african masksWalter Bareiss Dies 87
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Walter Bareiss, 87, Dies; 
Specialist in African Art

Walter Bareiss and Picasso  

Walter Bareiss, left, and Picasso in 1971. Mr. Bareiss said he began what he called a collecting mania at 13, when he bought a Picasso etching.

By HOLLAND COTTER April 27, 2007

Walter Bareiss, a businessman who amassed vast collections of African, Western classical and contemporary art, much of which found homes in museums, died on Monday in Stamford, Conn. He was 87. 

The cause was congestive heart failure, his son Hugh said. 

Mr. Bareiss (pronounced BAH-rice) was also briefly an interim director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Amid his distinguished collections, African art had a special place. He was drawn to it before most other critics and collectors were, seeing in it an aesthetic in its own right, not just an influence on Western artists. Mr. Bareiss often referred to collecting as a form of mania, and he acknowledged being seriously afflicted from an early age: he bought his first Picasso etching in Zurich when he was 13. In his tastes and acquisitions, he was a multitasking cosmopolite pursuing several art interests simultaneously.

Focusing on prints and drawings, be bought widely in 20th-century American and European art, and particularly in German contemporary art, including important examples of early work by Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz and Jörg Immendorf. Over the years, he assembled a collection of about 1,800 limited-edition artist’s books, which he donated to the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. 

He put together a distinguished collection of classical Greek ceramics that the J. Paul Getty Museum, then based entirely in Pacific Palisades, Calif., purchased in 1984. The collection included a superb sixth-century B.C. black-figure vase decorated with narrative scenes by an anonymous artist; such was Mr. Bareiss’s standing as a collector that the artist is now referred to as the Bareiss Painter.

Among non-Western fields, he embraced Japanese pottery and Chinese ceramics, but his outstanding contribution was to the appreciation and study of African art. His interest in that field was born early and indirectly. In 1948, as a member of MoMA’s Young Collectors Club, he was asked by the museum’s director, Rene d’Harnoncourt, to bid on the museum’s behalf for several African pieces coming up for auction in Stuttgart, Germany. 

Mr. Bareiss’s bids were successful, and his fascination with African art was settled. He later recalled being struck at the time by how little scholarly and critical attention had been given to the area, apart from noting its influence on artists like Picasso and Brancusi.

For him, African art became increasingly meaningful on its own terms, as an aesthetic of the highest accomplishment and complexity. 

“In my view it has had (and may indeed still have) a far greater influence on people than the philosophies and religions of Western Europe and the Near East or the Orient,” he wrote in 1997 in the catalog for “Kilengi: African Art from the Bareiss Family Collection,” a traveling exhibition of the African objects he had acquired with his wife, Molly Stimson Bareiss, his longtime partner in collecting.

He shaped their African collection of more than 800 objects in distinctive ways. Although its major concentration is work from Central Africa, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo, it also makes significant forays into southeastern Africa, including Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Rwanda, largely ignored until that time by other collectors and museums.

Mr. Bareiss’s embracing and exploratory worldview was in part a product of his international background. Born in Tübingen, Germany, in 1919, he came to the United States in 1937. Starting in the 1970s, he lived more than half the year in Munich, where he ran his family’s textile manufacturing business until it was sold in 1984. In Munich, he joined other collectors in founding the Galerie Verein, which was instrumental in building a collection of contemporary German art that is now in the Neue Pinakothek.

He had many strong institutional ties in the United States. In addition to serving as a trustee at MoMA from 1964 to 1973, he shared the role of interim director in 1969 and 1970 with Wilder Green and Richard H. Koch. From 1972 to 1990 he was a member of MoMA’s drawings committee, and from 1972 to 2003 he was on the committee of prints and drawings.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business science from Yale University in 1940. He was on the governing board of the Yale Art Gallery for half a century and served as its chairman from 1987 to 1995. He also made substantial gifts of art to the museum and endowed a curatorship in ancient art.

At its height the Walter and Molly Bareiss Collection consisted of more than 9,000 works, many of which have been exhibited internationally and acquired by museums.

His wife died last year. Besides his son Hugh, of Stamford, Mr. Bareiss is survived by three other sons: Henry, of Rochester Hills, Minn; Conrad, of Stamford; and Philip, of Taos, N.M. A daughter, Charlotte Bareiss Knox of Boston, and 11 grandchildren also survive him.

The couple’s African collection is on view as a long-term loan to the Birmingham Art Museum in Alabama. The “Kilengi” show, organized by Christopher D. Roy at the University of Iowa in 1997, traveled in Germany before arriving in Iowa and then the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y. 

Important pieces from the couple’s overall collection are to be included next month in auctions of African and Oceanic art at Sotheby’s in New York.

Book : Kilengi : African Art from the Bareiss Family Collection 
(Hardcover) by Christopher D. Roy, Kestner Gesellschaft, Gail Zlatnick, Kestner-Gesellschaft (Corporate Author)

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