The one-story modern glass and steel building that sits in downtown Berlin is an architectural masterpiece. Situated on a spacious plot of land at a busy intersection not far from the Brandenberg Gate, the Neue Nationalgalerie is a major institution dedicated to the presentation of modern art from both inside and outside Germany’s new border. Once a bombed-out piece of real estate, courtesy of Allied bombers (some of Albert Speer’s infamous architectural structures were located nearby), this simply-designed museum is now a cornerstone of Germany’s contemporary art establishment. Today, it is a part of the Kulturforum Postdamer Platz, a large assortment of museums, art galleries and performance halls that are just around the corner from the Potsdamer Platz.
The popular museum was the last creation of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the world renown architect, who was the director of the Bauhaus, when it was closed down by the Nazis in 1933. Germany’s lost was America’s gain, for the noteworthy designer was able to leave his home country and pursue a successful career in the United States. Some of his more important architectural creations include the Seagram building in New York and the IBM Plaza and the Farnsworth House in Chicago. He also served as the director of the Illinois Institute of Technology, which was also located in Chicago. It is a fitting monument to this man, who helped define modern architecture, that his final creation would be a national art gallery located right in the heart of Berlin, a city where he once worked and taught.
There is probably no other museum quite like the Neue Nationalgalerie. All the exhibition space is underground, while the square structure that sits above ground is a spacious space that has a small ticket counter and some coat racks. The remainder of the ground level is large, open area with only a few sculptures and paintings on display. The perimeter is all glass, which allows the sunshine to pour into the area and illuminate the interior. On sunny days this subtle architectural slight of hand makes a big impression on the visitor.
Art lovers must descend the stairs to view the galleries of modern painting and visit the bookstore. The underground gallery space is quite extensive, for several large rooms with high ceilings span out in all directions to form an interlocking network. In a few of the rooms some natural light filters in from the outside through a long window well. This creative structural design helps eliminate the closed in feeling of the underground space. The subterranean chambers usually contain a first-rate contemporary show with some room left over for the small array of twentieth century art, which the museum holds.
The permanent collection of the Neue Nationalgalerie consists of selected works by Picasso, Gris, Leger, Ernst, Dali, Klee, Kandinsky and a host of major German artists from the days of Die Brucke, Die Blau Reider and Dada. The traveling shows might consist of anything from an exploration of German Expressionism to New Wave Japanese. Several years ago there was a fascinating exhibition of twentieth century German art from behind the “Iron Curtain”. Anyone visiting Berlin would be well advised to visit this fascinating venue, and also to take a short walk around the whole complex of buildings that make up the culture forum.