Udo Kittelmann, 49, has been appointed director of the Berlin state museums -- notably, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart. Regarded a something of a contemporary art star, Kittelmann currently heads the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt and was director of the Cologne Kunstverein before that. He was commissioner of the prize-winning German pavilion at the 2002 Venice Biennale, which presented an installation by Gregor Schneider.
Michael Eissenhauer, 50, head of Kassel’s state museums and president of Germany’s national association of museums, has also been named general director of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin -- a group of 17 museums in the capital city, ranging from the classicist Pergamon to the Berlinische Galerie.
Until now both posts had been filled by one man, Peter-Klaus Schuster, whose ouster was something of a surprise. According to Anne Schrieber in Artnet.de, management of the city’s many museums has been considered both too bureaucratic and too inclined towards controversial reorganization schemes. The new directors take over on Nov. 1, 2008.
Bastian builds in Berlin
Berlin now has a brand new art venue, a minimalist, box-like facility designed by British starchitect David Chipperfield and perched on the River Spree across from the city’s museum island. Commissioned by collector and ex-Hamburger Bahnhof curator Heiner Bastian, the new building contains exhibition galleries for shows culled from both Bastian’s collection and that of media entrepreneur Christiane zu Sahn as well as two floors of new space for the hot avant-garde gallery Contemporary Fine Arts. The building is already packed with visitors eyeballing both the art and the architecture.
"It certainly looks like a museum," writes Dominikus Müller in Artnet.de. Indeed. After being buzzed in through heavy wooden doors set in the sandstone facade, a visitor is greeted by a handsome space with high ceilings and huge windows that offer views of the river and the historical museums nearby. Bastian and his wife Céline acquired the plot seven years ago; it had been undeveloped since World War II and was the last chunk of real estate to be had in the area. Chipperfield was selected as architect in 2003 in a competition that included submissions by architects Peter Zumthor and Frank Gehry.
The structure officially opened on Nov. 10, 2007, with an exhibition at Contemporary Fine Arts of works by the reclusive 71-year-old Austrian artist Walter Pichler. Titled Es ist doch der Kopf (It’s still the head), the show displays Pichler’s sculptures, many of them innovative headgear in metals, as well as an impressive array of studies and drawings arranged in series that almost look like sentences on the vast white wall space. According to CFA’s Nicole Hackert, the gallery waited 13 years for the artist to agree to a show.
On the building’s third floor is "Void," a retrospective of Damien Hirst works from Bastian’s own collection, a selection that Berlin’s state-run museums turned up their noses at, according to Bastian. Hirst’s Lullaby Spring runs a rack of pharmaceuticals along the gallery back wall, while his Stations of the Cross offers plenty of distraction from the sweeping views.
Mueller notes that the new facility reflects the interdependence of the private and the public sector in the art world, especially in Berlin, whose private economy is heavily subsidized. The result is an institution of uncertain identity, however. According to Bastian, who once served as "private secretary" to Joseph Beuys, the thing is "not a private house, not a museum, not a collection." He finally admitted to its being an "exhibition space."
Bastian was curator of the Erich Marx Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof until both resigning and criticizing the institution’s exhibition politics in March 2007. Back then, he claimed that "what was once a gleaming train station has become a still track on which modern trains haven’t run in a long time." Which is likely why he took on a commercial gallery like CFA to share the building. "We’re out of the courtyard and have moved into the first row," says Hackert. And judging from the well-heeled clientele heading in droves into and out of the exhibitions on a recent Saturday afternoon, there’s no better place to be.Trouble at the station
Speaking of Hamburger Bahnhof, it’s been a trying year for Berlin’s state-run contemporary arts institution. Not only did Bastian’s departure generate negative publicity, but now it’s become clearer than ever that the building (which is a converted railway station) and the land belong neither to the state museum system nor the Berlin Senate. The owner is Vivico Real Estate GmbH, the real-estate arm of the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway). The bahn is presently negotiating some kind of deal with private investors that could be worth a billion euros or so. If the bahnhof goes private, that could mean the end of free rent for a leading German contemporary art center.
As Germany’s FDP party chairman Martin Lindner explains, "With the Vivico sale, the lease will be transferred to the new owner. This lease has a termination clause of six months." The FDP is pushing to make Hamburger Bahnhof’s museum status more secure, and has asked the Berlin Senate to allow long-term use of the entire compound as an "art campus," with new construction plans that would hinder a new tenant from moving in -- unless it’s another museum.
Hamburger Bahnhof director Eugen Blume seems relatively relaxed about the institution’s future under a new owner. "We’re not a truck workshop that they can throw out in six months." Hopefully he’s right. Stay tuned.
New digs on the palace grounds
Meanwhile, Berlin’s artscape is getting a new, albeit temporary, addition just across town. The Palast der Republik, the GDR’s erstwhile parliamentary building, is still in the process of being very, very slowly dismantled after years of discussion as to whether it should stay or go to make way for a reconstruction of a Prussian palace. While in limbo, the Palast served as a nightclub and art venue. The last art event it housed was the excellent, week-long exhibition, "36 x 27 x 10," which took place in December 2005 and featured Berlin-based artists like Olafur Eliasson and Thomas Demand. It was initiated by artist Coco Kühn and cultural manager Constanze Kleiner.
Arguing that Berlin contemporary artists need more local exposure, Kühn and Kleiner have been working on getting a temporary "kunsthalle" erected on the site’s plaza ever since. In late October, the city quickly approved a "white cube" design by Austrian architect Adolf Krischanitz, who realized a similar temporary structure in Vienna 15 years ago. Backed by entrepreneur and collector Dieter Rosenkranz, the Stiftung Zukunft Berlin (the Foundation for the Future of Berlin) has pledged to cover construction costs.
The project won out over a "cloud" structure by the Berlin and L.A.-based architectural firm Graft, which had won a competition sponsored by German art-lifestyle magazine Monopol in mid-2006. The city blanched at the cloud’s proposed budget -- €10,000,000, compared to €850,000 for the Krischanitz design.
The decision to build a temporary art facility at a site so rich in both history and controversy has given the city an avant-garde shot in the arm. "This decision is a very encouraging sign for people with good ideas," says Kleiner. "Berlin is indeed a place in which something like our project is possible." The structure is slated to open just in time for the Berlin Biennale in the early spring of 2008 and remain at least until 2010. Planned for the 600-odd square meters of exhibition space are four shows per year plus works displayed on the building’s outer walls.
The inaugural exhibition is still secret but the first façade project is set -- a sky-blue and white surface by Austrian artist Gerwald Rockenschaub. Gerald Matt, director of the Kunsthalle Vienna (and member of the project’s artistic advisory board), says the temporary kunsthalle "is a huge chance for Berlin. No megalomania. Simple, clear, sleek and fast. Berlin’s art scene is fabulous and has finally gotten a flexible institution -- a fast boat for contemporary art. It’s something the major museums, the slow tanks, can’t afford."
KIMBERLY BRADLEY is a critic and journalist based in Berlin.