Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie: Restored and reopening
Designed by Bauhaus pioneer Mies Van Der Rohe, the Neue Nationalgalerie is Berlin's shrine to modern art. After a six-year makeover, the gallery is finally reopening.
Pictured upon its opening in 1968, and fronted by a sculpture by Henry Moore, the Neue Nationalgalerie soon became an icon of modernist architecture. Former Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe then lived in the US, making this his only postwar building in Europe. The museum houses an extensive collection of 20th-century art masterpieces, and was shut in 2015 for an extensive refurbishment.
Preservation and renewal
Begun in 2015, the meticulous renovation of the Neue Nationalgalerie was undertaken by David Chipperfield Architects, also behind the restoration of the Neues Museum in the German capital. Learning from the refurbishment of other Mies buildings in the US, the original design and materials were preserved as much as possible, despite the building having been stripped to its core.
The heritage-listed museum has been completely renewed inside and out, but without compromising the iconic structure's original appearance. Roughly 35,000 original building components were restored or modified to contemporary standards and then returned to their exact original position. New features include air conditioning, a cafe and museum shop, and improved access for people with disabilities.
The museum's collection includes many 20th-century masterpieces, and a selection of 250 artworks are part of an exhibition now opening, "The Art of Society, 1900 – 1945." Among them is "The Skat Players" by Otto Dix, from 1920. The classic Dadaist collage dwells on the carnage of World War I, the faces of the card-playing soldiers having been horribly disfigured in battle.
Alexander Calder: Minimal / Maximal
Another exhibition at the reopened museum is dedicated to Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976). The US modernist sculptor is already closely associated with the museum, as "Têtes et Queue" (1965) — which is now one of his best-known monumental public sculptures — was installed at the Neue Nationalgalerie for the inauguration of Mies' temple of art.
Back in 2005, Italian conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft created one of the most infamous performances within the vast glass Neue Nationalgalerie atrium. Featuring 100 women aged between 18 and 65 wearing nothing but see-through pantyhose, "VB55" was sold as three photographic prints and constitutes one of the most seminal images of artistic invention within Mies' grand art house.
German band Kraftwerk performed their piece "Radioactivity" during a concert at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in January 6, 2015, soon before it shut for renovations. The electronic music pioneers kicked off eight nights of concerts with a multimedia performance of their classic albums, including "Autobahn."
Gerard Richter's 'Birkenau' series
Gerhard Richter’s four-part monumental work "Birkenau," based on photographs secretly taken by a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in August 1944, will be presented at the newly renovated Neue Nationalgalerie from 2023. The famed artist (seen with the works above in Baden-Baden in 2016), never wanted his "Birkenau" series to land on the art market.
Gerhard Richter's "Birkenau" series will be followed by 100 other works from the artist's foundation at the Neue Nationalgalerie. But after 2026 they will move next door to a sister gallery now under construction, the much-anticipated Museum der Moderne (pictured). Here, Richter will join select artists including Rebecca Horn and Joseph Beuys to have a dedicated exhibition floor.
Room with a view
After completing the €110 million ($133 million) overhaul, David Chipperfield Architects symbolically handed over the building keys to the federal organization managing the museum, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, on April 29. The public now again has the pleasure of looking out from the renewed museum towards Potsdamer Platz from August, and to view its modern masterpieces.