Exhibit Opening at the Villa Schöningen: California Rhapsody

Potsdam, November 21, 2014
Ambassador John B. Emerson

The Villa Schöningen opened its doors as a museum five years ago, on November 9, 2009.  This is a symbolic date in German history.  Kimberly and I are honored to join you and all the friends of the Villa Schöningen this evening.

Appropriately, this beautiful house, with its rich history, in this unique location, is dedicated to both the spirit and history of freedom.  And of course, Mathias, Kimberly and I are thrilled that you chose to launch your fifth anniversary year with an exhibit on art from our home state, with this extraordinary exhibit of works from the Sammlung Falckenberg.

Dr. Falckenberg, you have said that, “every era gets the art it deserves.”   Well, we agree.  It is hard to imagine a better exhibit, in this museum that is dedicated to the spirit of freedom, than this one: California Rhapsody or California dreaming.

Just a few days before Chancellor Angela Merkel participated in the official opening of the Villa Schöningen – as part of the celebration of the 20thanniversary of the fall of the BerlinWall, she traveled to Washington.  In an address to both Houses of Congress, Chancellor Merkel recalled her first trip to America in 1990.  And in our first extended conversation, after my arrival here as Ambassador, she told me about it as well.  Where did she go?  California.  She said she would never forget her first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean: the dramatic ocean cliffs and mountains of Big Sur; and the wide beaches of San Diego.  It was simply gorgeous.  California dreaming!

There’s another reason why this exhibit, California Rhapsody, is appropriate.

For a long time, Los Angeles lived in the shadow of New York, and other international art capitals.  That is changing.  As the headline in one newspaper, not so long ago, read: “L.A. art scene reaches a critical mass of cool.

Well, California’s abundant light and broad vistas have always drawn a certain kind of artist.  Something we can perhaps all relate to on these grey November days.  Young, cutting-edge artists flocked to California, especially during the years of the counter-culture.  And L.A. has perhaps become iconic for its emerging artist scene.

But the art scene in L.A., and throughout California, also mirrors the success, the inspiration, and the vitality of private cultural initiatives like the Villa Schöningen here in Potsdam, and the Sammlung Falckenberg in Hamburg.

Germany is a country rich in art.  And Berlin, the sister city of Los Angeles, has also become iconic for its emerging art scene.  That is why Kimberly, in curating the art for our residence, took the theme of “a tale of two cities,” featuring emerging artists from L.A. and Berlin.

Germany has had serious art collectors since the 17th century, when the princely enterprise of supporting artists and collecting art reached its maturity all over Europe.  Germans, however, were among the first to view treasures of the past in what we now regard as a modern way.  To a certain extent, they invented the discipline of art history.

Fast forward to the 21st century, art and culture still play an important role in affairs of state but kings and queens, and princes and princesses, are no longer the ones who define the parameters of the art world.  In Germany, both the federal and city governments have made major investments in culture, but without private initiative and corporate sponsorship, such as that represented in the extraordinary collection exhibited in this wonderful museum, the vitality of the artistic and cultural scene in Germany would be nowhere near where it is today.

We know these kinds of partnerships well in the United States.  In fact, if Germany invented art history as we know it, then the U.S. wrote the book on cultural philanthropy, starting with the great libraries, universities, museums, and cultural institutions that were funded by the industrialists of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

But going forward, there are lessons to be learned for institutions, private and public, on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world.  Art and culture and education do not stand still.

Museums and art institutions have long been at the forefront of representing cultural values and morals.  Historically, they were often focused primarily on the custodianship of objects in their care.  Today, however, they are politically engaged, globally connected, and incredibly skilled in the art of international cultural diplomacy.  Their reach extends beyond that of governments.  And the language of art extends well beyond cultural, geographical, and political borders.  In a world that is increasingly connected, these institutions – large and small, public and private – often play their roles in many different ways.

Certainly, this jewel of a museum, the Villa Schöningen, does all of the above.  It not only focuses on chapters of history that suppressed the spirit of freedom, it reminds us of how the artistic and cultural exchange thatcome with freedom, inspire new forms of creativity and contribute to mutual understanding.

Mathias, when the Villa Schöningen opened five years ago, you said that your goal was to create a place for happiness and freedom – “ein fröhlicher Ort der Freiheit.”

Mission accomplished.  Operation geglückt.  Congratulations!