Neue Nationalgalerie

29.04.2021The Temple of Western Modernism

The Neue Nationalgalerie is back. A first look at the newly renovated exhibition spaces in one of the most beautiful museums in the world.

Photography: Christoph Mack

View of the Neue Nationalgalerie
A cube of light and glass: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe created a temple of modernism for the Neue Nationalgalerie © Christoph Mack

Following a six-year renovation, arguably one of the most beautiful museums in the Western modernist canon will reopen on August 21st. With his design for the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) at the end of the 1960s, the architect and final Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe created a real gem. In this temple of light, glass, and steel, his idea of minimalism, in accordance with his dictum “less is more,” may have found its ultimate expression. When the new museum building opened, a year before Mies’ death in 1969, it was hailed as another great success.

However, the design that the Neue Nationalgalerie was based upon had not originally been developed for a museum. When Mies received the commission from the West Berlin Senate in 1962 to build a new museum in the Kulturforum, he resorted to an earlier design, which had never been built, for the corporate headquarters of Bacardi in Santiago de Cuba. It would become the only work that Mies built in Germany following World War Two. Although the Neue Nationalgalerie has since been acclaimed as a modern play on the ancient archetype of the temple on a podium, it should not be forgotten that the original concept was for a commercial building rather than a cultural one.

The initial design drafts contained many of the features for which the Neue Nationalgalerie would later be so highly praised: most significantly the decision to support the roof on eight exterior columns and create an unimpeded interior space, allowing unobstructed views through the entire glass pavilion.

Yet even modernism in all its perfection cannot withstand the passing of time. Eventually, renovation work could no longer be postponed and in 2015 the Neue Nationalgalerie had to be closed. The planning, organization and supervision were carried out by David Chipperfield’s practice in Berlin. Now the work has been completed. The exhibitions are moving in, ready for August 21st: Alexander Calder. Minimal / Maximal, Rosa Barba. In a Perpetual Now, and Die Kunst der Gesellschaft 1900–1945. Die Sammlung (The Art of Society 1900–1945. The Collection). One of the most important buildings in Berlin is again ready to receive visitors.

Glasfront der Neuen Nationalgalerie, die umliegenden Häuser spiegeln sich darin
© Christoph Mack
Eine äußere Stahlsäule der Neuen Nationalgalerie
© Christoph Mack
Außentreppe mit der Neuen Nationalgalerie im Hintergrund
© Christoph Mack
Exterior view of a corner of the building
The Neue Nationalgalerie is back © Christoph Mack
View of St. Matthew’s Church
View of St. Matthew’s Church © Christoph Mack
Neue Nationalgalerie im Abendlicht
© Christoph Mack

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