Cultured Magazine

Winter 2015

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"It's a cultural experience to come here," says Renée Price, director of New York's Neue Galerie, the bijou-sized, Upper East Side museum devoted to 20th-century Austrian and German art. "You come here and you feel transported." Visitors can browse through a novel or something more philosophical in the bookstore or they can enjoy a mélange or a slice of Viennese cake in the wood-paneled Café Sabarsky. Based on the 19th-century coffeehouses of Vienna and run by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner the elegant café occupies the former dining room of the Beaux Arts-style mansion Ronald S. Lauder purchased and architect Annabelle Selldorf renovated. A Josef Hoffmann chandelier centers the room where reproduction bentwood chairs typical of the era encircle cozy banquettes upholstered with fabric Otto Wagner designed in 1912. Price was hand-picked decades ago by Austrian-born contractor-turned- collector Serge Sabarsky and his close friend Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder International as well as honorary chairman of the Museum of Modern Art and a former U.S. ambassador to Austria. The two shared a passion for German and Austrian art. "They had a very close connection and sometimes spoke five times a day," says Price, recalling a time when she managed Sabarsky's gallery on Madison Avenue. Lauder and Price were at Mount Sinai when Sabarsky died in 1996 and his last message was, "Do whatever you think is best..." for the project that became Neue Galerie. Price has meticulously attended to that project, honoring Sabarsky's memory and Lauder's trust ever since. The museum is tiny compared to its Upper East Side neighbors, which include the Metropolitan Museum of Art across the street. Despite its size, it consistently enjoys enamored reviews of its engaging, astutely organized exhibitions. Case in point is the recently opened "Berlin Metropolis: 1918-1933," a mixed media show of approximately 350 works, many of which are making their debut in the U.S. Capturing Berlin between the two world wars artist-denizens of the era like Hannah Höch, George Grosz and John Heartfield share space with Fritz Lang's film M while costumes include sparkling sautoir necklaces, shoes, stockings and a leather coat embroidered with monkey fur. "We put on at least two shows a year with loans from all over the world," Price explains, "plus work from the Lauder collections and the Sabarsky estate." But exhibitions never displace the museum's cynosure, like Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, which Lauder famously acquired for the museum in 2006. The painting is more popularly known as The Woman in Gold and the eponymous, 2015 film that traces the painting's history brought the Neue increased attention. "It's as if Gustav Klimt is our Monet," says Price, "and that piece is now a part of our identity. We recently showed it for 23 weeks, and we had more than 1,200 people a day. This small house and my small staff have never had such a busy summer." Price oversees every aspect of the museum and says "atmosphere" is critical. "All the senses are somehow engaged, but not necessarily in an obvious way," she says. "Whether it's fresh flowers or the subtle scent we sometimes use in the galleries." A music program extends beyond the viewing spaces and Neue's cabaret program sells out quickly. "It's a fabulous experience," Price continues. "You can go up and see the exhibition then have a wonderful, prix fixe dinner before the nine o'clock performance." The Neue Galerie Design Shop is one of Price's particular passions. "It's an important source of revenue for the museum, and it has grown exponentially," she says. "We have a wonderful following of people who travel the world and they choose to buy things from us. I always remind myself and my staff of that." Among the inventory are pieces made in collaboration with Madeline Weinrib and Michael Graves, and most recently Aerin Lauder, daughter of the museum's co-founder, who produced two lipsticks inspired by works from the collection. All the packaging—whether it contains a cashmere Czech shawl or a piece of Adolf Loos glassware—indicates how each purchase supports the museum. "We swim against the tide," says Price. "We're chamber music compared to our big friends here on museum mile who do things in other parts of the world but we're not going to expand. In a way our beautiful landmark building is like an organ. We're just trying to play it beautifully and make it a positive experience when someone comes in. If we accomplish that, we can't ask for more." 140 CULTURED ASKING PRICE Renée Price, founding director of Neue Galerie, takes the lid off the jewel box that Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky built. BY TRACY ZWICK PORTRAIT BY HULYA KOLABAS Renée Price with Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

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