The works of the collection are arranged thematically in separate rooms, allowing visitors to observe the development and echoes of a particular genre over time and even including contemporary works to enrich this experience.
Robert Seidel’s (1977, Berlin) installation Grapheme forms the entryway to the Old Masters exhibit. Like a tunnel, the room condenses and expands through the effects of color, reflection, sculptures, projections and sound, taking the viewer on an atmospheric journey to unknown worlds. The journey sets into motion several centuries of artistic expression through color, form and space. Seidel’s installation symbolizes the continual living presence of our cultural heritage.
On the second floor of the south wing of the building, designed and constructed by architect Theodor Fischer in 1915, the sculptures of the “church” have found a new home. In good historicist spirit, the octagonal central room lends the figures, once displayed in more sacred spaces, some of their original ceremonial quality back to them. Returning these objects to their home in the newly renovated “church” in 2013, the current presentation sustains this tradition.
The medieval wooden sculptures enter into dialogue with two contemporary works: MorgenAbend [MorningNight] by Micha Ullman and A Tale of the Sphinx by Katsura Funakoshi. The juxtaposition of old and new is intended to inspire visitors to become part of this dialogue. Only then can this “sacred” space be understood as a living organism.
Adjacent to the church, visitors will find an extensive collection of religious paintings, including some large-format Mariological and Christological panel paintings dating from the 15th to 18th centuries. These themes, for example, depictions of Christ, illustrate the dynamic relationship between religion and its visual representation.
The craquelé work of Frankfurt artist Jan Schmidt, inspired by the panels of the Heisterbach altar, illustrates that paintings are clocks without hands. They tick internally — their lifespan is limited, especially if they are wooden panels. A small network of fissures relates the history of their lives thus far. Like wrinkles in a human face, they bear witness to our present condition. Schmidt raises the transformed surface to an art and “paints” time.
The portrait room is devoted to Italian art. At the heart of the exhibit stands the portrait of Giulia Gonzaga, whose beauty is challenged only by that of Anselm Feuerbach’s Nanna, turning the portrait room into a gallery of “Italian beauties.”
The Golden Age exhibit is devoted to 17th century Dutch painting. This exhibit, unlike the other rooms, unites all of the themes — portrait, still life, landscape, mythology and religious art — in a single epoch, offering visitors a cross-sectional view of Wiesbaden’s uniquely varied collection of Dutch painting representing the full spectrum of possibilities in its “golden age” of the 17th century.
They are all taken up in Kazuo Katase’s Raum eines Raumes [Room in a Room]. Katase’s installation developed out of his thorough and attentive study of the museum’s 17th century Dutch painting. Katase, a Japanese artist who has made his home in Kassel, Germany, created this room especially for Museum Wiesbaden. The work opens a conversation with one of the most renowned Dutch artists of the Baroque period, Jan Vermeer van Delft (1632—1675), thematizing his unique approach to light and use of the camera obscura, questioning them anew through a complex staging of elements.
The Mythology room offers visitors a look into the world of ancient Greek myth, spanning from the seemingly harmless Putti playing with arrows in a piece by Francesco Primaticcio to the blatant eroticism of Sebastiano Ricci’s Danae and the dramatic binding of Prometheus in Luca Ferrari’s work through to more serene images by Pietro Liberis depicting Venus and her followers.
The Still Life room brings together various categories of still life painting, featuring motifs such as flowers, books, fish, fruit, musical instruments. These works attract our attention through their apparent yet veiled layers of meaning, provoking the viewer to reflection about suffering, transitoriness and death, while their moral and religious, even erotic, implications warn us of the decadence of excess.
The “final” room of Wiesbaden’s Old Masters exhibition displays the collections’ particular strength in landscape painting, one of the prominent genres of the Golden Age. As a counterpoint, the award winning film of contemporary artist Jörn Staeger (born 1965), Reise zum Wald [Journey to the Woods] transports us into the presence of current relationship to landscape.
With its presentation of the Old Masters collections, Museum Wiesbaden seeks to revise the notion of the museum as an institution issuing its “stamp of approval” to a site of communication and dialogue. This is a process of demystification of the museum, as such, but never of art.