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The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Thanks Udo Kittelmann, Director of the Nationalgalerie

28.10.2020
Nationalgalerie

Udo Kittelmann has served as the Director of the Nationalgalerie for 12 years. Kittelmann decided not to renew his contract when it ends on 31 October 2020. After Kittelmann’s departure, his erstwhile deputy, Joachim Jäger, will become Acting Director. The Nationalgalerie is made up of six institutions: the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Neue Nationalgalerie, the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – BerlinMuseum Berggruen, the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg and, since 27 October 2020, the newly reopened Friedrichswerdersche Kirche.

“Udo Kittelmann made the Nationalgalerie accessible to everybody,” stated Michael Eissenhauer, Director-General of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. “He made the museums of the Nationalgalerie into open houses, inviting in all sectors of society, addressing a whole range of social discourses, which they commented on through the medium of art. As an exceptionally gifted exhibition-maker, together with his team he developed large-scale exhibition projects as well as focused, subtle presentations that have left their mark not just on Berlin as a city of the arts, but on the international art world. In doing so, Udo Kittelmann always placed the Nationalgalerie collection, with its outstanding works, its dark phases and blind spots, its historical turmoil and its significant cultural importance at the centre of his work, developing visionary, critically minded exhibition formats, which for years to come will serve as benchmarks for the kind of work that public art collections ought to be doing around the world. For this, I and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin owe Udo Kittelmann an enormous debt of gratitude.”

New Perspectives, Critical Aspects, Unmistakable Accents

Udo Kittelmann, born in 1958 in Düsseldorf, was Director of the Kölnischer Kunstverein from 1994 to 2001, and from 2002 to 2008 Director of the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. He took up his post in Berlin on 1 November 2008, taking over from Peter-Klaus Schuster. With his very first exhibition Die Kunst ist super! (Art is Great!) in 2009–2010, Kittelmann passionately interrogated the supposedly stable systems of value operating behind the Nationalgalerie collection, establishing his vision of art as a seismograph of social changes.

This was followed by the collection displays he put together with the team of the Nationalgalerie, such as Modern Times: The Collection – 1900–1945 (2010–2011) and Divided Heaven: The Collection – 1945–1968 (2011–2013) at the Neue Nationalgalerie, The Black Years: Histories of a Collection – 1933–1945 (2015–2016), and Hello World: Revising a Collection, which in 2018 at the Hamburger Bahnhof posed the question of what the collection of the Nationalgalerie would look like if its acquisition had not been informed by a Eurocentric gaze. In 2019, the hugely successful show Emil Nolde: A German Legend – The Artist During the Nazi Regime sparked public discussion, while that same year, with Fighting for Visibility, the Alte Nationalgalerie placed a special focus on the women artists of the Nationalgalerie collections for the very first time.

Along the way, Udo Kittelmann was supported by a network of outstanding curators, whose services he managed to secure to realise his projects, and with whom he worked to ensure that Berlin’s Nationalgalerie can now be mentioned in the same breath as the world’s premier art museums. With his programme, Kittelmann never pandered to the mainstream, instead zeroing in on idiosyncratic and strong individual perspectives – often uncovering new or neglected talents –, alongside large-scale solo or thematic exhibitions. The fact that with this programming Kittelmann was nevertheless able to attract a large and above all young and international audience for the various branches of the Nationalgalerie is one of his major achievements. Currently, despite operating at reduced capacity due to the pandemic, the Katharina Grosse exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof has already mobilised more than 100,000 visitors.

Outstanding Solo Exhibitions

Alongside solo exhibitions of more well-known names such as Thomas Demand (2009–2010), Rudolf Stingel (2010), Carsten Höller (2010–2011), Tomás Saraceno (2011–2012), Gerhard Richter (2012), Martin Kippenberger (2013) and Otto Piene (2014), he also showed lesser-known historical and contemporary figures – often parallel to the big-ticket shows –, many of whom first received national and even international attention through Kittelmann’s engagement, such as Taryn Simon (2011/2012), Hilma af Klint (2013), Gottfried Lindauer’s Māori Portraits (2014/2015), Adrian Piper (2017), or, most recently, Jack Whitten (2019), to name just a few.

His extensive exhibition and events programme was primarily achieved through remarkably successful acquisitions financed by external funding, which was a central passion for Udo Kittelmann, and this passion bore fruit time and again. Many projects counted with the participation of foundations, companies, sponsors, or the Freunde der Nationalgalerie. In 2013, Udo Kittelmann was named “European Cultural Manager of the Year”.

Expanding the Collection

During Kittelmann’s tenure, more than 700 high-quality works spanning all epochs from the 19th century through to works of contemporary art have been added to the collections of the Nationalgalerie, often through generous donations. To name just a few key works, for example, this includes Leo von Klenze’s The Temple of Concordia at Agrigento (1857), Lotte Laserstein’s Evening Over Potsdam (1930), Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait in Bar (1942), Robert Indiana’s Imperial Love (1966/2006), Elaine Sturtevant’s Warhol Flowers (1990), Harun Farocki’s Serious Games (2009–2010), Pierre Huyghe’s Zoodram 6 (2013) and Adrian Piper’s The Probable Trust Registry (2013–2015). As well as this, the collections of Erich Marx, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch, Egidio Marzona, and Friedrich Christian Flick have received a great deal of attention in recent years thanks to the efforts of Udo Kittelmann.

Setting the Course

During Udo Kittelmann’s tenure, numerous decisions had to be made that were of enormous strategic importance for the history of the Nationalgalerie, such as the temporary closure of the Neue Nationalgalerie in early 2015 for refurbishments, which is set to reopen in the summer of 2021; and the planning for the new building of the Nationalgalerie in the Kulturforum.

Two Openings Toward the End of Kittelmann’s Tenure

Toward the end of his tenure, Udo Kittelmann reopened Friedrich Schinkel’s Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, which after being closed for eight years due to repairs and restoration work, will once again be used as a branch of the Nationalgalerie. And since 25 October 2020, the Hamburger Bahnhof has been showing the large-format installation Self Portrait as clone of Jeanne D’Arc by the US artist Bunny Rogers, which private supporters have donated to the Nationalgalerie as a show of thanks to Udo Kittelmann.

After Kittelmann’s departure, his erstwhile deputy and the current Director of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Joachim Jäger, will become Acting Director of the Nationalgalerie. The Alte Nationalgalerie has been directed by Ralph Gleis since 2017, and the Hamburger Bahnhof by Gabriele Knapstein since 2016.