Following its founding in 1909, the Kunsthalle Mannheim attained the status of a pioneering institution within the German museum scene thanks to the radically modern collection concept espoused by its legendary directors Fritz Wichert (1909–1923) and Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub (1923–1933). It was here that the art-historical term “modernism” was profoundly shaped through the controversial acquisition of the French avant-garde, ranging from works by Edouard Manet to post-Impressionism as well as Expressionism and New Objectivity. The Kunsthalle thus developed as one of the first civic collections of modern art in the world. The exceptional sculpture collection was initiated in 1921 with a donation from Sally Falk. As part of the confiscation operations led by the Nazis, 91 paintings, 8 sculptures, and 466 graphic works were seized – an irreplaceable loss. Walter Passarge (1936–1958) then tried to fill in the gaps after 1945. Heinz Fuchs (1958–1983) and Manfred Fath (1983–2002) further built up the international focus of the collection, adding works of Informalism and Nouveau Réalisme. Today the Mannheim collection comprises approximately 1,900 paintings, 860 sculptures and installations, 34,000 works on paper, and 800 objects of applied art – including key works by Max Beckmann, Francis Bacon, Michel Majerus, Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, and William Kentridge. Building on this foundation, we remain committed to the artistic avant-garde and the existential questioning of our time.
The arc of the nineteenth-century collection stretches from the Romantics (Caspar David Friedrich), the German artists living in Rome in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the Nazerenes right up to the monumental portrayals of people by Feuerbach and Thoma. German Impressionism is represented by Corinth, Liebermann, and Slevogt. Pinnacles of the collection include the French paintings acquired by Wichert comprising Manet, the Impressionists (early works by Monet and Pissarro), and the post-Impressionists (Cézanne, Van Gogh). These are joined by paintings by Ensor, Munch, and Hodler. In the 1920s, Hartlaub succeeded in connecting to the immediate present: Expressionism, New Objectivity, and Bauhaus Abstraction. Notable works include those by the Brücke artists Kirchner, Schmidt-Roloff, Nolde, Heckel, Pechstein, and Otto Mueller and the Blaue Reiter group involving Marc, Macke, and Jawlensky. The foundation for the focus on New Objectivity was the legendary, epoch-defining exhibition in 1925. Paintings by Beckmann stood at the center of the exhibition, accompanied by Grosz, Schlichter, Dix, Radziwill, and others, as well as Mannheim artists Eugen Knaus and Xaver Fuhr. After 1945, the international movements of Informalism and Nouveau Réalisme came into focus, alongside the works of Léger and Bacon. The constructive abstract art of the 1960s plays as important a role as the return to figurative painting in the 1980s. The thematic focus of the collection is on figurative art and landscape. Still lifes play a significant role within the works of Expressionism and New Objectivity.
The Kunsthalle Mannheim houses one of the most significant and comprehensive collections of twentieth- and twenty-first-century international sculpture in Germany. Featuring approximately 860 works of sculpture, object art, and installations, the collection includes major works by Rodin and Lehmbruck, Boccioni and Giacometti, Max Ernst and Henry Moore, James Turrell and Dan Graham. The spectrum ranges from late Classicism via art nouveau right up to European modernism, incorporating Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism. The figurative works of the first half of the twentieth century, international sculpture post 1945, and installations and multi-media art from contemporary artists from around the world are particularly striking. Expressive Sculpture was the name given to an exhibition held as early as 1912. The Jewish patron Sally Falk laid the foundation for the sculptural focus when she donated seven Lehmbruck sculptures in 1921. After World War II, contemporary sculpture was systematically brought to the international stage. The initial focus was on English, German, and French sculpture. Later, works by Mario Merz, Richard Long, and Nam June Paik were added. Since 2010, examples of how the sculpture collection is being developed include new acquisitions by Franz Erhard Walther and Joseph Kosuth, site-specific works by Thomas Hirschhorn and William Kentridge, as well as works by young sculptors such as Nairy Baghramian, John Bock, Alicja Kwade, and Nasan Tur.
The graphic collection consists of two distinct groups of work: over 11,000 sketches, watercolors and screenprints dating from 1800 up until the present day, as well as about 23,000 pages from the personal and public collection of Mannheim court scholar Anton von Klein. The latter encompasses screenprints from every European school from the late fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century. Particular highlights from the chronological graphic holdings include the French and German modernists from the period between 1860 and 1940. The Graphic Room was opened two years after the Kunsthalle was founded. In a similar way to the collection concept for painting and sculpture, the focus was first on German and French graphic art of the nineteenth century. The initial holdings consisted of the works that were bequeathed to the Kunsthalle by the Mannheim court painter Carl Kuntz, and were soon enriched by original works from the Romantic period as well as the Düsseldorf and Munich schools. The graphic art of the time increasingly brought expressionism, New Objectivity, and international trends into the spotlight. Sculptural graphics remain a special focus of the collection to this day. In 1926, the Kunsthalle acquired the Anton von Klein collection and thereby the profile of the collection was extended into the early modern era. Under the Nazi regime, 466 works on paper were labelled “degenerate” and seized. After World War II, the acquisition policy concentrated on informal graphics as well as the groups Cobra and Zero. Today, the focus is on filling in gaps and major works in sculptural graphics.
The Kunsthalle Mannheim seeks to gain in influence through the targeted expansion of the contemporary collection Sculpture in an Expanded Sense. Our focus is quality, innovation, and internationality. Today’s radically expanded field of sculpture is being incorporated into our influential collection, with its focus on the figure and the autonomous object. Our challenge is to find a way to bridge large gaps and find a connection to the schism of the 1960s. This challenge is being met with strategic acquisitions such as parts of the 1. Werksatzes by Franz Erhard Walther (1963–69), performance films by the sculptor Bruce Nauman, and the multimedia installation The Refusal of Time by William Kentridge (2012). Pioneers of conceptual art and light art such as Dan Graham and James Turrell have developed concepts for the new building. Two movements are particularly relevant to the task of establishing the collection as one that includes the newest trends in art. The first is sculpture that tests the limits of its core definitions with its hybrid psychologizing combinations of materials (Benjamin Appel, Nairy Baghramian, Alicja Kwade, Sebastian Kuhn, Nasan Tur, and Johannes Wald). The other idiom presents ironical references to Dada, Duchamp, and Pop Art (John Bock, Bogomir Ecker, Thomas Hirschhorn, Michaela Melián, and Roman Signer). We see the greatest potential for the future in intensive, site-specific artist collaborations, probing the boundaries of the museum and contributing to its actualization as a form of production and as a hermeneutical tool in itself.
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