Founded in 1975, – Forty-five years of supporting, displaying, and preserving Berlin-made art – Berlinische Galerie. In conversation with Curator and Director, Dr. Thomas Köhler
The museum was founded by an association who support and exhibit works made in the German capital. Having moved over the years, their location in the mid-70s was based in an office in Charlottenburg, subsequently moving to Landwehr offices and in 1986 into the Martin-Gropius-Bau. An interrupted stay due to reconstruction works for six years, Berlinische Galerie went without a permanent address, until 2004 where it found its final home in a glass warehouse in Kreuzburg. The building, a design constructed in 1965, displays pieces from 1870 to present day. Spaces and locations had to be given identities to adapt to the changing political landscape. The conversion of the structure into a museum was led by architect Jörg Fricke. Upon arrival, visitors are greeted by the museum’s external installation; a rectangular floor area, where black letters are printed on a yellow background to form the 160 names of artists found within the Berlinische Galerie collection.
Glesni Williams: What would you consider to be Berlinische Galerie’s features?
Thomas Köhler: Historically, one of the features is that Berlinische Galerie (BG) is a young museum, it was founded in 1975 by citizens. It was not a political decision, it was a private association. In the beginning there were seven members, they founded BG and it was an act of local patriotism. In 1975, the city was separated and in 1968 the Neue Nationalgalerie, designed by Mies van der Rohe, was founded where they were focusing on international art. The founders of BG had an idea, they said, «We are going to be here for you, for the artists in Berlin, we are going to cover the artistic production in the city». You have to consider that they began without a collection, starting from scratch.
GW: That’s a lot of work for a young association to start a collection and get to where it is today.
TK: They were dependent on partnerships. In the first years, it wasn’t certain that the museum would survive, aspects were improvised, the lack of a set location, and the size of collection were issues at the time. The discussion came up once again after Reunification, and there was a study by Kasper König, current Director of the Museum Ludwig, and Wim Beeren, former Director of Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, who had a solution: to discontinue BG, the works of the collection were to be given to the Neue Nationalgalerie and to the city museums. We are thankful that this project wasn’t realized.
GW: How has Berlinische Galerie evolved over the years?
TK: The team was non-existent in the Seventies, we now have a team of 85 people and five departments: Fine Arts, Prints and Drawings, Architecture, Photography and Artist’s Archives. When I started working here, they did not have a communication department to communicate with the city, the neighborhood or the media. Education was a factor, if you look at other museums in Berlin, they are in prominent locations in the city, they do not have neighborhoods as we do. One of the activities of the education department is to come up with networks, to attract audiences to enter the museum.
GW: In the organization of upcoming exhibitions, how are the themes and featured artists selected?
TK: We have reformed the exhibition program, my predecessor wanted to draw attention with 20 projects per year. We now focus on 6 projects per year. Seven curators including myself, meet twice a year to reflect on past projects, we analyze it and discuss future projects.
GW: Are there artists that the Berlinische Galerie has a desire to work with and exhibit?
TK: A project with Elmgreen & Dragset, a Danish-Norwegian artist duo. In Beijing, they converted an exhibition space into an art fair, and in Seoul, they converted a museum into an airport lobby.IMAGE GALLERY
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