923 quickly established the gallery that would become an important venue for contemporary art in Vienna. By 1938, Kallir had presented more than 130 exhibitions, including solo shows of Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Alfred Kubin, Oskar Laske, Lovis Corinth, Max Beckmann, and Vincent van Gogh. He propagated 19th century painting just as fervently as Italian Futurists, French Impressionists, the art of the Soviet Union, and decorative art objects by the Wiener Werkstätte. Kallir also bought Richard Gerstl’s artistic estate when it was in danger of being destroyed, and he organized many exhibitions together with the progressive Viennese artists’ association Hagenbund.
After the “Anschluss” (annexation) of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938, the gallery’s activities and life for the Kallir Family as they knew it came to a halt. Otto Kallir, who had changed his last name from Nirenstein, which had anti-Semitic connotations, to Kallir already in 1933, fled with his family first to Paris and then to New York, where he opened the Galerie St. Etienne – a French reference to the Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) in Vienna – which he would run until his death in 1978. In the US, he continued to work as a successful gallerist and played an important role in propagating turn-of-the-century Austrian avant-garde artists like Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Richard Gerstl.
By mutual agreement, the Neue Galerie was, in the meantime, run by his long-time, trusted employee Vita Künstler, who kept the gallery going from June 1938 until she gave it back to Kallir after the war in 1949. The two continued to manage the gallery together – Kallir from New York – until 1952.
At a time when other exhibition venues in Vienna were still in ruins, the Neue Galerie cooperated with the newly founded Austrian Cultural Association (Österreichische Kulturvereinigung), the French Cultural Institute, and the United States Information Service to present exhibitions of Alexander Calder, Walt Disney, Georges Rouault, and Grandma Moses. The Austrian section of the international Art Club, the first avant-garde artists’ association after the war, showed its first ever exhibition in the gallery in 1947 and would later show another one there in 1948.
In 1954, Otto Kallir retired from the gallery business in Vienna. He then leased most of the rooms to Monsignor Otto Mauer, who had been active in the contemporary art scene for some time and who had been affiliated with the Neue Galerie on various levels already for many years. When Mauer founded the Galerie St. Stephan in the fall of 1954, he adopted an approach that lives on in the gallery to this day: understanding Grünangergasse 1 as a site for reflection, for the exploration of new things, and for the vibrant exchange of ideas.
We especially want to thank Jane Kallir for initiating this exhibition and for her support through archive loans from the Kallir Research Institute and through the valuable exchange of ideas. The granddaughter of Otto Kallir, she was the director of Gallery St. Etienne in New York until it closed in 2020. She is now the president and head of research at the Kallir Research Center in New York. She has also published several works on Egon Schiele’s art and was awarded the Decoration of Honor in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria in 1994.
Special thanks also to the Belvedere for loans from the archives of the Neue Galerie and to the team at the Belvedere Research Center. We are particularly grateful to Monika Mayer and Stefan Lehner for their extensive research support and contributions to the publication.
Parallel to the exhibition, the Galerie W&K – Wienerroither & Kohlbacher is also showing a comprehensive retrospective in honor of Otto Kallir from November 30, 2023, to February 2, 2024, with works by Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, Kubin, Beckmann, and others called “100 Jahre Neue Galerie Wien. Hommage an Otto Kallir” (100 Years of Neue Galerie in Vienna. Homage to Otto Kallir).
A 56-page booklet with illustrations and texts by Jane Kallir, Stefan Lehner, Monika Mayer, and Veronika Floch will be published on the occasion of this exhibition.
Exhibition concept: Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder/Veronika Floch
Design of the exhibition display and booklet: Matthias Klos
Entrance to Neue Galerie, Grünangergasse 1, 1923
Courtesy: Kallir Research Institute, NY
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