The Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany, is one of the largest art museums in the country. The art museum, which consists of three separate buildings built in 1869, 1921 and 1997, also hosts multiple exhibitions.
The exhibition “Atmen” (Breathing), which met with the audience on September 30, 2022, continued to meet with the audience until February 12 ¾ extending the planned closing date by 1 month. “Atmen” is inspired by the pandemic and the “Black Lives Matter” movement that emerged in 2020 in the US after George Floyd was killed in police custody. The exhibition in Hamburg refers to the present day and shows how the view of breathing has changed in the visual arts. It is the first major exhibition in the world to be based on the theme of breathing in the art of the old masters and contemporary art.
Over 100 works by around 45 artists from 18 countries interpret the theme of “breathing” on a sociopolitical and global level and communicate across the ages. The interdisciplinary artistic mediums on display range from painting, sculpture and installation to photography and drawing, performance, video, film and sound works. Breathing has been thought of as more than just air moving in and out of the body since ages ago. Breath is the vehicle of life, thought, inspiration and, in many world cultures, the spirit. We often take breathing for granted in our daily lives. We pay attention when breathing becomes difficult due to illness, climate change, epidemics or physical violence. George Floyd’s last words in 2020, “I can’t breathe”, have become almost synonymous with racist and institutional violence. Breathing, which we inhale and exhale an average of 22,000 times a day, always has sociopolitical implications beyond this vital function. At various levels, breathing involves owning the air and the environment, both socially and politically. It radically questions how we relate to the world and each other. This has become particularly visible in the days of the global pandemic, when one’s own breath and the breath of others becomes a source of contagion and a potentially deadly threat.
“The Breathing” exhibition invites visitors to approach and question this multifaceted theme from different angles. It draws our attention to this theme, which we do not stop and pay attention to in our daily lives, and which perhaps seems very simple when we think about it. It is possible to see another exhibition similar to the “Atmen” exhibition, “Transparent Museum”, which draws the viewer in and includes the viewer in many works, again at the Hamburg Kunsthalle.
Behind the Scenes: “Transparent Museum”
The “Transparent Museum” stands out as an innovative pilot project at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Works of art from different periods and media, spanning the breadth of the Kunsthalle’s collection, are juxtaposed in inspiring arrangements. In addition, contemporary artworks addressing the institutional aspects of the museum provide a provocative or reflective commentary, expanding the field of inquiry around each example. Offering a new and interactive approach, the museum aims to encourage non-specialists to interpret the works and engage the audience. An example of this is when an exhibited work can be interpreted by the audience via audio recording and the recordings can be listened to in front of the same work. In this way, visitors are encouraged to reflect, discuss and develop new ideas, and discover that the criteria that determine the work of a museum also change over time and can be learned.
The exhibition space of the “Transparent Museum” is structured into nine thematic rooms. These rooms, for example, shed light on the characteristics of (artists’) frames and explore the distinction between originals and forgeries. This exhibition allows us to experience the artist’s backstage by revealing the back of the frame that we always wonder about when looking at a work. Just as everyone perceives and interprets a sentence differently, artists create their works, which are open to different interpretations, with a thought, perhaps an emotion or many emotions. Seeing behind the scenes, which is like a clue, perhaps gives the audience an idea about the artist.
This pilot project, which is designed for at least two years, will continue by taking into account the suggestions of the audience.
You can spare a day to visit all three interconnected buildings of Hamburger Kunsthalle, which were built in three different periods. In addition to the “Atmen” and the “Transparent Museum” mentioned in our article, the collection divided into sections as Old Masters from 1400s to 1800s; 19th century, modern art between 1900-1960 and contemporary art after 1960; the “Femme Fatale” exhibition, which will continue from December 9, 2022 to April 10, 2023, is also worth seeing.