Interview with Johann Kraeftner to learn about the Prince Hans Adam II revolution at the Liechtenstein Museum

When in April 2013 Hans Adam II Prince of Liechtenstein reopened to the public the Liechtenstein City Palace in Vienna, after an accurate restoration that costed him €20 millions, he probably expected an enthusiastic response of the public. But Viennese people are said to visit the city’s museums only twice in their life: the first one is when they are children, the second one is when they become parents, and bring their kids to the museum. It follows that, as soon as he realized that his new Palace wasn’t making an exception, he decided to change his strategy and bring his collection to people all around the world, instead of waiting for them to come to Vienna. We have talked about it with Johann Kraeftner, the Princely Collections‘ director, and the man who is turning the Prince’s intuition into a new model for collectors.

Since the restoration of the Liechtenstein City Palace, what have been the achievements so far?

Actually, the palace is now closed to the public but it’s open by appointment and many groups and people are coming. We are totally overbooked. At the same time we organise major temporary exhibitions around the world; so far, we had shows in Japan, Beijing and Shanghai as well as in Singapore. At the moment we are having an exhibition parts of the collection still running in the United States and we are soon going to Cincinnati. We had an exhibition at the Pushkin museum focusing just on Flemish painting. We are also going to open an exhibition on fine paintings mid-April in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. We are planning a big exhibition in Seoul too which should happen at the end of this year. We are indeed very active in collaborating with other countries in order to represent the Princely Collections abroad.

What are the consequences of such an intense activity?

On the one side we have the freedom because the houses are closed so we don’t have to have fixed installations on the walls. On the other side, because we do conservation and restoration works, we get many new pieces out from our collection – at the same time we also acquire many new pieces. The works on show are of very high quality both in our palaces and in the exhibitions we are sending around. We have a major project coming up next year. We are planning an exhibition which will take place during the Salzburg Festival, one of the greatest music festivals in the world. We will present pieces from the Lichtenstein collection and maybe we will include some masterpieces from a group of small museums which I’ve put together for that show.

Is this a change in the strategy of the Princely Collections since your decision to open a new venue or was it planned?

Every museum costs a lot of money to run regularly. So the Prince, a tough businessman, decided it wasn’t worth to keep it open on a daily basis. However the people who wish to attend the museum can do so. Meanwhile we care to show our masterpieces not only in Vienna, but to a much wider audience in other countries. We started in Eastern Asia, and covered it all, we had a show in Moscow, and we are planning one in Switzerland.

Are you planning to have any exhibition in Italy this year?

In fact we have contributed a lot to the official Expo exhibition that is taking place in Monza, in the former summer palace of the Austrian governors up to the 1861 which has just recently been restored. It will focus on the view that foreign painters and artists had on Italy. Amongst the works we have lent, there is the painting “Landscape with Roman Ruin”s (1536) by Herman Posthumus, a Danish painter which will actually set the beginning of this exhibition. We are also lending some artworks to the new Prada Foundation. Another exhibition is planned for October at the Forte di Bard, in Valle D’Aosta.

How many people are working in your team?

There are 5 people working in the collections and 6 restorers. I would not know any big gallery having six restorers for paintings. The curatorial staff is extremely small.

How about your new acquisitions?

We have bought a very important Jordaens painting which was hidden in Paris, a beautiful sculpture, a Hercules, by a famous Italian Reinassance artist Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi. We also acquired a big Doccia porcelain made after the famous Ercole Farnese and a wonderful Virgin with the child by Jan Gossaert, which has the quality of a Durer painting. Some other acquisitions include a Salomon Ruysdael’s landscape which was practically untouched and possibly the best portrait in the Rosso Fiorentino’s show which took place in Florence I think two years ago. We had some problems to get it as it was stopped by the French authorities. But finally we could buy it.

We do agree with the strategy of investing less in the hardware while promoting the artworks and their circulation. Is this the aim you want to perceive?

It is indeed. On the one side, the prince didn’t want to keep the museum open daily from 9am till the evening because the attendance was low. It is a general trend. I’ve just been in Munich and there too the museums are empty. All the people seem to focus on the big museums, like the Louvre in Paris or the National Gallery in London. In Vienna just the Kunsthistorisches Museum is attended, while the rest is empty. What we want to do is to bring our pieces to the people around the world and set our aims. Collectors are getting more and more public, more and more famous so we get a lot of request to collaborate and put on display our exhibitions. We will contribute to an exhibition in Mexico. By the way we are also discussing some possible exhibitions in the Middle East, when these museums will be ready.

We are currently focusing on Doha. What do you think about the Museum of Islamic Art?

I’ve been there and I can say it’s spectacular, one of the best collections of Islamic Art. And much nicer presented that the collection in the Louvre, for example. Every piece is a great piece. And all these pieces are celebrated in the perfect way. That is the unique thing there.

December 15, 2017