This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

11May/12

PORTRAIT OF WALLY

Egon Schiele masterpiece is at the heart of new documentary

PORTRAIT OF WALLY (Andrew Shea, 2012)
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St.
Opens Friday, May 11
212-255-2243
www.quadcinema.com
portraitofwally.com

An exciting, fast-paced documentary set in the high-stakes art world, Andrew Shea’s Portrait of Wally is a gripping real-life legal thriller, complete with international intrigue, love and death, class warfare, lies and deception, and Nazis. In 1912, Austrian artist Egon Schiele painted a small portrait of his mistress, Walburga (“Wally”) Neuzil, in addition to a companion self-portrait. In 1939, the painting of Wally was stolen from art dealer Lea Bondi’s personal collection by Friedrich Welz, a Nazi who had also taken over Bondi’s gallery because she was Jewish. When the painting suddenly showed up in New York City in 1997 as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s “Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection” exhibition, a furious, angry thirteen-year battle ensued over ownership of the work, involving Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau; MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry; Sharon Cohen Levin, chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office; investigator Willi Korte of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project; Schiele-obsessed art collector Rudolf Leopold; and the Bondi family. Other major museums sided with MoMA in a concerted effort to prevent the government from returning the painting to the Bondis, claiming that it would seriously damage the ability of art institutions to bring works on loan for exhibition in the United States; interestingly, Lowry and MoMA chairman Ronald S. Lauder, who is also the head of the Commission for Art Recovery and displays many of Schiele’s paintings and drawings at his Neue Galerie in New York City, opted not to speak with Shea, but the filmmaker did meet with Morgenthau, Levin, André Bondi, New York Times reporter Judith Dobrzynski, 60 Minutes journalist Morley Safer, Galerie St. Etienne owner and Schiele expert Jane Kallir, and others who share fascinating details about the personal and professional history of Schiele and the painting as well as the inner workings of the art world. Mixing archival footage with new interviews, Shea and his wife, editor Melissa Shea, tell a compelling tale of global importance filled with powerful emotion that, in many ways, evokes the feeling one gets when looking closely at a master work of art. But Portrait of Wally is about a lot more than just art; it is also about memory, about family, about responsibility, and about justice.

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