Thursday, January 29, 2009
Bucerius Kunst Forum
The photograph above shows the Hamburg branch of the old Reichsbank, Germany’s Central Bank from 1876 to 1948. Hamburg’s branch of the Reichsbank was constructed in the midst of World War I—the structure was begun in 1914 and completed in 1917—and is situated next to the Rathaus.
The Reichsbank building is no longer used for banking purposes (although “Reichsbank” remains chiseled onto its façade). Instead, it houses a private foundation, The Ebelin And Gerd Bucerius ZEIT Foundation, which is Germany’s largest philanthropic foundation as measured by assets (at least three billion Euros are controlled by the Bucerius ZEIT Foundation, and perhaps far, far more).
Dr. Gerd Bucerius (1906-1995) made his name as a man of politics and of the press. Bucerius was a member of the German Bundestag from 1949 to 1962, but he is most widely remembered as co-founder and publisher of the Hamburg weekly news magazine, DIE ZEIT, Germany’s version of TIME magazine. DIE ZEIT was founded in 1946 and rapidly attained a permanent place among Europe’s preeminent liberal publications. DIE ZEIT remains one of Europe’s most respected news magazines.
The ZEIT Foundation involves itself in a plethora of eleemosynary activity—among other things, it sponsors and funds Germany’s only private law school, which Dr. Bucerius personally established—and one of the Foundation’s many subsidiaries is The Bucerius Kunst Forum.
The Bucerius Kunst Forum, founded in 2002 and occupant of a portion of the old Reichsbank building, has no permanent collection. Instead, the Forum hosts international-level art exhibitions, which typically run for three-month periods and feature in-depth examinations of individual artists or epochs. The Forum presents three such exhibitions each year, and its exhibitions are single-venue exhibitions, not shared exhibitions. The exhibitions are funded lavishly by the Foundation—it thinks nothing of importing as many as 200 different artworks, from the finest museums throughout the world, for one of its sponsored exhibitions.
For instance, on two occasions over the last three years, The Bucerius Kunst Forum has imported, from the United States alone, over 200 paintings from American’s foremost museums and collections, displaying the paintings in Hamburg as part of special exhibitions covering various genres of American painting, an ongoing, long-term project of the Forum. (Apparently at least one member of the Bucerius family had a great appreciation for American painting, whether it was Dr. Bucerius, his wife, or one or more of their children.)
While we were in Hamburg, The Bucerius Kunst Forum was presenting “Cleopatra And The Caesars”, an exhibition of sculptures from the ancient world and paintings from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, all inspired by Cleopatra. The sculptures were mostly from Rome’s many museums, including the Capitoline and the Vatican, and included one of the most famous of all sculptures from Classical Antiquity, The Esquiline Venus (“Venus Esquilina”), which I had always assumed would never be allowed to leave Rome. The paintings were from museums and collections all over Europe, but—to the best of my recollection—there were no paintings from U.S. collections in the Cleopatra exhibition.
The Bucerius Kunst Forum utilizes the first two floors of the old Reichsbank building for its exhibitions, and the main floor—the old “Cash Exchange Room” of the Hamburg Reichsbank, occupying an entire floor of the building and looking like a series of stock-exchange trading posts—is a marvelous space in which to display art.
“Cleopatra And The Caesars” was the work of Bernard Andreae, the noted Austrian art historian and antiquities expert.
We spent over four hours at "Cleopatra And the Caesars" . We were utterly fascinated by the exhibition, and this was so even though much of the art was not very good (vast quantities of paintings were 19th-Century academic paintings from Britain, France and Germany, and very few were of first quality). We loved the exhibition spaces, we loved the imaginative and first-class arrangements of the artworks, and we loved the detailed analyses provided by the audio guide (the most scholarly audio guide any of us had ever encountered).
From our visit to The Bucerius Kunst Forum, we had reason to believe that “Cleopatra And The Caesars” must have been a very popular exhibition with Hamburgers. We visited the exhibition on a Monday and, even on a Monday, we had to wait in line for half an hour before being admitted to the exhibition. When we departed, the line was four times as long as when we had arrived.
The Bucerius Kunst Forum had an excellent café. We ate lunch at the cafe after our exhibition visit, and we had a delightful—even memorable—meal. It was of top-restaurant quality, and featured numerous homemade soups taken from old Hamburg recipes, as well as excellent entrees, also derived from old Hamburg cookbooks. It was one of the best meals we had in Hamburg.