The Nationalgalerie collection contains around 4,000 works of 20th century art. This partial collection is comprised mainly of the Nationalgalerie’s own collection. It also encompasses the Marx Collection, the Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection and parts of the Marzona Collection, whose home is the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). The Kunstbibliothek (Art Library) and the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin will get additional exhibition areas in the new museum building.

The Nationalgalerie’s collections of 20th century art document all of Europe’s and North America’s major art movements. But its exhibition options are limited: until now, the extensive collection has been presented in the Neue Nationalgalerie. For this reason, the art of the 20th century could only be presented in part and in rotating exhibitions in the past decades.

View of the "Divided Heaven" exhibition in the Neue Nationalgalerie
View of the "Divided Heaven" exhibition © Heinrich Ehmsen Estate / SMB / Roman März

The Nationalgalerie’s Collection of 20th Century Art

The collection of the Nationalgalerie of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Gallery of the National Museums in Berlin) was influenced by twentieth-century events. Its critical relevance makes the collection outstanding – even in an international comparison. The collection has special historical significance for Germany because of the unification of eastern and western inventories after 1990.

Expressionism, art in the GDR, and media art

The Nationalgalerie collection focuses on German Expressionism, French Cubism, Surrealism, Color Field Painting, art in the GDR, international Western art after 1960, and video and film art. Egidio Marzona’s extensive donation in 2002 was an obvious supplement. Structured like an encyclopedia, the Marzona collection consists of 600 works by around 150 artists for Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Land Art, Arte Povera, and other artistic developments of the 1960s and 1970s.

From Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to Pipilotti Rist

Artists with especially large groups of works in the Nationalgalerie collection include Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, Werner Tübke, Gerhard Richter, Andreas Gursky, Jason Rhoades, and Pipilotti Rist.

The collection’s spectrum and critical focus

A trilogy of exhibitions was presented in the Neue Nationalgalerie in 2010–2014: “Modern Times” “Divided Heaven”, and “Expansion of the Combat Zone”. They showed the complexity and extent of the Nationalgalerie’s collection of 20th century art. Historical-critical exhibitions like “Black Mountain. An Interdisciplinary Experiment. 1933–1957”, “The Black Years, Histories of a Collection 1933–1945”, “Hello World. Revising a Collection”, “Emil Nolde. A German Legend. The Artist during the Nazi Regime” initiated an institutional self-examination that set the direction for the design of exhibitions in the new building.

History of the Nationalgalerie Collection

The Nationalgalerie collection on the 20th century reflects a good 150 years of art and art history. For historical reasons, it focuses on Germany, Europe, and North America. The Nationalgalerie was founded in 1861 on Museumsinsel (Museum Island). Major modern works were exhibited in the Galerie der Lebenden in Kronprinzenpalais, the “Gallery of Living Artists” in the Crown Prince’s Palace, between 1919 and 1933. At that time, an appreciation for international movements such as Impressionism and Expressionism was cause for criticism. The Galerie der Lebenden gave the Nationalgalerie both a pioneering role and a key function in the art world.

Germany’s Division also Divided the Collection

The Nazi regime and World War II had a profound effect on the Nationalgalerie as well, since its collection suffered extensive losses. The collection was divided by the founding of two German nations in 1949. Parts of the collection were kept and maintained in the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museumsinsel in the eastern part of Berlin. Art from the GDR was added to the collection there. The Magistrate of Berlin was initially responsible for the parts of the collection that remained in West Berlin. At that time, the collection was still called the Galerie des 20. Jahrhunderts (Gallery of the Twentieth Century). In 1965, the Stiftung

Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) took over the collection for the Nationalgalerie. And in 1968, the Neue Nationalgalerie, which was designed by Mies van der Rohe, opened at the Kulturforum and became the collection’s home. 

Hamburger Bahnhof as the Museum of Contemporary Art

The reunification of the two German states provided an opportunity to reunite the divided collections under the roof of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. For example, the inventories of classical modern art and post-war modern art in East and West Germany were united in the Neue Nationalgalerie. In 1996, the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin opened as a new location for exhibiting contemporary art. 

A tour of twentieth-century art

In recent decades, only parts of the collections of twentieth-century art could be displayed in the Neue Nationalgalerie and Hamburger Bahnhof since both buildings are much too small. But thanks to the planned connection between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the new museum, it will be possible to tour art from 1900 to the developments in the late 20th century within a single museum complex.

Additional Collections in the Future New Museum Building

Joseph Beuys: "DAS KAPITAL RAUM 1970–1977", 1980, detail, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Marx Collection
Joseph Beuys: "DAS KAPITAL RAUM 1970–1977", 1980, detail, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Marx Collection © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 / photo: Thomas Bruns

Marx Collection

Five artistic personalities of the late 20th century are the focal point of the Marx Collection: Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. They became famous internationally for the dissolution of traditional boundaries in art. The collection owns great complexes of their works that fully reflect their respective artistic development.

Works by the American artists Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein and Bruce Nauman complete the spectrum of artistic developments of the 1960s/70s in the Marx Collection.

Foreground: Max Ernst: "Young Man, Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly", 1942-1947 (82 x 66 cm), Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, exhibition view Neue Nationalgalerie
Max Ernst: "Young Man, Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly", 1942-1947, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, exhibition view Neue Nationalgalerie © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 / photo: Simon Vogel

Ulla & Heiner Pietzsch Collection

Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch have been building up an extraordinary art collection since 1964. It is distinguished by two related focal points: European Surrealism and its continued development in the USA by the Abstract Expressionists.

The Pietzsch Collection includes works by Max Ernst, René Magritte and Joan Miró, as well as early works by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Mark Tobey. American painters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko seized on the suggestions of emigrated artists such as André Masson and Max Ernst and developed them further.

Exhibition platform Kunstbibliothek, exhibition view "Avantgarde!", Kunstbibliothek Berlin 2014
Exhibition platform Kunstbibliothek, exhibition view "Avantgarde!", Kunstbibliothek Berlin 2014 © Dietmar Katz

The Kunstbibliothek Exhibition Area

The Kunstbibliothek museum collections on architecture, book and media art, design, fashion and photographic art supplement the Nationalgalerie and Kupferstichkabinett collections. In the Kunstbibliothek’s exhibition area in the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, these collections of 20th century art will be presented to the public in direct interplay for the first time. The area is to become an experimental lab for unique archive and museum collections on modern art at the Kulturforum. Joining in and co-creating will be its focal point.

Exhibition of graphic works by Pablo Picasso, exhibition view Kupferstichkabinett
Exhibition of graphic works by Pablo Picasso, exhibition view Kupferstichkabinett © Succession Picasso / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 / photo: H. Schulze Altcappenberg

Kupferstichkabinett

In addition to its world-famous historical inventory, the Kupferstichkabinett has an internationally outstanding collection of 25,000 drawings and more than 35,000 print graphics from the 20th century. It includes portfolios of works on German Expressionism, New Objectivity and international Modernism. The inventory of post-1945 German and Anglo-American graphics focuses on Pop Art, Concept Art and Minimal Art. The Museum of Prints and Drawings will regularly fill two rooms of the new museum building with its own media and thematic accents.