Research

With its book collections, museum collections, study and reading rooms, the Kunstbibliothek offers ideal working conditions for students and researchers from all over the world to expand their knowledge. Eleven scholars – each experts in the respective fields of art history, media studies, and library science – make up the Kunstbibliothek’s core team of staff. They work together with curators and scholars on project-based, short to medium-term contracts, as well as with scholarship recipients on the project Connecting Art Histories in the Museum: The Mediterranean and Asia, which is a joint venture between the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. The team at the Kunstbibliothek are supported in their work by scholarship holders from the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage), museum administrative officers, and roughly ten international young scholars.

Particular emphasis is placed on the sharing and broad dissemination of art-historical research conducted at the various museums that make up the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, through ongoing collaborations with universities and internationally renowned external research institutes. The Kunstbibliothek works with the major Berlin universities, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the library of the University of Heidelberg, and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. The Kunstbibliothek’s many projects are variously funded by the Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Ministry of Education and Research, the DFG, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, and the VolkswagenStiftung.

Many academic projects culminate in exhibitions, which reveal and convey the stimulating side of research in art history to the general public. Colleges, universities, and academies have long since realized that the KB is an attractive partner for training programmes, workshops, and symposia. The Museum for Fotografie (which is itself a department of the Kunstbibliothek) has, for instance, entered into a partnership with Berlin’s Universität der Künste (UdK) to create a platform for young photographers and curators to show their work in the museum. And in a separate project held each year, the class from a selected design college is assigned the task of creating the exhibition design and graphics for the '100 Best Posters' show, on display in the foyer of Kulturforum’s main building. The Kunstbibliothek is thus a place where the points of merger between the arts and sciences are not only highlighted in exhibitions, but can actually be studied and tested out in practice.

Research projects at the Kunstbibliothek

The EMA – Virtual Erich Mendelsohn Archive aims to examine, assess, and digitize the correspondence between the architect Erich Mendelsohn (1887–1953) and his wife Louise (1894–1980). While the letters of Erich Mendelsohn are preserved at the Kunstbibliothek (some 1410 original documents in all), the letters of Louise Mendelsohn are held at the Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles, (1328 documents in all).

In cooperation with the GRI, all documents are being scanned in high resolution and digitally archived. The next step is an online collaboration, whereby transcripts of the original text are compiled, with formal editing of misspellings and errors. Comments and annotations strengthen the scholarly analysis of the texts. Digital reproductions of the original documents are published online, along with their transcripts, and an index of keywords is being compiled.

Erich Mendelsohn was a crucial figure in modern architecture in the first half of the 20th century. His famous Einstein Tower in Potsdam (1923), his buildings for branches of the Schocken department store in Stuttgart and Chemnitz (1926–1930), and his Columbushaus in Berlin all rank as seminal structures in the history of 20th-century architecture. The dramatic course his life took following his emigration in 1933 is a particularly remarkable example of the phenomenon of forced cultural transfer that coincided with the expulsion of large swathes of the cultural elite from Germany during the Third Reich.

The unique value of the collected correspondence to anyone interested in modern architecture and cultural history lies in the prolonged continuity of the exchange through two world wars and across more than four decades. The topics of the letters range from descriptions of everyday life and personal moods to discussions on architectural theory and thoughts on music and events in contemporary history. The documents capture and bring to life the twists of fate experienced by people and the art of an entire epoch.

Partners: The Getty Research Institute (GRI), Los Angeles
Scholarly team: Dr. Andreas Bienert, Generaldirektion, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Elke Blauert, research associate, Kunstbibliothek; Prof. Dr. habil. Regina Stephan, Mainz University of Applied Sciences; Wim de Wit, GRI
Funded by: Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation
Duration: 2012–2014

Link to the Database

Europeana Fashion is a best-practice project due to run until February 2015, financed by the European Union’s CIP ICT-PSP programme and involving some 22 partners from 12 European countries. Participating partners include leading European institutions and collections in the field of fashion, including the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage), the umbrella organization that oversees the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. All partners will supply the Europeana website with outstanding material on the history of European fashion. About 700,000 fashion-related objects will be made accessible online: historical clothing and accessories, photographs, fashion-inspired prints and drawings, videos, and posters.

