"We’re entering new territory with this presentation"
An Interview with Städel Director Max Hollein
Through the cooperation with the Städel Museum, the Deutsche Bank Collection is now accessible to a wider public than ever before. With its rich holdings, the Frankfurt museum presents a unique overview of over 700 years of European art history. Max Hollein, Director of the Städel, on the spectacular presentation of contemporary art in the new Garden Halls and the museum’s partnership with Deutsche Bank.
||After nearly three years of modernization, the Städel Museum now presents its collection fresher than ever before. The underground annex heralds a new era in the museum’s history: beneath the approximately 200 skylights let into the lawn of the museum garden is a 30,000-square-foot, light-filled exhibition hall for contemporary art that includes selected masterpieces from the Deutsche Bank Collection. In 2008, Deutsche Bank and the Städel agreed on the permanent loan of a significant group of works from the bank’s collection to the museum—60 paintings and sculptures, 161 original works on paper, and 379 prints. This loan marks a high point in what has traditionally been a close relationship between the two institutions. The custom-made selection augments the Städel Museum’s collection with important works, particularly in German art from the 1960s to the 1990s. Included are key paintings by Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Martin Kippenberger, Markus Lüpertz, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter.
Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: There are only very few museums where the history of art from the Middle Ages to contemporary times is presented on such a high level as in the Städel. What was the basic idea behind the museum’s new design?
Max Hollein: It was important to us to continue presenting the collection and the history of the museum. Particularly in regards to contemporary art, however, we needed help from the outside in order to illustrate certain developments of the past several decades. This led to a collaboration with Deutsche Bank, among other institutions, as well as the construction of an annex. The basic idea is that one should be able to experience everything the museum has on the same level and under the same roof: old masters, classic modernism, contemporary art. The annex, designed by the Frankfurt-based architectural agency schneider+schumacher, clearly embodies this in its direct access through the main foyer of the museum building. In other words, it’s not merely an appendix, but an addition on equal par. In the presentation of our collection of contemporary art, we prefer not to separate the different areas all that radically. There are always “renegades,” works that can be ascribed to several different movements simultaneously or that anticipated certain tendencies. This is why our presentation of contemporary art also includes works from the 1930s. Art history is an ongoing continuum, particularly when it comes to the development of abstraction and the German Art Informel; one need only think of pioneering works by Otto Freundlich or Ernst Wilhelm Nay in the ’30s.
How is the contemporary art presented in the new Garden Halls?
In the museum, we show art history as a continuous development over centuries. This particularly applies to contemporary art. The first presentation will tell several stories. On the one hand, art’s development over the last 50 or 60 years is traced according to key themes such as abstraction and figuration. These formal issues also have other, entirely political backgrounds and connotations, of course, if you consider the East-West dialogue in post-war painting. On the other hand, we also show works that are explicitly political as well as developments that nearly led to the end of painting. These are important points of focus, of course, especially for a painting collection such as the Städel’s. The presentation is not linear, but arranged like a kind of matrix.
What significance does the permanent loan from the Deutsche Bank Collection have for the Städel Collection?
Together with Deutsche Bank, we’ve very deliberately selected certain key areas. The works from the bank that have come to the Städel particularly illustrate the development of painting in Germany throughout the late ’60s and ’70s. These paintings have closed existing gaps in our collection or strengthened artistic positions that are already represented. You will see these points of focus in the current presentation. You can recognize the traces of the Deutsche Bank Collection in the Städel Collection, where you’ll find works by artists like Richter, Polke, Kippenberger, Lueg, and of course Baselitz and Kiefer. These works are not, however, shown as a separate complex.
And so the works from the Deutsche Bank Collection are an integral part of the presentation.
Yes, exactly. You can see how these collections have grown together. It was clear from the very beginning that we didn’t want a presentation based on the provenance of the works. On the other hand, we’ve worked strategically with selected partners in order to augment specific areas of our collection. In that regard, certain rooms will show aspects that have been important for the development of German art over the last 50 years, and particularly how these have also left their mark on Deutsche Bank’s collecting activities.
