Berlin Museums – The Hamburger Bahnhof
Time in Berlin for me will always include visiting the fantastic museums and galleries here. One of my all time favorite museums that I have ever visited is the Hamburger Bahnhof, the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Berlin’s art has a turbulent past since Hitler stole most of the art work in both private and public hands and distributed them throughout Europe. That was in the 1940’s, and I still today read articles about art pieces in dispute that often end up in court. The courts side with the heirs, and the art is returned or an agreed upon amount is negotiated for a permanent purchase. Generally if it is a government run museum, it rarely goes to court, the museums will normally return the piece once the provenance has been established. Due to a number of issues, the massive collections owned by the state of Germany do not all have a permanent homes and have been moved around every time I return to Berlin, the Hamburger Bahnhof being one of many rotating locations.
The Hamburger Bahnhof has an amazing collection of Anselm Keifer,
Robert Rauchenburg, Dan Flavin, Joseph Bueys, Andy Warhol…the list of contemporary masters could go on and on. The first time I visited in 2008, the huge changing front room was exhibiting their full collection of Keifers and it was amazing. His imagry is very haunting and powerful. The second time I came in 2009, it was filled with a huge sound installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller titled The Murder of Crows. Coincidently, last year they did a residency at Artpace in San Antonio and I experienced several more sound pieces by the duo there.
I was a little disappointed with the upstairs this visit. The amazing contemporary collection including several Bruce Nauman and Matthew Barney pieces was replaced by a huge sound installation titled db (decibel). All the art was replaced with a white room, black paintings, and the loud, constant buzz from a speaker about 5′ x 5′ at the other end of the room. While I love sound installations, this one was a little too far for me to appreciate. This piece had to do with symmetry and complementary relationships. However, I was not inclined to visit the other side of the second floor, apparently a black room with a white search light. So I did not ever discover what that sounded like. At least many of my favorite artists were still on display in other rooms.
There are quite a few Dan Flavins on display, both inside and outside of the building. I have noticed when Flavin is included in a collection, he is INCLUDED in the collection. I don’t believe I have ever seen just one Flavin displayed. If the Museum likes him, they love him. They will purchase several pieces, including many permanent pieces incorporated on the outside of the buidings, as the Hamburger Bahnhof had comissioned.
And as usual, Joseph Beuys has taken over the entire lower level with his huge sculptures of fat. One of my favorite Beuys pieces to experience is watching him talk to a dead hare in his famous piece, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. The museum posesses a copy of the original peformance in 1965. A couple of years ago I saw a recorded re-creation of this performance by Marina Abramovic. For the Guggenheim, she re performed seven pivital performance pieces by those preceding before her (which also included Vito Acconci’s Seedbed). A great performance piece should evoke emotion from the viewer, to affect them in some way, even if it’s just more questions. The Hamburger Bahnhof is an incredible museum. I would never miss an opportunity to explore their collection and temporary exhibits.