Artworks on loan
Friday, 13 January 2023
The new Hong Kong Palace Museum is currently showcasing over 120 major artworks from the Princely Collections. In the context of the exhibition, we discuss with Dr Johann Kräftner, Director of the Princely Collections, the relevance of loans in general, upcoming exhibitions, and the impact of artworks being confiscated.
To begin with, the very general question is this: how important are loans for the exhibition industry?
On the one hand, it is entirely possible for a museum to put on an exhibition from its own collections. However, in order to be able to provide a comprehensive representation of artists, themes and epochs, there is also a need to bring the intended content into focus through loans and to set particular accents. This is true of our own exhibitions as well as those of other institutions. As a result of technical and financial limitations leading to a lower number of loan works being available, the extent to which the calibre of exhibitions has fallen is all too evident, particularly in Vienna.
Part of the Princely Collections is on permanent display in the Liechtenstein GARDEN PALACE and CITY PALACE in Vienna. Have the Princely Collections always been interested in having an additional presence at other exhibition venues and international museums, through loan activities?
The Princely Collections comprise one of the greatest and most valuable private art collections in the world, and solely in order to do justice to their status, they have to be made widely available to other museums worldwide. We consider it important, and indeed it forms part of our very identity, to have the role of complementing the leading arthouses in the world, the national museums, and to be part of a harmonious whole.
According to your website, loans are a means of placing works from the Princely Collections into new contexts. What are the challenges faced when integrating an artwork into a different subject-matter context or space?
Exhibitions create something new simply due to the works being placed in a new environment, the exhibition architecture, as well as also through the choice of works alongside which they are displayed. They stimulate new ideas, or reveal facets that may not have previously been apparent, and colleagues at other institutions may have fresh insights, or make new discoveries, during the curation process.
The visiting exhibition from the Princely Collections runs in Hong Kong until 20 February. ODYSSEYS OF ART: MASTERPIECES COLLECTED BY THE PRINCES OF LIECHTENSTEIN, at the Hong Kong Palace Museum, consists of over 120 major artworks. How long does it take to plan a project with such a large number of loan works?
For such a large-scale exhibition, and one which is also complex due to its subject matter, the three-year preparation period for this particular event was extremely short. We do not send 'ready-made' exhibitions around the world, but instead hold detailed discussions on content with our counterparts at the institution in question, and this content should also reflect the 'spirit' of the place in question. In Hong Kong, the focus is on cultural transfer and the coming together of East and West, as well as the parallel aspects of collecting activities over the centuries, evidenced in the Princely Collections as well as the Chinese Court, the 'Forbidden City', today's Palace Museum in Beijing, and now also in the Museum's newly-opened regional offshoot in Hong Kong. Although here, the focus is on the art of China, the top gallery also showcases art from the great museums of the West. The Princely Collections are the first to be honoured with such an exhibition.
For the layperson, how does the typical 'loan process' work? How do you decide whether to lend a work?
In terms of content, you have to find the common thread, the story you want to tell, and then create a balance between those objects that have the capacity to tell the story and those that are indispensable in terms of adding weight to an exhibition and enabling it to attract large numbers of visitors. In this process, the basic prerequisite is that an artwork must be able to travel; Rubens's 'Venus in Front of the Mirror', or the dual portrait of his sons, will never be allowed to leave our premises. In the case of the Hong Kong exhibition, the process of discussion and fine-tuning took two years; due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was in the form of extensive weekly video calls with the team at the Hong Kong Palace Museum.
In 2016, Lucas Cranach the Elder's 'Venus', which had been loaned to an exhibition in Aix-en-Provence, was confiscated by the French authorities as a forgery. Once the allegations had been disproved, last year the French authorities were obliged to return 'Venus' to the Princely Collections. Now it is back on display at the GARDEN PALACE. Does such an incident affect your approach to lending?
Of course, one becomes cautious and asks for a return guarantee, which had indeed been given in the case of Cranach's 'Venus'. As for how much such a guarantee is actually worth, the case of 'Venus' makes this abundantly clear… We exercise great care in deciding to lend, depending on correlation of origin, how long a work has been held in the collections, and the loan's intended destination.
For the annual special exhibition presented by the Princely Collections, MARCH AT THE PALACE, held in the Liechtenstein GARDEN PALACE, you yourselves include loan works from other institutions. What is the significance of loans in this context, and what can visitors look forward to seeing at the upcoming special exhibition CAST FOR ETERNITY. THE BRONZES OF THE PRINCES OF LIECHTENSTEIN?
The bronze collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein is one of the best in the world and would be sufficiently worth seeing on its own. My aim, however, is to add special highlights through 'visiting' artworks, through loans which integrate epochs or artists not covered by our own collections. The 'eagle lectern' from Hildesheim Cathedral, dating from the early 13th century, Leonardo da Vinci's 'Horse and Rider' from Budapest (after 1500), or the major loans from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, will undoubtedly be particular attractions of the exhibition.
I look forward to seeing Adrian de Fries's 'Christ in Distress', for once alongside 'Christ at the Column', by the same artist, from the Kunstkammer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and also Giambologna's 'Equestrian Statuette of Ferdinando I de’ Medici' together with the monumental bust of the Grand Duke by Pietro Tacca. This bust, so central to the Medici collections, is a work that provides us with a unique understanding of the talent and creative drive possessed by the artist at the turn of the 17th century. This and many other works will provide the opportunity to discover new masterpieces, never before seen, from the repository of the Princely Collections.
Venus, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
© LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna