Stephanie Rosenthal on her first year as director at the Gropius Bau, her bid to make it more accessible and what to expect next.
Martin-Gropius-Bau is known for offering a unique combination of contemporary exhibitions alongside historical ones. The Bau’s new director Stephanie Rosenthal took up her post a year ago after working as chief curator at London’s Hayward Gallery. And she has already made her mark here with hugely popular shows dedicated to feminist video artist Ana Mendieta, archaeological traces of migration in Germany, and South Korean multimedia icon Lee Bul.
What are you most proud of achieving in your first year at Gropius Bau?
I had quite modest aspirations for what we could achieve in a year, but when I look back now I think we have done a lot. Especially the work on opening up the building – this was about removing later architectural additions such as glass walls rather than building anything, so it was fairly inexpensive and quick – the new restaurant and bookshop, and of course our new website. I was asked to take this post and accepted it nearly 10 months before coming here. I think that was a big advantage and allowed me to put exhibitions such as Lee Bul into the programme as soon as I started last year.
The new café and bookshop open this month, along with the atrium becoming a free-of-charge space. How do you hope people will use the atrium?
I really feel the purpose of an institution like Gropius Bau is to inspire and create a space for conversation. I don’t believe in “exiting through the gift shop”. I want to encourage people to come here and even if they don’t have time to experience a whole exhibition, be able to see something interesting. It will also be a place for visitors to hang out and chat after seeing a show. From March 22 they will be able to do that in the atrium. I especially like the idea of welcoming families to the atrium. I know from experience the benefit of the whole family being able to be at a museum without everyone having to see the show. Sometimes you don’t want to schlepp your kids through the exhibition. Hopefully the open atrium will make the building more accessible for audiences.
Will there be exhibitions in the atrium?
There will be art installations in the atrium, the first of which is part of the exhibition And Berlin Will Always Need You. Because we must fundraise for each of our exhibitions individually, future installations may equally be connected to shows, but we are also considering a stand-alone sponsor for the atrium, which would mean that we can branch out with commissions for the space.
Do you have any more changes planned for the building?
In the long term, we would also like to move the ticket desk to the basement to allow the main entrance hall to become a more social space. Part of this process has been to think of the building as a living organism and recognise that it is itself a monument for Berlin.
Can you tell us more about And Berlin Will Always Need You, which you’re opening this month?
It’s an exhibition that looks to our past as an institution and explores craft within the city’s contemporary art scene through new and existing work of 20 Berlin-based artists from all over the world. Gropius Bau was originally opened in 1881 as an applied arts museum and school and has been through various phases since then: a library during National Socialism and after being heavily bombed in WWII, left as a ruin until Walter Gropius joined a campaign in the 1970s to restore the building designed by his great uncle Martin Gropius. It reopened as a museum in 1989 and the front steps we use now at the main entrance were then in the death zone of the wall. I remember myself, visiting and having to use the rear entrance. The artists shown in this new exhibition are responding to the building’s various incarnations. Chiharu Shiota, for example, will present a finely spun web suspended across the atrium. Woven with the pages of books, it’s a direct reference to the building’s time as a library.
What else can we look forward to in this year’s programme?
We also have an exhibition in the summer of Pakistani artist Bani Abidi’s print-based and moving image works, and our 2018 artist in residence, American video artist Wu Tsang, will present a solo show in September.
And Berlin Will Always Need You – Art, Craft and Concept Made in Berlin Mar 22-Jun 16 Martin-Gropius-Bau, Mitte