Reopening: Photography and New Media Department at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Department Storage/Study Room/Exhibition Gallery and exhibition “Jochen Lempert / Peter Piller Reconsidering Photography: Birds”
26 October 2017
exhibition runtime: 27 October 2017 to 4 February 2018
On 26 October 2017, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) will reopen its Photography and New Media
Department. This marks the conclusion of the first phase of the extensive renovations made possible by a grant of
600,000 euros from the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation within the framework of the initiative Kunst auf Lager. MKG
owns one of Germany’s foremost collections of photography, comprising some 75,000 works spanning the entire history
of photography from its invention to the present day. At around 120 square meters, the storage area has been expanded
substantially. This means that the museum finally has the necessary space and facilities for proper storage and optimal
climatic conditions for its precious holdings. In a study room adjoining the storage area, staff and registered guests can
now examine and work with the original photographs. A new, centrally located 140-square-meter exhibition gallery will
let MKG present its photographic collection in dialogue with contemporary themes and authors. Kicking off the series are
photographers Jochen Lempert and Peter Piller with the exhibition Reconsidering Photography: Birds, whose opening
will coincide with the reopening of the collection on 26 October 2017. Including the grant from the Hermann Reemtsma
Foundation, MKG has been able to raise a total of one million euros to safeguard the future of the Photography and New
Media Department. The funds were contributed by various sponsors for the restoration and framing of the historical
photographs, for the scholarly study of the collection, for the survey show ReVision in 2016, for a collection catalogue,
and for work on MKG Sammlung Online, where 9,000 works are already available in digital form.
Prof. Dr. Sabine Schulze, Director of MKG: “Thanks to the museum’s progressive collection activities and its great
openness to contemporary art since its inception, MKG houses today unique testaments to the history of photography. I
am grateful for the generous support of the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, which helps us to preserve these precious
holdings for subsequent generations. The new study room is a particularly useful addition, substantially improving the
accessibility of the collection and thus the opportunities for scholarly research. And the permanent exhibition gallery we
now have available to us will give the splendid Photography and New Media Department a stronger presence as visitors
make their way through MKG.”
Dr. Sebastian Giesen, Managing Director of the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation: “The two museum fathers
Justus Brinckmann (MKG) and Alfred Lichtwark (Kunsthalle) shared a fondness for photography. MKG reflects the
passion of these two photographic pioneers in its collection. After the foundation was laid circa 1900, the following
decades saw the growth of one of the leading photography collections in Germany. Thanks to the long-term storage that
has now been established, the in-depth study of the holdings, their scholarly discussion and especially the improved
accessibility, we are now becoming aware for the first time of the full scope of this unique treasure trove. A wonderful
project for the Kunst auf Lager alliance. Thank you, MKG, for this marvelous opportunity!”
MKG was the first museum in Germany to begin toward the end of the 19th century to acquire photography as an
independent medium, presenting it in exhibitions starting in 1911. The museum thus played a pioneering role in this
field. Since those early years, the holdings have grown in quality and scope to comprise a unique assortment of
photographs, including an unrivaled collection of daguerreotypes as well as the Juhl Collection of gum bichromate prints
from the era of Pictorialism still in their original frames. From the 1950s onward, MKG acquired key examples of classical
modernism, among them works by Erich Andres, Herbert Bayer, Willi Beutler, Alfred Ehrhardt, Hugo Erfurth, Andreas
Feininger, Heinz Hajek-Halke, Walter Hege, Fritz Henle, Lotte Jacobi, Peter Keetmann, Erna Lenvai-Dircksen, Helmar
Lerski, Madame d’Ora, Albert Renger-Patzsch, August Sander, Franz Schensky, Otto Steinert, Alfred Tritschler, Edward
Weston, and Paul Wolff.
In early 2014, fourteen partners (primarily foundations) joined forces to form the nationwide initiative Kunst auf Lager.
Bündnis zur Erschließung und Sicherung von Museumsdepots, with the aim of supporting museums in preserving and
researching their valuable cultural assets. In a unique pilot project initiated by this group, the Hermann Reemtsma
Foundation, the Kulturstiftung der Länder, the Wüstenrot Foundation, and the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius
are working together to ensure the lasting conservation of the endangered photographic collection of MKG. In addition to
setting up new storage facilities, a study room, and an exhibition gallery, the measures also include restoring selected
historical core holdings and the step-by-step scholarly investigation of the extensive collection with the aim of providing
better public accessibility. For further information on the alliance, see www.kunst-auf-lager.de.
