She joined the Bröhan in 2015, but Anna Großkopf is already responsible for a couple of standout shows that suddenly have everyone talking about the too often overlooked Charlottenburg institution. Located right across from the palace, the museum started out as the private collection of businessman Karl Bröhan in the 1960s, before the institution eventually became a Berlin State museum in 1994. It houses a permanent collection of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Functionalist objects as well as temporary exhibitions. Both the current Group of XI and last year’s Grapus, a French Graphic Design Collective, were curated by Großkopf. We sat down with the Düsseldorf-born curator for a chat about the museum and what we should look forward to.
What’s the guiding principle for your temporary exhibitions?
We always try to keep a connection to our historical collection, basically objects and art from about 1880 to 1940, but we also try to reach out to contemporary art. A lot of topics that are relevant today were discovered or became relevant for the first time during this period around 1900. The current exhibition is a good example of that.
Can you tell us more about the myth and scandals surrounding those 11 painters from Berlin who called themselves “the XI”?
They were real pioneers of the 19th century in many ways! It was the first modern artist group in the German speaking world and they had very modern exhibition politics. For example, they invented the format of the group exhibition in a private gallery, small well-curated shows that, unlike the annual Great Berlin Art Exhibition, went for quality not quantity. They were really doing their own thing, choosing themselves what to exhibit, how to hang the works, designing their own invitation cards and really acting like ‘artist-curators’. They were the first to accept a woman as a member, Dora Hitz (1856 – 1924), a successful portrait painter. They were also the first to show impressionist and symbolist paintings in Berlin, the works of Max Liebermann, Walter Leistikow and Franz Skarbina or the highly unusual symbolist paintings of Ludwig von Hofmann that provoked very controversial press reactions. The opening of their first exhibition on April 1, 1892 was a real sensation and attracted extremely negative reviews, insulting the “XI” as dilettante and half-crazy, a dubious clandestine group. But they embraced the scandal, because they understood very quickly that all PR is good PR.
You next show opening in October is about Nordic design…
It is closely linked to the show we did this spring on the Bauhaus. It will start in the 1920s with Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto, and go right up to the present-day with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s, with Sven Markelius, the father of Swedish functionalism, and the much celebrated Danish designers Hans J. Wegner and Arne Jacobsen. We’ll be rounding off the exhibition with futurist designs by Verner Panton, Eero Aarnio and Marimekko, which marked the Nordic countries’ ultimate break with functionalism. But this autumn we’ll also show a photographic series on Germany after the fall of the Wall by photographer Stefan Moses who died last year. Next year we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Berlin painter Hans Baluschek who together with Käthe Kollwitz and Heinrich Zille was one of the protagonists of sociocritical realism.
How many pieces are currently in the museum’s collection?
This isn’t an easy question to answer as it depends on how you count: we have around 18,000 pieces including the painting collection of 300 works. But we have a lot of cutlery pieces for example, and do not count each teaspoon as a separate work!
And do you receive bequests? Perhaps a fan of the museum might leave you their art nouveau butter knife?
Yes. And it’s of course very sweet when the older ladies coming to the museum offer us their items. But sadly, we cannot accept everything. Art Nouveau was a large movement, and lot of everyday objects were produced, not all of historical relevance.
What’s your one favourite exhibit?
As a huge fan of Art Deco, I especially admire the work of Paul Iribe. In our permanent collection we have two exceptional lounge chairs that perfectly express the elegance, boldness and eccentricity of the period.
Scandal! Myth! Modernism! The association of the XI in Berlin, through Sep 15 | Nordic Design – The Answer to Bauhaus, Oct 24 – Mar 1 | Stefan Moses – Abschied und Anfang 1989-1990, Nov 7 – Apr 19, all at Bröhan Museum, Charlottenburg