A Hidden Gem For Picasso Lovers Reopens Better Than Ever In Berlin

Worldcrunch's cubist impression of Berlin's Berggruen Museum
Worldcrunch's cubist impression of Berlin's Berggruen Museum
Hans-Joachim Müller

BERLIN - There are impressive museum collections – indeed entire museums – of works by Pablo Picasso: in Malaga and New York, Paris and Barcelona, Münster, Madrid, Basel and Cologne.

The best one? Berlin – part of the legendary collection of art dealer Heinz Berggruen (1914-2007) housed since 1996 in a palazzo-style building across from Schloss Charlottenburg royal palace.

Berggruen’s collection doesn’t only comprise top-class work by Picasso, but other classical modern artists – Cézanne, Braque, Matisse, Klee and Giacometti – as well. In 2000 when the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, encompassing Berlin’s state-run museums and other cultural entities bought the priceless collection for the “symbolic” sum of 130 million euros, the Berggruen Museum became one of Berlin’s most attractive cultural addresses right up there with the city’s Museum Island.

Picasso's "Dora Maar With Green Fingernails - Berggruen Museum

Since the summer of 2011, the museum has been closed for expansion and restoration – and although the Berlin architectural firm of Kuehn Malvezzi has added 10 new rooms by joining the existing building to the one next door in a federally funded, 6.5 millio euro project, the sense of intimacy that helped make a visit to the Berggruen collection so memorable in the past has not been lost.

The 20-meter-long steel-and-glass pergola that links the two buildings offers a view of the new sculpture garden, and the additional space inside means that the 250 art works could be re-hung in a way that brings out their full intensity.

The original building is now exclusively devoted to Picasso. Berggruen’s Picassos reflect his collector’s passion and are rounded out by loans from Berggruen family holdings. The collection offers a wide-rangng number of works that include paintings but also works on paper, prints and sculptures. The selection takes us from the young artist’s realism though his Blue and Rose periods, analytic and synthetic Cubism, the surrealism of the 1930s and 1940s, then through to the trials of strength of his old age – the Spanish artist kept producing until he died at the age of 92 in 1973.

A jubilant array

All the artist’s favorite subjects are represented: the circus folks and the poor he painted in his bohemian phase in Paris in the early 1900s; the array of women – bathers, mothers, lovers, reclining models and sleeping nudes – painted over the years; the Cubist still lifes, experiments in taking apart and reassembling; the characters from Greek and Roman mythology; the masks of the artist as an old man.

But if the collection covers all phases of the artist’s production, it does not pay the same amount of attention to each: Berggruen the art dealer, collector and friend of the artist’s was less at home with the aggressive Picasso than he was with the lyrical Picasso.

The result is that some Picasso connoisseurs may find things missing here and there – perhaps some monumental dancers on the beach from the 1920s, bitter emblematic figures from the Guernica period, or wild and defiant late work. But what are a few lapses in the face of such a jubilant array? Just taking in a drawing like ""Dora Maar with Her Hair Loose,"" that Berggruen bought at a Paris auction in 1998 for $994,000, is a huge art experience.

Moving on to the new part of the museum and to the delicately poetic work of Paul Klee (1879-1940) is like changing worlds. The 60 small-format works by the Swiss artist are the second focal point of a collection also renowned for its bronzes by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), including his famous Cat; joyful vibrant color cutouts by French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954); and several portraits and a study of an apple by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).

Heinz Berggruen was born in Berlin to a Jewish family, and fled the Nazis in 1936. He returned to Berlin in 1996 – bringing his art collection with him in what the New York Times in its obituary of Berggruen called a “powerful gesture of reconciliation.” – and is buried there.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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