To mark the 200th anniversary of the Hamburger Kunstverein, the Hamburger Kunsthalle is presenting highlights from the eventful history of one of Germany’s oldest artists’ association based on some fifty works from the Kunsthalle’s collections. Although the Kunstverein was founded in 1817, and thus nearly fifty years before the Kunsthalle, the history of the two Hamburg art institutions can be traced back to common origins. Both the Kunstverein and the Kunsthalle arose out of efforts by Hamburg’s citizens to interest the wider public in art.
By way of six themed rooms addressing important early exhibitions held by the Kunstverein and its various functions, the show illustrates the association’s significance and its multifaceted approach to promoting art appreciation in Hamburg. Visitors will experience some surprising encounters with popular favourites such as Caspar David Friedrich’s famous painting The Sea of Ice (1823/24), which was on view at the debut exhibition held by the Kunstverein in 1826, at a time when the Romantic painter’s subtle landscapes were not yet part of the generally accepted artistic canon.
The Kunsthalle show also sheds light on the history of taste in the 19th century on the basis of the first Kunstverein exhibition to display works by Old Masters from private Hamburg collections. Also featured will be an analysis of the works on paper that members of the association received as consolation prizes at the annual prize drawings for artworks. Visitors today will also be given a glimpse of the history-making large-scale exhibition European Art Today in 1927, in which the Kunstverein presented to a broad public at the Kunsthalle the brief yet prolific years enjoyed by the European artistic avant-garde between the wars. Recounting the 200-year history of the relationship between the Kunsthalle and Kunstverein must of necessity also include the Nazi era, during which both institutions were subject to the cultural dictates of the fascist leaders. One themed gallery looks at the efforts then made by the Kunstverein after the Second World War to once again pick up the thread of the avant-garde currents in Europe during the 1920s.
When, in the 1990s, the Hamburger Kunsthalle required land on which to build its new Gallery of Contemporary Art, designed by Oswald M. Ungers, the Kunstverein building from 1963 was torn down. Attesting to the inspiring collaboration between the two neighbouring institutions in the years beforehand is the documentation of a temporary installation set up by the minimalist artist Blinky Palermo in the former Kunstverein building in 1973. This installation is still a permanent fixture today in the Kunsthalle’s Gallery of Contemporary Art and will also be part of the current show.