Ater extensive renovations 2014, the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) in the Kulturforum greets the world in dazzling, new attire. Many parts of the building, designed in 1966 by Rolf Gutbrod in the spirit of post-war modernism, have been remodelled by the architectural firm of Kuehn Malvezzi. In the foyer, the ticket desk, information desk and cloakroom have been housed in white, cube-shaped installations, whose simplified form allows them to retreat into the background, leaving the staircase to occupy a space of its own. The treads of the stairs have been enclosed in a sumptuous casing, emphasising the horizontal and lending a unity to the staircase while at the same time bringing out its sculptural quality.
An easy-to-follow signage system explains the spatial arrangement of the building, directing visitors around it by means of red, overhead signs. Also newly designed are the exhibition rooms for the Fashion, Design, and Jugendstil to Art Deco collections.
A Home for Art, Fashion and Design
To present its huge range of exhibits, covering a multitude of styles and materials, the Kunstgewerbemuseum offers a variety of themed tours. The new fashion gallery beckons as soon as you enter. In large showcases, installed in rooms lit dimly for conservation purposes, mannequins model around 130 costumes and accessories. Representing 150 years of fashion history, the display conveys a sense of strolling through a shopping arcade, with the creations of such famous couturiers as Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior in the windows. This is the first time that Berlin has had a permanent exhibition covering every aspect of fashion. The core of the display is the international collection of Martin Kamer and Wolfgang Ruf, which was purchased in 2003.
Bauhaus Classics of the Design Collection
Another highlight is the new Design Collection display in the basement. This top-quality selection presents Bauhaus classics alongside the designs of contemporary design celebrities such as Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck and Konstantin Grcic. A chair gallery rounds off the tour, with a selection of innovative designs from the 19th century to the present day. The chair illustrates the different possibilities of design better than almost any other object; here the spectrum ranges from the simple and serviceable to the luxurious, culminating in designs where imagination completely overtakes functionality.
Every day we use them, the things around us. While we bring the coffee cup to our mouth, we scroll through Instagram, make the buzzing of the dishwasher in the background true, meanwhile, the post lands in the mailbox. Of course, it is somehow tangible, the material culture. But can we understand them? Everyday little routines form our reality. If the artifacts fall under the table, are the routines left over? What is it that causes our everyday life and our coexistence?
Guests are invited from the fields of design research, anthropology, sociology, performative urbanistics and design and exhibition practice. With them, there will be a public conversation, which can then be continued in a big round or dialogue.
The Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) is the oldest of its kind in Germany. It houses world-famous examples of European arts and crafts, including magnificent reliquaries made of gold and precious gemstones, exquisite vases of glass and porcelain, finely embroidered textiles, ornate inlaid furniture, and classic examples of modern industrial design. The permanent and special exhibitions hosted by the Kunstgewerbemuseum can be seen at two locations in Berlin: at the Kulturforum near Potsdamer Platz and in the picturesque setting of Schloss Köpenick on an island on the river Dahme. The Schloss Köpenick site features masterpieces of interior design from the 16th to 18th centuries.
The museum at the Kulturforum was completed in 1985 to designs by Rolf Gutbrod, one of the leading German architects in the 1960s. Gutbrod’s trademark is that he allowed structural elements of his buildings to remain clearly visible. The museum is conceived as a ‘constructed landscape’ and the trees dotted around the side make reference to the adjacent Tiergarten park. While the building has a closed appearance from the outside, it welcomes visitors on the inside with an open stairwell and generous exhibition spaces. Visitors are encouraged to focus completely on the remarkable exhibits in the collection and to wander from one level to the next.
From 2012 to 2014, large parts of the original Gutbrot building were modernized by the architectural practice of Kuehn Malvezzi. Since reopening on 22 November 2014, the Kunstgewerbemuseum’s main site at the Kulturforum now again provides a systematic overview of the key achievements in European design, from the Middle Ages to the present day. New features in the collection display include an extensive Fashion Gallery as well as the departments of Design and Jugendstil to Art Déco.
The sheer breadth of the collections of the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) is impressive, encompassing a wide variety of materials and forms of craftwork, fashion and design from the early Middle Ages to the present day. The museum is particularly famed for its prestigious works of sacred art from the Middle Ages: world-renowned are such masterpieces of medieval goldsmithing as the bursa (purse-shaped) reliquary from the monastery of St Dionysius in Enger, Herford, the domed reliquary, and the portable altar made by the monk and goldsmith Eilbertus from the collection of the Guelph Treasure.
Works from the 16th to 18th century pay testament to the outstanding craftsmanship of the time and offer visitors the perfect opportunity to discover the art and cultural history of Europe in the early modern era. The collection ranges from precious Renaissance chests to leather wallpaper and fine examples of Italian maiolica, and glass art. Ornate cabinets and objects from private cabinets of art reflect the passion for collecting in the Baroque period. The full extent of royal splendour during this era is impressively demonstrated by the great silver buffet from the Knights’ Hall of the Berlin Palace. The Rococo period is exemplified by the wall panelling of the Chamber of Mirrors from Schloss Wiesentheid and the chinoiserie Lacquer Room from the Palazzo Granieri in Turin as well as porcelain from the table service of Schloss Breslau. David Roentgen’s writing desk from the year 1779 marks the transition to Neoclassicism.
Jugendstil and Art Deco are also well represented at the Kunstgewerbemuseum with glassware from Emile Gallé, pieces of furniture by Henry van de Velde and the glass doors of César Klein. The collection comprises famous and influential design classics such as furniture by Bruno Paul, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer as well as tableware from Wilhelm Wagenfeld.
The collection’s extensive range of costumes and accessories from the 18th to 20th centuries is presented to visitors since the reopening of the museum in 2014 in a newly conceived fashion gallery.