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Hamburg is quite traditional. It has always been centred around the commerce and trading which comes with being a port city.
It was a wealthy but rather conservative merchant city. Arts and Architecture were only considered useful if they were either beautiful or a good business investment. And then, the city fathers built this: a modern, brutalist white cube, right where everybody could see it. When it was first opened to the public in 1997, not everybody liked it and at first, there was public outrage. Located right in a significant part of the city, overlooking the Alster, eventually people moved on, they adapted. And in time it became a very important part of Hamburg’s self-conception of becoming a modern city. The building has become one of Hamburg’s true landmarks and the Museum itself has evolved into an internationally recognised museum of contemporary art.
Designed by German Architect Oswald Mathias Ungers, the light sandstone-facade building houses the museum of contemporary art in Hamburg and is also of one of the largest buildings for contemporary art in Germany. It forms the third and latest part of the large museum complex dubbed ‘Hamburger Kunsthalle’ which includes the old red-bricked Kunsthalle centerpiece building from 1849 and the Kuppelsaal dome hall annex from 1921. Both buildings are home to three more traditional collections: The Gallery of Old Masters features (minor) works of Rembrandt, Rubens or de Goya among others. In the Gallery of 19th-century Art you will find works of Degas, Caspar David Friedrich or Monet. With the Gallery of Classical Modernism showing works of Francis Bacon, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee and even Pablo Picasso.
While these Galleries are noble, sometimes even majestic and make for a great Sunday afternoon visit, they can hardly be considered world class. However, the Contemporary Art collection in this big remarkable Cube section has truly established an international reputation. And with a number of top-notch exhibitions and extensive collection from Pop art to the present, the museum has become an important attraction for Hamburg in recent years.
The Galerie der Gegenwart has become a living, breathing thing. Featuring the diversity of media and constantly tackling social and political issues has made this spot rather exciting! Modern Painting is represented by major bodies of work by ‘German Greats’ like Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Georg Baselitz. The Pop art section shows paintings by Andy Warhol and David Hockney among others. There is a whole section of Arte Povera with key works by Jannis Kounellis and Joseph Beuys. An important focus was always on Conceptual Art by artists such as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Robert Mangold and Hanne Darboven. The segment Modern Sculpture is represented by the likes of Thomas Schütte, Reinhard Mucha, Rosemarie Trockel and the great Isa Genzken. Plus Video installations by Bruce Nauman or specially commissioned works by Jenny Holzer.
The truly remarkable and arguably the most precious part of the museum is the collection of German contemporary photography. With photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Candida Höfer and Thomas Demand. But also with works by American artists such as Jeff Wall, Gilbert & George or a series of Andy Warhol’s Polaroids, Cindy Sherman’s ‘Bus Riders’ and challenging works of Nan Goldin.
All of this is embedded in these miraculous rooms and halls of the Cube. With only a window letting in some Hamburg light, giving your eyes some space to wander and rest. It is such an uplifting journey through the halls into the ever-changing artist’s room and into yet another different set of skills and colour. And even when you wander down in the basement with the works getting bigger and darker, you can’t help but fall in love with this place.