Städel Museum sheds light on contemporary art | Arts | DW | 05.03.2012
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Städel Museum sheds light on contemporary art

The Städel Musuem may not look all that different, but scratch beneath the suface and you'll discover its whole new look. Some 50 million euros were spent on a new extension and renovations to the historic building.

Innenaussicht des neuen Erweiterungsbaus. Copyright: Norbert Miguletz ***Nur in Zusammenhang mit der Eröffnung des neuen Erweiterungsbaus verwenden***

Städel Museum Frankfurt

Around 18,000 people flocked to Frankfurt's Städel Museum on the first weekend following its reopening to get a glimpse of Städel's new face-lift and its total of 1,200 newly acquired artworks.

The 3,000-square-meter (over 32,000-square-foot) extension, which adjoins the existing building, means the museum has nearly doubled in size, although this isn't immediately obvious. The new space was built underground beneath the Städel garden, and is illuminated by 195 round skylights spread across the garden in a grid-like pattern.

The extension was built to house Städel's 330 contemporary artworks, about 80 percent of which were newly acquired from the Deutsche Bank, the DZ Bank, and numerous donors, and include the works of Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Cindy Sherman.

Städel Museum

The museum's underground design puts the artworks in a unique light

While the Old Masters and Modern Art collections still have their traditional place in the old Städel building, the head of the contemporary art collection, Martin Engler, opted for a different approach to presenting the contemporary collection.

"We tried to tell a different narration of contemporary art by not doing the typical sequence," he told DW.

Uniquely structured

Instead of presenting the artworks in chronological order or by artist, the post-war collection is grouped by themes such as "German-German painter rebels," "appropriation and staging," "performance and photography: the self as agent," and "paintless," among others.

"In one room, we have artists from seven decades. You walk into the room and see that these artworks belong to a common concept," Engler said, adding that his inspiration came out of a desire to resolve the incessant problem of how best to display contemporary art.

"Our narration is a bit complex and demanding," he explained. "It represents a broad idea of the different styles and different views, but with an awareness that what we entitle as contemporary art is not the same as in previous generations."

While the exhibit provides some guidance to the viewer's experience, Engler said there's no set structure: "We give some ideas about figurative and abstract art but you have the possibility of changing directions and following other paths. It's an open way of telling art history and perhaps it is a more challenging way."

Friedhelm Hütte, Deutsche Bank's global head of art, called the museum's concept a "really inspiring and innovative way to navigate through the art of our time."

Between the old and new buildings, the Städel Museum presents a 700-year history of European art from the early 14th century to present day.

Ground-breaking architecture

Untitled #77 by Cindy Sherman, 1980

Untitled #77 by Cindy Sherman, 1980

While the art collection is permanent, the displays are not. Rather, the constellation of rooms which exhibit the artworks can be shifted to alter the layout of the space.

Michael Schumacher of Schneider + Schumacher, the Frankfurt-based architecture firm that won the competition to design the extension, told DW that it was essential to find the right balance and design a building that was interesting, but didn't distract from the art.

Cymbal, by Gehard Hoehme, 1966

Cymbal, by Gehard Hoehme, 1966

"It's self-explaining architecture in a way, and in another way it's fairly spectacular," Schumacher said.

Although situated underground, the curved glass skylights can individually control the amount of sunlight that enters the space, using a solar control system and darkening mechanisms.

"You can close them, you can reduce the light - they work like our eyes," explained the chief architect. Schumacher sees his work at Städel as a statement for architectural design, especially with regard to ideas of space.

"We don't lose the public garden or the public space. I would like to see this as a bit of a model for how we continue to build cities, as I believe we need to make our cities denser."

Author: Charlotta Lomas
Editor: Kate Bowen

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