More information

Scholarly team: Dr. Adelheid Rasche, curatorial research associate, Kunstbibliothek; N. N.
Partners: Institut für Museumsforschung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Funded by: European Union (CIP ICT-PSP programme)
Duration: 2013–2015

Auction catalogues are an essential basis for scholarship into the art market in the first three decades of the 20th century, and reveal information on the practices and habits of collectors and their evolving tastes, as well as specific artists and art movements. In addition, auction catalogues from this era are an irreplaceable instrument for provenance research and provide valuable clues in unresolved matters of ownership.

Until recently, no single library has kept a systematic collection of auction catalogues. Instead, they are scattered across many art and museum libraries and archives, and cannot be accessed at a central place. In addition, most auction catalogues do not even appear in a bibliographic index, so that until now no comprehensive overview of the available source material has been possible. As they were issued in the first half of the last century, most of the auction catalogues are now in a very poor state of preservation, making their digitization ever more urgent.

The first stage of the project entails all German auction catalogues published between 1901 and 1929 that have not been properly catalogued until now. The publications will be entered into a bibliographic index, analyzed, digitized, and made freely accessible online. Detailed search options, including a full-text search, will further enhance access to this data which was previously difficult to obtain.

Scholarly team:
Dr. Britta Bommert, research associate, Kunstbibliothek; Dr. Joachim Brand, Assistant Director, Kunstbibliothek
Partners: Library of the University of Heidelberg
Funded by: DFG
Duration: 2013–2015
Project Website: German Sales 1901 - 1945

The Kunstbibliothek is involved in a project held as part of the 'Image Knowledge Design' Cluster of Excellence at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin that seeks to categorize and analyze various art collections. The focus of the endeavour is the collection of paintings in the Lipperheide Costume Library: roughly 700 pictures relating to the history of fashion and costume from the period 1450 to 1900, held at the Kunstbibliothek since 1899. Despite their immense cultural-historical significance, insufficient research has been conducted into the pictures until now.

The project’s goal is the exemplary, interdisciplinary analysis of a representative cross-section of the collection by various scholars from different disciplines. The disciplines involved in the project include: conservation science, material science, art history, history of fashion, computer science, and interaction design. The experimental nature of the collaboration between these disciplines should give rise to innovative methods that can subsequently be applied to the analysis of other collections.

The epistemological interest also depends on the intellectual and technical conditions and processes that prevail in such a cooperation. The project thus also explores the manner in which this kind of joint analysis alters the assessment and public perception of a collection, and how a heightened understanding of the objects and materials can lead to the development of appropriate conservation treatments and strategies, which in turn contribute to a better understanding of the objects themselves.

Scholarly team: Dr. Matthias Bruhn, HU; Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Coy, HU; Dipl.-Rest. Sonja Krug, BAM; Dr. Oliver Hahn, BAM; Dr. Adelheid Rasche, curatorial research associate, Kunstbibliothek; Prof. Dr. Moritz Wullen, director, Kunstbibliothek; Prof. Carola Zwick, KH
Partners: Federal Institute for Materials Research (BAM), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), Weissensee Kunsthochschule Berlin (KH)
Funded by: DFG
Duration: 2013–2015

In the EU-funded project, Partage Plus – Digitising and Enabling Art Nouveau for Europeana, museum objects relating to the historical development of Art Nouveau (known in German-speaking countries as Jugendstil) are being digitally photographed by the Foto Marburg image archive, indexed and made accessible in an online database. Images and their accompanying metadata will be posted online on the Europeana’s own website, the collective online database 'Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur' run by Foto Marburg, and individual websites of some of the participating museums.

Some 23 cultural institutions from across 17 European countries are directly involved in Partage Plus, while a further eight institutions are included in the project as assisting partners. The London-based Collections Trust is responsible for project coordination. Funding for the project comes from the EU’s ICT programme in support of the information society, as part of its Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP).

Participation in Partage Plus marks an important step in the digitalization of the Kunstbibliothek’s architectural holdings. Key to the endeavour is the oeuvre of Jugendstil architect Joseph Maria Olbrich; his estate collection of drawings (totalling approximately 2000 objects) has been preserved at the Kunstbibliothek since 1912.

