As a contemporary art affectionado, the Hamburger Banhof was a must see for me in Berlin. The building itself and the museum’s vast collection far exceeded my expectations. The current manifestation of Berlin’s “Museum für Gegenwart” (Museum for Contemporary Art) opened in the former Hamburger train station on November 2, 1996.The building was constructed in the mid-19th century and reconstructed in the late 20th century by architect Josef Paul Kleihues.
To add a bit of gegenwart appeal to the main facade, American conceptual artist Dan Flavin, installed neon green and blue lights. As I entered the museum, I was immediately struck by the grand industrial hall, in which Marcel DuChamp’s “Bicycle Wheel” was standing alone. The organization of the museum reminds me a bit of London’s Tate Modern- a large hall flanked by subdivided galleries. The museum’s collection is comprised of art since 1960. The catalyst for the massive restoration of the Hamburger Banhof was the acquisition of the Erich Marx collection, including seminal works by Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, among others.
Since 1996, the museum’s collection has been expanded to include pieces by John Cage, Bill Viola, Peter Campus, Wolf Vostell, Rebecca Horn, Carolee Schneeman, Reinhard Mucha, Marcel Broodthaers, Fritz Rahmann, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Johan Grimonprez and Aernout Mik. The collection contains quite a bit of Conceptual Art and Arte Povera, as well as several filmic works by artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, David Lamelas and Matthew Buckingham. It is now organized according to three major collections: the Marx Collection, the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, and the Marzona Collection. In addition to its permanent collection, Museum für Gegenwart displays rotating exhibitions, such as the current Die Kunst ist super! (Art is super!) show (on view from September 2009 through February 2010).
Visitors can purchase tickets for the permanent collection, the temporary exhibition, or a combination pass for both. Students, be sure to bring your student ID for a substantial discount. The museum offers daily guided tours, as well as lectures, classes, workshops and film series for both adults and children. There is also a large reading room, well-stocked with exhibition catalogs and art books. The museum bookstore, located on the main level near the entrance, is one of the finest I’ve visited in terms of selection and quality. I was pleased to find books on nearly all of the major artists exhibited in the Hamburger Banhof as well as a plethora of design and theory books (in short, I should have brought a larger suitcase). In addition, the museum’s restaurant, the Sarah Wiener Cafe, was a lovely spot to grab a cup of coffee and pastry after our museum visit. My Berliner friends tell me the lunch and dinner menus are also excellent. I would have to agree, die kunst ist super, especially at the Hamburger Banhof.