The architecture of the new Garden Halls resembles a kind of marketplace around which various white cubes are arranged, like houses.
The new building by schneider+ schumacher is actually a huge hall whose gigantic, cupola-shaped roof rests on only twelve columns. For the first presentation of the collection, we decided together with the architects Kuehn Malvezzi to develop a structure that plays with the contraction and expansion of space. There are larger squares and smaller "houses." Like visiting a Renaissance city, it entices you to turn corners and maybe get lost in narrow lanes, only to find your way back again into a larger plaza-like situation. It’s a non-hierarchical, non-linear progression, and quite different from what we’re used to with many other museums. This, of course, means that you can take completely different paths through the presentation. Nevertheless, you have the choice of going either to the right from the large staircase, where you arrive at works that eventually led to abstraction, or to the left, where you find figurative tendencies. A dialogue between these two movements exists throughout. We’re not interested in presenting a linear history of all the art of the last fifty years; that’s something we wouldn’t be able to do in any case, to be honest. I think it’s much more interesting to create a more flexible system that also consists of very clear narrative structures—this is certainly a special concern for Martin Engler, the director of our collection for contemporary art. On the other hand, the space is still very new for us. We’re entering new territory with this first presentation. In one or two years’ time we’ll show the public a new selection from this collection, integrating works currently in storage that can’t be shown at present.
Are the individual “houses” dedicated to specific themes?
Yes, these spaces are dedicated to special themes, such as the figurative representation of human beings, for instance. This is where Picasso meets Schönebeck, Baselitz, or Giacometti. There will also be spaces that illustrate the political activity on the part of artists both in West and East Germany. Others reflect developments in abstract art. This extends to a near-total obliteration not only of the pictorial content, but also of the support—in other words, the tendency to push through to a kind of endpoint of painting. And then there are work sequences that cast light on similar tendencies in different media in the areas of painting, sculpture, and photography. In particular, photography is a medium that has exerted a profound influence on painting, and vice versa. There are strong painterly tendencies in current photography, if you consider Wolfgang Tillmans’s Freischwimmer works, for instance. Nonetheless, the progression mainly illustrates the two most important lines of development in painting over the past 50 years—figurative tendencies and abstract tendencies, as well as their relationship to one another.
So the main focus of this first chapter is on painting.
The Städel Collection is based on the classical disciplines of art: painting, drawing, and sculpture. We do not collect conceptual art, performance art, huge multi-media works, or installations. It’s more about the idea of the continued development of these artistic media, which have influenced the history of art for centuries. And this concept will continue to characterize the museum.
Yet current contemporary art tends to move away from a classical notion of the work. Particularly among the younger generation, an increasing number of performance and temporary works, films, and video installations can be observed.
In this sense we’re a conservative museum, although I also show completely different things as director of the Schirn Kunsthalle. Here at the Städel, we try to use the collection to show lines of development that carry far back in time. When we show works by Georg Baselitz or Gerhard Richter, the references in their works become clear—for instance the connections to German art of the 19th century. If you show Richter’s works in a museum for contemporary art, then you can see them as harbingers of a development that took a different direction altogether—one that to this day influences a young generation of painters working conceptually.
For us, it’s particularly interesting to show the continuous development of these art disciplines, which are almost traditional. This is something very specific to the Städel. We deliberately focus on that in order not to spread ourselves too thin. There are no artist’s rooms, no huge installations. Instead, we carry on the idea of the classical painting gallery. Of course, there are many works of art that move in a different direction altogether and are unbelievably exciting. You’re completely right there. But in terms of our own collection, it’s our aim to represent these more traditional disciplines and their validity for today, and to do it on a very high level. This museum is the enduring proof that painting and drawing are not dead and never will be.