Located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on Museum Mile, the former Vanderbilt Mansion is home to the Neue Galerie, an enchanting piece of Europe in the heart of New York City. I have an appointment for an interview with the charming Vienna-born director Renée Price …We meet at the in-house Café Sabarsky, an echt Viennese environment with furnishings by Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffmann . With a genuine Wiener Melange in hand, we chat (in German) about Vienna, the impressive collection of early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design in the museum, the Wiener Werkstätte, and Klimt’s spectacular painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Price previously served as director of the Serge Sabarsky Gallery, which was founded in 1968 by the Viennese-born art collector and dealer Serge Sabarsky. Together with his client and friend, the businessman and philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder, Sabarsky made plans for the opening of the Neue Galerie prior to his passing in 1996. The Neue Galerie finally opened its doors in November 2001.
Antje Mayer: What makes you happy?
Renée Price: My little Schnauzer dame Milly always does. Nature. Art, of course. Also beauty and friendship.
A propos dogs: In the Neue Galerie Design Shop you even offer an accessory line for dogs in the style of the Wiener Werkstätte, from the Wiener Dog Weekender Kit to Wiener Werkstätte Fabric Bones. Is this typical for New York?
This fashion line is called “Neue Hund” (New Dog) and has already drawn quite a lot of attention to our museum. Here in New York there is a dog culture that one doesn’t find in Europe–though Agnes Husslein of the Belvedere and Klaus Albrecht Schröder of the Albertina also have dogs, just to stay on the museum topic! Before 9 in the morning, you can walk your dog without a leash over in Central Park. On one of my walks, I met Carolyn Kennedy; on another, the mayor’s girlfriend, Diana Taylor, in a jogging suit with her two big dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, who love my Milly. These are wonderful moments in sometimes stress-filled New York. So yes, it’s typical New York!
So your dog acquaintances are also the sort of clients you meet in the Neue Galerie?Naturally the residents of the Upper East Side visit us in Café Sabarsky to eat a schnitzel or drink a coffee in the morning. They always say, “It is a bit like being in a club here.” That’s a great compliment for me. Also famous personalities come in and out. In such cases we are very discreet.
In contrast to many state-financed museums in Europe, the Neue Galerie receives no state funding, so we always need to be aware of our appeal to a very demanding public. This extends to our Viennese café, which is operated by the very successful Austrian chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, as well as to our small Design Shop and Book Store. In combination with the collection, they are all extremely important to the identity of our museum. In their own way, they are as important as the two temporary exhibitions we mount each year: they are part of our identity. When museum directors from Vienna visit me, they are astounded to learn that we have a very expensive silver chest on offer in our Design Shop. Many of our clients, who live in the neighborhood, can afford this and expect such high quality. We have many regular customers, not only from the neighborhood, but also from the West Coast and abroad, and many more via the online shop. There are families who have outfitted entire houses in Wiener Werkstätte style with our products. Such merchandising activities are essential for our survival. And ultimately they serve our mission.
Are the Wiener Werkstätte, as well as Klimt and Schiele and their contemporaries, currently experiencing a revival?
It does seem that way. Just look at the collections of fashion designers like Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs; they are reminiscent of the Wiener Werkstätte in the broadest sense, in particular Josef Hoffmann. In her autumn collection for 2013, the London designer L’Wren Scott makes explicit references to Klimt. In the catalogs of the Neue Galerie, time and again we try to show the influences of Viennese art from the early twentieth century on contemporary artists. The British artist Tracey Emin was deeply stirred when I drew a connection in my catalog between her work and that of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele.
Though you have lived in New York for some time, you were born in Vienna.
I have two souls in my breast, so to speak. Yes, I was born in Vienna, grew up there, and also began my art studies there before I graduated from Columbia University in New York and started working at the Sabarsky Gallery. Back then there were only a handful of truly great galleries in New York. It was an exciting time. Sabarsky taught me a lot. He always said, “Look at art in the original. You can learn to see.” My father is American and was stationed in Vienna with the Air Force; my Austrian mother worked as an English interpreter. My roots are in Austria, but I also feel at home in the U.S.
I have no reason to be! I am in Vienna at least six times per year and typically only travel with hand luggage. I have a small flat in Vienna. I love visiting the Viennese galleries, going to the MuseumsQuartier, and making a trip out to Sammlung Essl in Klosterneuburg. The Tiroler Hof is my favorite coffee house in Vienna. By the way, the Otto Wagner upholstery used there is a gift from the Neue Galerie.
What do you miss the most about Vienna?
I miss my friends. And I miss the great bread from the Joseph bakery, which I also bring back with me to New York. I miss the delicious Beinschinken ham from Schwarze Kameel and the unique handcraft companies like Wilhelm Jungmann & Neffe, the Wiener Silber Manufactur, Backhausen interior textiles, or the leather manufacturer Robert Horn. I frequently cooperate with these companies for our own Wiener Werkstätte collections. That’s really something unique in Vienna.
How interesting is the Viennese art scene from a New York perspective?
The Viennese scene is becoming more international and livelier. When I left Vienna as a young student it was a rather trite and stuffy place. As a young woman, I simply wanted to get out of there. Now the art scene is active like never before. Take the Belvedere, for example. It has blossomed–also along with the new 21er Haus–in the truest sense under the direction of Agnes Husslein. Before it was an art tomb! Viennese art institutions have finally grasped that you can’t survive off state funding alone, rather you have to make yourself attractive on your own initiative. Here in New York that goes without saying.
How was it when you were offered the job as the director of the Neue Galerie?
It was the biggest challenge in my life, and I am still thankful to this day for the immense trust that was placed in me. I love this job! It is an American story that could only take place here.
Current exhibition in the Neue Galerie New York:
Koloman Moser: Designing Modern Vienna 1897-1907
May 23-September 2, 2013
Neue Galerie New York presents a monographic exhibition devoted to the Austrian artist, designer, and Wiener Werkstätte co-founder Koloman Moser (1868-1918). This show surveys the sum of Moser’s decorative arts career, comprising important interior design commissions, examples of graphic design, furniture, textiles, jewelry, metalwork, glass, and ceramics, many of which are illustrated by rare preparatory drawings and prints.