Kunsthalle Bremen announces a new presentation of the museum collection

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Kunsthalle Bremen announces a new presentation of the museum collection
Kunsthalle Bremen, The Collection Remixed. Photo: Marcus Meyer.

BREMEN.- With the title 20/20 Vision: The Collection Remixed (opened 6 June 2020), the Kunsthalle Bremen presents a radical new look at its collection for the first time in nearly ten years. Using bold colours on the walls, an elaborate staging and an entirely new arrangement of the works on display, the exhibition allows surprising new aesthetic experiences. Descriptions of all works on display provide in-depth information, some of which are findings from the very latest research. Several works have not been seen in public in decades. The installation also presents for the first time a number of recent acquisitions, donations, and permanent loans. Works of art created after 1945 are also being given a greater presence.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Kunsthalle Bremen is launching a major new presentation of its collection. The museum has carried out a creative remix of its existing holdings, omitting well-known works, adding new elements and setting up new combinations to create a profoundly unique aesthetic experience. Bold wall colours, densely hung galleries, unusually presented paintings and sculptures, extensive, room filling installations and spectacular new works turn a visit to the museum into a treat for the mind and the senses.

The new presentation of the collection explores the enduring significance of historical and contemporary art and its relevance to current issues, demonstrating the continuity of certain motifs through centuries. For the most part, the works have been arranged chronologically and are complemented by galleries that focus on exploring specific themes. These address issues that have long affected humanity, including faith and war, global trade and colonialism, nature and globalization and reflect the unbroken relevance of artworks from across seven centuries. One central point of reference continues to be the history of the Kunstverein (the membership association founded in 1823 and still the responsible body for the Kunsthalle) in the context of the history of the Hanseatic city of Bremen. The new display thus combines a regional perspective and the storied history of the collection with world events.

The new layout of the permanent collection provides an opportunity to explore the prevailing canon of art history: Which works have maintained their place in galleries for decades and which have been relegated to storage? This allows visitors to make surprising discoveries of works in the permanent collection that have been taken out of the depot. Unusual juxtapositions allow familiar works to appear in a new light. Primarily organized along chronological lines, the narrative is frequently enriched by thematic accents in which historical works meet contemporary art. Familiar and unfamiliar artists, along with regional and major international works enter into an exciting artistic discourse.

Post-war art and contemporary works have been given a higher profile. Substantial installations such as those by Ilya Kabakov and Otto Piene as well as works by Martin Honert, Mary Reid Kelley, Patrick Kelley, and Korpys/Löffler are once again on display alongside important permanent loans by Robert Longo, Katharina Sieverding, and Kehinde Wiley.

Visitors can gain insight into the extensive sculpture holdings in the Sculpture Gallery, which presents a panorama of over 400 years of art history. The sculptures have been arranged according to size and not era, artistic approach or materials. From delicate figurines to heavy, larger-than-life works, the human body is highlighted as a major theme in art. A particular focus is the period from around 1900 to the present.

The objective of rehanging the collection is to make the museum a place where all segments of the population can engage in discourse, inspiration, and learning. To make the Kunsthalle Bremen more accessible, the new presentation offers a range of educational material tailored for different target audiences. Wall texts can now be found in each gallery, some with supplemental documentary material, and each object is labelled with additional descriptions. All labels are in German and English.

20/20 Vision confirms the relevance of the museum’s holdings. They contain a nearly inexhaustible reservoir of works, media, and ideas that provide infinite combinations and ever-new insights.

Thematic Rooms
The new collection presentation follows a basic chronological structure that is supplemented by various key narratives. The Central Gallery functions as a type of “forum” and focuses on different aspects of Bremen and its population. The city, which for centuries has been shaped by trade, industry and migration, is an ongoing reflection of the complex reality of global development, international interdependence and disparate cultural influences. The spectrum ranges from a variety of topographic views and an extensive gallery of famous and forgotten individuals to the Bremen Town Musicians, who have given the city the symbol of its identity. This merger of past and present, local and global events, centre and periphery continues in three additional thematic galleries which are grouped around the Central Gallery.

One thematic gallery addresses global trade. Overseas trade and national pride are reflected in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Marine paintings and still-lifes with goods from Europe and beyond are testament to the fact that global trade was occurring on the world’s seas by the seventeenth century. In contrast, the installation by Hew Locke explores the consequences of colonialism and the global migration associated with it.

The second thematic gallery examines the function of the forest at the interface of idyll and threat. It is a place of nostalgia for Germans and has been a symbol of national identity since the Romantic period. At the same time, it is a sinister place which is itself endangered by deforestation and climate change. Works of art by Henri Biva demonstrate its aesthetic diversity and subject matter.

War is the focus of the third thematic gallery. War and violence can be found throughout human history. It is an eternal struggle for power, religion and ideology. However, depictions of war and battle are not only a question of period and style, but also one of perspective. Sometimes these works focus on heroes, sometimes on victims, but ultimately on lamentation. The major loan from Bremen’s town hall – Franz Radziwill’s The Lamentation of Bremen (1945-47) – provides a reference to the Hanseatic city.

New Acquisitions and Works from the Depot
New acquisitions: Many new works of art are presented for the first time in the scope of 20/20 Vision, including major purchases and installations. The space-filling new acquisition Primitive Time/ Clock Time (1987) Urzeit/Uhrzeit) by Hanne Darboven is a part of her long-time exploration of time and evolution. The work consists of 916 sheets. In the Central Hall, visitors can still see the mural Jardim Botânico [Rio] (2013) by Sarah Morris, which is now part of the Kunsthalle’s collection thanks to a gift of the Hollweg Foundation. The German painter Franz Ackermann was commissioned (2020) to design an entire Cabinet in Kunsthalle. Important bequests of historical artworks include a painting (early 20th century) by Henri Biva and the Max Klinger’s portfolio The Tent (1915).

More modern and contemporary art: What Is Yet to Happen Already is Accomplished (1990) by Marie-Jo Lafontaine is a part of the Pandora’s Box cycle which explores change as a basic condition of human existence. The photograph depicts a turning point: will the stormy sky darken or clear? This triptych was created shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall.

More sculptures: Ernst Barlach, who would have celebrated his 150th birthday in 2020, is one of the most important representatives of Realism and Expressionism. The Kunsthalle Bremen houses an extensive collection of Barlach’s works with several outstanding sculptures (Shepherd in the Storm, 1908), almost all his printed works, and several drawings.

From the depot: Grandmother (1935) by Wilhelm Petersen shows the painter’s grandmother in front of red Delft tiles. She is dressed in the churchgoing outfit worn by inhabitants of North Frisian Halligs. Petersen was a prominent artist during the Third Reich. In 1939, the Bremen Senate appointed him professor of fine arts at the Nordic Art Academy.

Restored: The painting The Trictrac Players, (c. 1640) by Gerard ter Borch is an example of numerous works that have been painstakingly restored over the past several years. The painter shows a simple guardroom scene with two men playing trictrac while two others look on. The game is a version of backgammon, which was extremely popular at the time.

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