The Kulturforum arose in incremental stages, starting in the late 1950s. It is the living embodiment of the cultural rebirth of West Berlin after World War II, a place that was expressly created as a counterpoint to the many cultural institutions that suddenly found themselves in the Soviet-controlled half of the city and was, as such, built as a visible symbol in view of the border between East and West Berlin. Today, European art and culture of the modern era (from the Middle Ages onwards) is on show here in a plenitude and density that is without parallel.
Visitors to the Gemäldegalerie are greeted by a long central hall featuring a fountain-work installation by Walter de Maria in the middle. From this central point of access they find their way to the gallery’s array of treasures: exquisite paintings ranging in date from the 13th to 18th century.
The gallery boasts one of the major European art collections in the world. Since its founding as a public institution, it has assembled together works according to considered art-historical criteria. As a result, the Gemäldegalerie recounts in vivid detail six centuries of the history of European painting, as acted out in scores of key works from each period, in the paintings of the great Italian Giotto or Titian, in the famous Dutch and Flemish masters Rembrandt and Pieter Bruegel, in the German masters of the late Gothic period and early Renaissance, such as Albrecht Dürer, and in the unique paintings of Canaletto, Jean-Antoine Watteau, Antoine Pesne, and Thomas Gainsborough.
In addition to the 1000 masterpieces in the permanent exhibition, a further 400 pictures are on show in the study gallery. Since 1998, the Gemäldegalerie has been housed in a building designed by Heinz Hilmer and Christoph Sattler: the most recent museum building at the Kulturforum.
The Kunstbibliothek is one of the world’s largest museum libraries featuring diverse media on archaeology, anthropology, art history, and cultural history, and thereby constitutes a fascinating laboratory of ideas for students, scholars, and researchers of art and cultural studies.
Above and beyond this, however, it also boasts unique collections on the history of architecture, book art and media art, photography, graphic design, fashion. It has had its main site at the Kulturforum since 1994. The Kulturforum site specifically contains the public library with books and media on European art history and its reading room, as well as the collections of private bequests and estates of important architects such as Erich Mendelsohn, masterpieces of photography, fashion design, and poster art.
The Kunstbibliothek also maintains two further sites elsewhere: the Museum für Fotografie at Zoologischer Garten station and the Archaeological Library close to the Museumsinsel Berlin. The extensive events and exhibitions programme which the Kunstbibliothek holds on major themes relating to the history of mediated communication, photography, fashion and architecture opens up to the general public new perspectives that transcend traditional boundaries of period and media formats.
European craftwork dating from the Middle Ages to the present day is on show at the Kunstgewerbemuseum. Designed by Rolf Gutbrod and opened in 1985, it was the first building to be built around the sloping piazzetta of the Kulturforum near Potsdamer Platz. Its collection of objects is expansive in scope and diverse in form.
Valuable treasures such as the goldsmith work from the reliquaries of the world-renowned Welfenschatz or the silverware of the councillors of Lüneburg illustrate the stunning technical skill and high craftsmanship of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The Baroque period is represented in Delftware and glasses, followed by later examples of exquisite porcelain from Meissen and Nymphenburg Palace. Diverse forms of furniture, such as exquisitely inlaid cabinets and Mies van der Rohe’s famous Barcelona Chair, present pivotal moments in the history of domestic furnishing. And in addition, the costume collection has been significantly enriched in recent years through the acquisition of the collections of Kamer/RUF and Uli Richter. Since the reopening in November 2014 the Kunstgewerbemuseum became also a leading centre for design and fashion.
The Kupferstichkabinett is a haven of artistic ideas, captured and transmitted through 110,000 drawings, watercolours, and oil sketches, as well as hundreds of illustrated books, miniatures, printing plates, topographical views, and approx. 550,000 prints, which together make the Kupferstichkabinett one of the four most important collections of its kind in the world.
The graphic universe it holds spans 1000 years of the history of art, culture and mediated communication, from exquisitely painted illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages to works of contemporary art created this year. It boasts unique holdings of early Italian, early German, and Netherlandish drawings, by such luminaries as Sandro Botticelli, Albrecht Dürer, and Rembrandt, as well as a rich collection of German drawing from the 19th century, including the private collections of Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Adolph Menzel. Due to the sensitivity of works on paper, the Kupferstichkabinett’s art is shown over a series of constantly rotating temporary exhibitions. In the study room individual artworks are available for visitors to view on request. The Kupferstichkabinett is situated in a building that was completed in 1994 and was originally designed by Rolf Gutbrod, with subsequent revisions to the plans by Hilmer & Sattler.
Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie was opened in September 1968. The light-filled building, itself an icon of modernism, was built to provide a suitable home for modern art in West Berlin, as the Nationalgalerie’s traditional domicile was now located in the eastern part of the city, on the Museumsinsel Berlin.
After a period of continual use for more than 40 years, the Neue Nationalgalerie now requires renovation. The British architect David Chipperfield was entrusted with this task in 2012, after his brilliant work on restoring the Neues Museum. He is currently also in charge of creating the new visitor centre on the Museumsinsel Berlin.
During the necessary renovations, the Neue Nationalgalerie is closed in 2015 for several years.