top of page
  • Christian Hain

20 Years of Hamburger Bahnhof Museum

(Berlin.) In London, all public museums offer free admission to their collections, always. In Paris, it’s the same on the first Sunday of every month. In Berlin, one weekend every twenty years, and one museum only. But it was worth the wait: Happy Birthday, Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum for Gegenwartskunst!

Even temporary exhibitions were free of charge, a lucky coincidence that made our promised return to Gülsün Karamustafa happen earlier than expected. The anniversary celebrations further comprised two installations in the main hall: A Hundred Chairs put here by Franz West offered the once-in-a-lifetime-chance to sit like a museum guard, and it felt good. I was overwhelmed by the sudden sense of power, but unprepared for the temptations and the arrogance of the mighty. “Hey you, stay behind that line!” “NO PHOTOGRAPHS!” - people submitted with a guilty conscience; even though there were no lines, and no actual photo ban either. Of course, that’s not Franz West’s true intention, A Hundred Chairs is one of those artworks that seek to create communication spheres and blah blah blah... Still, it was fun.

The other birthday gift was even better. Training Ground for Training Ground for Democracy f̶o̶r̶ ̶D̶e̶m̶o̶c̶r̶a̶c̶y̶ by Christoph Büchel is a voting container with stars and stripes, scrapped children clothes, barbed wire and loads of toys. A bomb thrones in a playpen on the roof. It was the weekend before 8 November, mind. People were queuing at the container’s open door but you could see it all from the outside (if not, this text potentially misses out on important details). Through the fence, and the windows, I saw the walls covered with children’s drawings and shelves full of board games. Three voting cabins (and one cross each) were open to the visitor who could not really use them, it was “look, don’t grab” only. Originally created in 2007, the installation hints back to 2000/01 when “the party was over”, Cheney/Bush got elected and Osama bombed us all into another society, but like every artwork it raises more fundamental questions.

Does it stand for the voters’ infantilization in mass media dominated election campaigns? Or could it be meant to express an antidemocratic attitude - voters are mere children and it’s irresponsible to let them decide over anything important? War and peace cannot are no child’s play – or, on the contrary, is not everything irrelevant and “cheer up and play life” the best advise anybody can give?

There was more art, there were scores of it (...). At this point, I have to admit a misconception. From the announcements I had gathered, Scores – Musical Works of Plastic Artists were nothing but a series of concerts held at night at Hamburger Bahnhof. What I did not know prior to this visit: There’s an exhibition too - multiple exhibitions lined up one behind the other, to be precise -, and quite interesting exhibitions for that. The concerts are a mere bonus!

For a start, there’s Sadaâne Afif with a comic strip in three languages on some confusion arising from the visual resemblance of a nuclear reactor to a “square bollock/couille carrée/eckiges Ei” (yes, that’s right). It’s high school humour, but it works. Said reactor also appears in sculpture and poster form, accompanied by a lot of poems, or song lyrics – Italian now joins as a fourth language -, to be performed in that concert. The centre stage takes a playsturbating piano, moving the keys all by itself.

Scores continues after a short break with catalogues “left here, put there for a limited time” as was written on the wall.

Some artists are perceived as one hit wonders. If I say “Christian Marclay”, you’ll probably respond "The Clock". That monumental 24h video work earned him a gram- no: the Golden Lion at Venice 2011, it was shown all around the world by the eight institutions who bought its five copies (the sixth, and last, non-ea edition went to Wall Street). Well, Marclay has done more in his career, a lot more. For Hamburger Bahnhof, he too created a comic book, about the transformations of a giant flute with guest appearances of some super heroes. Two films are screened in a separate room, none of which is The Clock (one is in a similar style, though).

I’m still immensely proud of having first “discovered” (well: noticed) Jorinde Voigt’s work at a drawing fair in early 2011, shortly before she became one of the world’s bestselling draughtsmen. She still does the same series as back then, quite unvaried variations in music and thought, synesthetic illustrations of sound. Never change a winning style, although, maybe, perhaps, there is a danger it could become boring one day. Pooh, there it is, I said it, please don’t lynch me. Turning around a corner, I thought, “Oh she’s done something new!”, but presently realized, it was another artist: Ari Benyamin Meyers. His installation of projectors projecting forms around flutes and more forms is quite nice. It culminates in a giant flute sculpture and a bass-hum for the deaf.

Scores refers to musical scores, somehow all this is supposed to be read, and played, or sung, by musically gifted persons. To some of us, it’s just as unreadable as conventional scores. Waiting at the end of the corridor, Bruce Naumann’s Room With My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care (great name for a concept album, btw. Or contemporary architecture) is not a part of the show, it has been left here for long. Without much time left till closing, I hurried back to Karamustafa on the other end of the building.

If you play Exhibition Bingo, you may check “migration”, “feminism” and “gender”, and even collect extra points for “Western perspective”, upon reading the intro text. Still you should stay and have a look. At a wooden structure with monochrome photos, copies from a history book or a magazine article on Austrian architect and Nazi resistant Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s time passed in Turkey, or historic photographs on a small screen, alternating with questions as to the whereabouts of “The Porters’” photographic collection. A giant dervish dress upon closer inspection turns out to be even two of those, arranged back to back on the floor like an hourglass. Porcelain on columns, photos of a girl playing with antique sculptures, casually molesting one of them, and a film of her dancing - Is that Gülsün Karamusafa herself?

As suspected on my first visit, the film in a sideroom shows bourgeois family life contrasted with social uproar. It all draws the portrait of a country between many influences, a 20th Century biography of Turkey from Atatürk to Erdogan, and life under different forms of despotism.

Hamburger Bahnhof’s collections are worth a visit too, though I did not have the time just then. Maybe in twenty years? On leaving I noticed, the museum shop made good on the lost ticket fees, by far. It was crowed like hardly ever before.

Celebrations of Hamburger Bahnhof’s 20th Birthday, 5-6 November 2016

Scores, 28 October-13 November 2016

Gülsum Karamustafa, 10 June 2016-15 January 2017

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism



bottom of page