More information

Scholarly team: Dr. Andreas Bienert, Generaldirektion, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Elke Blauert, Dr. Anita Kühnel, Dr. Adelheid Rasche, research associates, Kunstbibliothek
Partners: Deutsches Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Philipps-Universität Marburg
Funded by: European Union (CIP ICT-PSP programme)
Duration: 2013–2014

The series of lectures, MODE Thema MODE, ongoing since 2003, regularly invites German and international speakers to share their knowledge on different topics within research and scholarship into the history of fashion. The analysis and interpretation of the cultural history of fashion and costume as both artistic expression and social communication aims to shed new light on the subject and bring the broad, international network of fashion scholars closer together. The lecture series has in recent years gained international appeal, thanks in part to the funding it received from the VolkswagenStiftung in 2010.

Partners: Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Head: Dr. Adelheid Rasche, curatorial research associate, Kunstbibliothek
Duration: ongoing since 2003

We apologize that this content is currently available in German language only.

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We apologize that this content is currently available in german only.

Experimental Exhibition Lab
Duration: starting 2013
Partners: Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK)
Funding: Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Curatorial team: Dr. Ludger Derenthal (Kunstbibliothek), Prof. Dr. Tanja Michalsky (UdK)   

The exhibition series “seen by” is a co-curatorial lab project set up in the Museum für Fotografie as a way of devising innovative curatorial and artistic strategies in art photography. The project will work with two strategies: either UdK staff select works for the exhibition, or curators prepare the exhibition with workshops, in which students develop a common concept. This not only establishes a new form of teaching, but also results in the productive intermeshing of the artistic work processes, which can subsequently take expression in very different forms of ‘publi­cations’: ranging from exhibitions and performances to readings and lectures.

Link to exhibition

In addition to all being established as academic disciplines around the turn of the 20th century, archaeology, art history and ethnology all share the fact that they not only work with objects, but also with photographs, which in turn become substitutes for the primary objects of study. Based on the latest studies on the materiality of photographs and photographic archives, the research project “Photo-Objects” considers documentary photographs as three dimensional objects, formed by historical predecessors, which act as repositories of sedimentary knowledge in social and cultural contexts. The project aims to show in a comparative investigation how the formation of methods in the humanities, the development and dissemination of photographic techniques, and the establishment of specialised photo archives in the decades before and after 1900 were mutually dependent. In doing so, the focus is on techniques and practices of academic work on and with photographs. The latter are “photo objects” in a double sense: not only do photographs reproduce objects, but also, they themselves are material artefacts, due to their physical, affective, historical and transformative qualities. The project aims to explore the scholarly potential of photographic archives in museums, universities and research institutes, and to develop a model for the cross-departmental integration of different collections. At the same time, it can provide new insights into interdisciplinary processes of canon formation. 

Underscoring the interdisciplinary approach to this topic, four research institutions, each with its own photographic collection, have joined forces for this joint project. The network consists of the partners: Photothek at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz (Max-Planck-Institut), the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek and of the Antikensammlung (both Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), and the Institut für Europäische Ethnologie at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In the Kunstbibliothek’s Photography Collection, the research will be carried out on architectural photographs from the USA and Europe around 1900: photographs by the photographer Frank Cousins (1851–1925) of colonial buildings under threat of demolition on the East Coast of the USA, and the photographic inventory of the architectural publishing house Ernst Wasmuth A.G., documenting exemplary historic and contemporary buildings from various European countries. These enable an analysis of the close connections between photography, the conservation of historical buildings and the viewing of historical and contemporary architecture, as was characteristic for the period around the turn of the 20th century. Architectural photography played a decisive role in forming contemporary discourses on architecture and aesthetics, and in the maintenance of historical monuments.

Thanks to the diversity of skills and photo archiving practices from the context of the museum, the university and the research institute that are gathered together in this research group, the central theses of the project can be developed: the specific materiality of photography in its diverse manifestations, the modifications of the photographs themselves through different forms of application and use, and the interaction of the contents of the images through the various scholarly discourses.

Project Duration: 2015–2018
Cooperation partners:
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut (Photothek), Antikensammlung, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Institut für Europäische Ethnologie)
Supported by Federal Ministry for Education and Research as part of the funding priority “The Language of Objects – material culture in the context of societal development”
Academic team: Dr. Ludger Derenthal (Director), Stefanie Klamm (Research Assistant), Andras Veg (Student Research Assistant)