Photo: Nils Klinger
Kunsthalle Fridericianum Photo

Fridericianum – From a Museum to a Kunsthalle

Landgrave Friedrich II did not build a palace of residency at the newly generated parade ground, the Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, but –in the terms of the enlightenment – a public museum in neo-classical style.
The halls on the ground floor hosted a collection of antiques and a „gallery with modern statues“. This gallery consisted of a hall with copies of antiques made out of marble, bronze and plaster and cabinets with displayed statuettes, cameos and vases.
Additionally cabinets with medals, automatons, timepieces and cork reproductions of Roman buildings were on display.
The Beletage domiciled the Hessian county library. Like a splendiferous gallery it reached from one main wing to the other and could actually store over 100.000 books. Both side wings on the upper floor gave access to an etching cabinet, a room for calligraphy and a hall for cartographies, as well as rooms displaying scientific instruments.
On May 23rd 1779, after 10 years of construction, the opening of the first public museum building on the European continent - the museum Fridericianum – was celebrated. Almost thirty years later the youngest brother of Napoleon, Jérôme Bonaparte, by then king of Westphalia, converted the museum into the „Palais des Ètats“, a house of parliament with representation rooms. After his banishment in 1813, the building was turned back into a museum, but then no longer followed the idea of art and science penned by the dynasty, instead now fully concentrated on its museal collection.
But due to the Prussian leadership in 1913 this public service was also shut down and the Fridericianum lost its museal mission. Almost all the collection pieces were transferred to Berlin, the Prussian centre. Henceforth it was a library until it went up in flames in 1941.
A good decade later the ruins of the Fridericianum became the cultural heart of the first documenta exhibition, founded by Arnold Bode in 1955. The successful history of documenta is well-known; its 12th edition just closed the doors on September 12th 2007.
For the development of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum it is of major interest that it is used since 1988 as a space for permanent and temporary art shows which take place in-between the world exhibition documenta. „Kassel does not have to turn off the light anymore after documenta”, like Harald Szeemann used to comment in 1972.
The museum Fridericianum turned into a Kunsthalle in 1988 when Veit Loers, the first artistic director, established this new image with his exhibition Schlaf der Vernunft. This title was of course remarkably chosen, if one considers that it was a confrontation of objects of the time of enlightenment with contemporary art. The transition from a historical building to the young Kunsthalle Museum Fridericianum was created rather smoothly. Exhibitions like Wiener Aktionismus(1988), Italiens Moderne (1990) and Shapes and Positions (1993) as well as presentations of the works of Pierre Soulage (1989), Laszlo Mohlogy-Nagy (1991)or Gustav Klucis (1991) followed.
After documenta X René Block was elected as artistic director and signed responsible for its renaming into Kunsthalle Fridericianum in 2001. He therewith stated the function of the building as an exhibition space for contemporary art. Thematically his focus lied on the internationality of the house in form of a confrontation with the periphery of global art happenings.
Besides the exhibitions which were dedicated to his long-time passion and affiliation to Fluxus, he put major emphasis on theme exhibitions and large-scale group shows, such as Das Lied von der Erde (2000), Looking At You (2001) and In den Schluchten des Balkan (2003). In 2003 he organized a close cooperation with the apexart Curatorial Program New York and therewith opened the Kunsthalle for the next curatorial generation by launching the Kuratorenwerkstatt (curatorial workshop).
Since 2008 Kunsthalle Fridericianum underlies the artistic direction of Rein Wolfs and resumes highly ambitious and fully energetic the new in-between period of contemporary art exhibitions after documenta 12 and König Lustik!? The focus will lay on solo shows of young, international artists dealing with humanity in all its facets, which sometimes also provokes and can be unconventional. Above all it will be the artistic attitudes that shall draw the attention. The social and political background of art shall and will come to the fore.


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