Nicolas Berggruen to open private Berlin museum

Meanwhile, plans for a Kunsthalle in the German capital are still faltering

LONDON. The private collector Nicolas Berggruen, son of the late German-Jewish dealer Heinz Berggruen, plans to open a museum in Berlin to house his collection of modern and contemporary works. The Art Newspaper has learned that the New York-based billionaire hopes to establish a gallery in one of the numerous properties he owns in the German capital.

Mr Berggruen, who reportedly began buying works by Warhol, Hirst and Koons at the beginning of the 1990s, is president of Berggruen Holdings, a real estate and financial investments company. Forbes magazine estimates his fortune to be $1.8bn. His father’s collection, which includes works by Klee, Picasso and Matisse, is housed at Berlin’s Museum Berggruen, which opened in 1996.

The property magnate hopes to locate his new museum near to any future Kunsthalle exhibition venue built by the Berlin Senate (the local government body). However, Mr Berggruen, who declined to comment, withdrew last year from a project backed by Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit that involved building a new Kunsthalle next to the Hamburger Bahnhof modern and contemporary art museum.

A Senate spokesman told The Art Newspaper: “Our preferred option failed: we couldn’t find an investor to build the Kunsthalle for free. These plans fell victim to the finance crisis. [We are trying to ascertain] whether the Berlin Senate could build the Kunsthalle in the same place. We are also looking at alternative locations in the city with lower investment costs.”

The need for a permanent Kunsthalle has been a much-debated German art world topic since the closure of a previous Kunsthalle space in west Berlin in 1994 due to funding cuts by the Senate.

Calls for a new space grew louder in late 2005 with the critical success of the eleven-day exhibition “36x27x10” at the now destroyed People’s Palace, which included site-specific works by 36 artists on view in a white cube-esque space. This prompted the exhibition organisers, artist duo Coco Kühn and Constanze Kleiner, to establish the Temporäre Kunsthalle.

With E1m funding from the engineering magnate Dieter Rosenkrantz, the pair established a non-permanent venue in October 2008 (The Art Newspaper, December 2008, p22). Their Temporäre Kunst­halle, a blue and white cube, is located at Schlossplatz.

Thomas Eller, managing director of Temporäre Kunsthalle, said: “Our idea is to move the structure eastwards to other capitals. We’re currently in talks with Istanbul.” The venue, which receives no state funding, is due to close in September 2010.

Meanwhile, Christoph Tan­nert, director of the Künst­lerhaus Bethanien artists-in-residence studio space, hopes to convince the municipality of building a new Kunsthalle in the southern Kreuzberg district on the site of a flower market that will close in late 2010.

“New galleries and heavyweight dealers are based in this art cluster,” he says, adding that he plans to transfer his institution to a warehouse owned by Nicolas Berggruen in late 2009.

But where does this leave the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, which opened in Berlin’s Mitte district in the early 1990s? “I imagine that a Kunsthalle programme would focus on large solo exhibitions for established artists. A new Kunsthalle should fill the gap between the more experimental KW and the Hamburger Bahnhof,” said Gaby Horn, KW director.

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