Berlin’s contemporary art museum has never quite been able to reflect the scuzzy riches of the city’s art scene.
Despite its impressive location, Hamburger Bahnhof has always appeared a little unsure of itself, looking over enviously at the confident cosmopolitanism of Gropius Bau and the easy provincialism of the Berlinische Galerie. But the appointment of the directorial duo Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath earlier this year has changed the whole vibe of the institution.
The show is a somewhat romanticised view of the German capital’s downfall and subsequent reemergence
This summer, the courtyard and gardens exploded with events, featuring DJs you might even have heard of and the reopening of the seemingly forgotten western wing of the museum. Even the famously grumpy guards seem a bit more chipper. Most importantly, they’re showing more exhibitions, with the most notable being the large-scale group show Nationalgalerie: A Collection for the 21st Century.
Focusing on Berlin’s contemporary art scene and the city’s post-Wall history, the show is a somewhat romanticised view of the German capital’s downfall and subsequent reemergence. There are some great moments, like the photo-film Lange While, a heartfelt reminiscence about lost lovers and friends by Tina Bara. Made from photographs the artist took in the 1980s, it conjures up a more optimistic time, when Berlin’s hedonism offered the possibility for new and experimental ways of living.
Beside it, and dotted throughout the exhibition, Isa Genzken’s construction windows temper those expectations, reframing Berlin as one enormous, failed urban experiment. There’s an openness to the exhibition – the curators are prioritising an instinctual immediacy over academic rigour. But at times, the concept unravels into a loose collection of Berlin-derived artworks.
For all its tenuousness, the results are inventive and full of insight. ★★★
- Nationalgalerie: A Collection for the 21st Century, through 16 June 2024, Hamburger Bahnhof, Mitte, details.