What Does “Eastern German” Stand For? An Art Museum with a Special Perspective
The Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie is often called the “Ostdeutsche” for short. But today the background is often no longer appreciated, especially as the understanding of “Eastern Germany” has changed. The starting point for the founding of the Stiftung Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie in 1966 was the Bundesvertriebenengesetz (Federal Expellee Law) (sec. 96 BVFG) of 1953. In it, the federal government and the state governments committed to the study, conveying, and preservation of the cultural legacy of the “Germans in Eastern Europe.” Politicians were responding to the crucial turning point in European history resulting from relocations, flight, and expulsion during or in the wake of World War II.
Today, on the basis of this law, the Federal Republic of Germany supports seven museums and seven scholarly institutes and cultural institutions—including the Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, accounting for fifty percent of its budget. The Free State of Bavaria and the City of Regensburg contribute an additional twenty to thirty percent. The KOG is therefore unique: it is the only art museum of this group and does not concentrate on a region but rather includes all of the historically German settlement areas between the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Black Sea. Regensburg is therefore an ideal location, since the University Regensburg was founded with a similar focus on Eastern Europe.
Art History and Art Stories: On the Trail of Artists
On June 10, 1970, what was then called the Ostdeutsche Galerie opened with an exhibition on the art of the nineteenth and especially twentieth centuries. The common denominator in the selection of objects for the exhibition was the biographical background of the artists: They were also from the historical regions of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, West and East Prussia, or other areas of German settlements in Eastern Europe. It showed works by, among others, Alexander Camaro, Rolf Cavael, Ida Kerkovius, Anton Kolig, Oskar Moll, Renée Sintenis, and Hans-Albert Walter. Other artists were added as the collection was expanded in the years that followed.
Many of these names shaped the history of Western European art: for example, Lovis Corinth, Käthe Kollwitz, Bernard Schultze, and Markus Lüpertz. Their works can also be seen in other museums throughout Germany and internationally. By contrast, the Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie looks beyond the art historical approach to include the places where the artists came from and where they worked. These include cities such as Breslau (now Wrocław), Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), Prague, and Nidden (now Nida). That picturesque town on the Curonian Spit at the Baltic Sea attracted, among others, Max Pechstein, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and other painters from the Brücke artists’ association. All sorts of interesting connections, relationships, and interactions between German-speaking artists and their colleagues can be discovered. Their works tell “art stories.” They bring the past to life but also raise many topical questions.
From the “Ostdeutsche” to the “Kunstforum”: The Museum Changing over Time
In reaction to the political changes in Europe since it opened in 1970, the way the museum views its task has changed as well. In 1987, the Ostdeutsche Galerie was renamed the Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie. With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Central and Eastern Europe became more accessible and collaboration with the museums there was possible. After a closing for renovations, the institution presented a new permanent exhibition in 1993, arranged as a chronological path through the history of art. Its first exhibition projects on German-Bohemian art in Prague were organized with Czech cooperation partners.
The orientation of the museum’s subject matter received important impetus from its revised articles of incorporation in 2003. They expanded the foundation’s mission to contemporary art from the historical eastern regions. Since then, the museum has been known as the Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie and has evolved into a place of exchange between “East and West.” Now it also presented contemporary artists from Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and other countries in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. The exhibitions associated with the Lovis-Corinth-Preis (Lovis Corinth Prize) in particular attract much attention.
In late 2017, a new presentation of the collection under the motto Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going? replaced the previous permanent exhibition Memory & Vision of 2005. The tour offers insights into around 200 years of art and history in East Central Europe. Around 100 selected works of art transport visitors to the former hot spots of artistic activity but also to inspiring landscapes. In parallel with that, special exhibitions offer new perspectives on current events and developments in art and society.