The collection

The New National Gallery is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting international art from the 20th century. The museum was founded in the 1960s, the result of a search for a permanent place to house modern art in the western part of the then divided city. After the Second World War, parts of the original collection were expanded with a series of principal acquisitions and provisionally placed on view as part of the ‘Gallery of the Twentieth Century' in Charlottenburg and Tiergarten. It was against this backdrop that the architect Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to construct a permanent home for the collection of modern art at the Kulturforum opposite the Philharmonie. In 1968, the New National Gallery opened its doors and was soon to become celebrated around the world as a shining symbol of modern architecture. With his pavilion construction suffused with light, Mies van der Rohe had created an open universal space that is unique and which allows each exhibition held inside it to become an exciting event in itself.

Modern Art Collection

Today, the New National Gallery forms one of a total of six pillars that together make up the National Gallery; with the other five being: the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) on the Museum Island Berlin, the Museum Berggruen and the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg in Charlottenburg, the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin in Tiergarten and the Friedrichswerder Church at Schlossplatz. With its large and multifaceted collection of modern art, the New National Gallery ranks as one of the most important museums in Europe. Paintings such as ‘Potsdamer Platz' by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner or the radical picture ‘Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue' by Barnett Newman have become hallmarks of the collection. An overall focus is placed on European and North American painting and sculpture from 1900 to the late 20th century and includes numerous key works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter.

From a chronological perspective, the modern art collection on display in the New National Gallery leads on directly from the collection of the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), beginning with works by Ferdinand Hodler and Edvard Munch. Outstanding works by Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Juan Gris pay testament to the possibilities of Cubism. The various new modes of expression created by expressionism all arose during an extraordinarily intense period and can be best glimpsed at in the many works by the ‘Brücke' group of artists, which included Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Mueller, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel and Emil Nolde. Kirchner's ‘Potsdamer Platz', for instance, from 1914 is a painting which seems to both sum up and define its epoch and depicts the pulsating life at what was at the time the busiest intersection in Europe.

Among the other essential pieces in the collection are works by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz and Oskar Kokoschka. The works by Dix and Grosz document a veristic, politically motivated concept of art after the First World War, as well as showing their subsequent move towards New Objectivity. Important masters of the Bauhaus are similarly represented in the collection through the works of Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger; while the Surrealist trends of the late 1920s and the 1930s come to be represented in the works of Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. The many diverse changes that came with the period directly after the Second World War - abstraction and the rise of new forms of realism - are also widely reflected in the collection. Works presented as a gift by the Munich-based art dealer, Otto van de Loo, for instance, are testament to the free, informal painting of such artist groups as Cobra and Spur. The rich diversity of forms inherent in other important international movements such as Zero or Nouveau Réalisme are also depicted in the collection. Furthermore, the major new artistic impetus by the Americans around 1960 can now be clearly felt within the collection, thanks to a series of sensational acquisitions by the former Director of the National Gallery, Dieter Honisch, of works by the likes of Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly, or the spiritually charged colour spaces by Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. This insight into the ‘triumph of painting' is then enriched still further by examples of European colour field painting, with works by Rupprecht Geiger, Imi Knoebel and Günter Förg.

Since German reunification, the art of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) has also found its place in the collection, and is currently represented in the New National Gallery more widely than in any other public museum. The exhibition reflects the entire spectrum of artistic creation in East Germany up to 1989, so that alongside such central figures as Werner Tübke, Bernhard Heisig and Wolfgang Mattheuer, the works and artistic standpoints of other artists such as Harald Metzkes, Walter Libuda and Werner Stötzer are also on display.

The broadly sweeping overview of modern art in the New National Gallery ends with the principal trends of the late 20th century, such as conceptual art, as seen in Hanne Darboven and Roman Opalka, or the beginnings of a post-modern style of painting rich in allusions, in the likes of Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. ‘Directional Forces', a key work by Joseph Beuys, was actually originally created for display at the New National Gallery. The work, however, is now shown in the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin - another of the six National Gallery sites, in which the collection of modern art is continued and encompasses the current developments of the present day.

The New National Gallery's terrace provided a particularly prominent space for large-scale pieces of sculpture from the 20th century. Even from afar, Barnett Newman's ‘Broken Obelisk' can be seen greeting visitors as they approach the building. Alongside the kinetic metal sculpture by George Rickey, the works by Henry Moore and Alexander Calder stand out most, both of which have belonged to the museum from its inception. Many other pieces of sculpture - by artists from Renoir to Rückriem - are on permanent display in the museum's garden.


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