The Hermann Reemtsma Foundation financed the new storage facilities, study room, and exhibition gallery. The
objects are still located in different parts of the building, on crowded shelves and in drawers in largely non-climatecontrolled
storage areas. In order to store the exhibits professionally and under optimal conservation conditions, the new
storage area was renovated and equipped with the necessary furnishings and climate control systems. Now the objects
can be moved to their new home. In the future, the photographs will be stored at a constant temperature of 18 degrees
and 40 percent humidity. The study room enables employees of MKG, visitors, and professionals to view the original
objects for research purposes independent of exhibitions. The provision of a central exhibition gallery on the second floor
offers the opportunity to present the holdings in the Photography and New Media Department in changing shows that
address current issues.
The construction measures were flanked by two restoration projects. The Kulturstiftung der Länder (Cultural
Foundation of the German States) sponsored the restoration of 280 daguerreotypes from the 1840s and 50s in the MKG
collection. These early photographs were affected by “glass disease,” a process of decay in which copper carbonate leaches
out and clouds the glass plates. Besides detracting from the brilliance of the objects, the disease threatened to spread
from the glass to the framed photographs. Now that the plates have been cleaned and the glass replaced, this large group
of objects of exceptional value can be moved to the new storage rooms.
The funds provided by the Wüstenrot Foundation are being used mainly to restore a premier collection of 35 original
framed gum bichromate art photography prints dating from around 1900 that MKG acquired from the Juhl Collection in
1916/17. The restoration included the historical frames and in some cases also the conservation of loose layers of paint.
The wooden rear panels, whose emissions endanger the gum bichromate prints, were replaced as well.
To enable scholarly research into the collection, the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius is sponsoring a
research assistant until 2018. This has made it possible to publish more than 9,000 important works on MKG Sammlung
Online. MKG is thus the first museum in Germany to make its photographic collection available online. Since lightsensitive
photographic works must for the most part be stored in the dark, it is all the more important to make the
holdings available for research on the internet.
In the new exhibition series Reconsidering Photography, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) invites
contemporary photographers to relate their own work to examples from the Photography and New Media Collection.
Kicking off the series are Jochen Lempert (b. 1958) and Peter Piller (b. 1968), two photographers whose methods could
hardly be more different. Lempert’s motifs from everyday nature and culture meet up with images of unintentional origin
contributed by Piller. In Reconsidering Photography: Birds, Lempert and Piller collaborate as artists and curators.
Drawing on the photographic collection of MKG as a resource, they have compiled from the historical material a selection
of bird pictures that they combine with their own photographs. On view from 27 October 2017, the exhibition features
around 100 exhibits. Birds are a recurring motif in Jochen Lempert’s work, and for the show at MKG he has arranged his
motion studies and observations of birds in a new room installation. Peter Piller has worked to date primarily with found
images, which he subjects to shifts in meaning. In his new series behind time (2017), which debuts at MKG, he himself
takes camera in hand to deliberately capture moments when a bird cannot be optimally seen and which would be
considered a failure in wildlife photography.
Jochen Lempert presents works in which birds are the central theme. Anschütz (2005) takes its title from Ottomar
Anschütz, who conducted motion studies of storks in flight. For Ptaki-Birds (1997–2005), Lempert photographed stuffed
birds displayed in natural history museums in profile, thus establishing new kinship relationships. Lempert studied biology
and pursues the tensions between culture and nature. Since the early 1990s, he has been investigating the ties between
photography and biology. He calls into question the objectivity of photography as a documentary medium and at the same
time underlines the poetry of scientific terminology with his image titles. His photographs appear random and incidental,
featuring creatures we often overlook: snails, aphids, fireflies, or the city pigeon Martha (2002). Lempert’s black-andwhite
photographs bear the traces of the unintended. He makes the materiality of his works palpable by installing them
unframed on the wall.
Peter Piller’s high-resolution C-prints by contrast seem like a testament to the technical possibilities of photography. Bird
watching was already a hobby in his youth, and now he has outfitted himself with high-tech equipment with which he lays
in wait for his feathered subjects. The waiting and boredom are a constitutive part of the artistic process. In behind time
(2017), Piller captures in this way moments that a wildlife photographer would describe as ‘too late’: the moment when the
bird flies away and all hopes of a sharp, detailed image are dashed. Piller has worked thus far mainly with found images,
which he arranges together in new ways to produce shifts in meaning, for example in the series In Löcher blicken, in which
men stare into holes in the ground. As a collector of imagery, Piller is intrigued by the myriad possibilities and associations
that can be evoked by a picture – whether in constellation with others or as the one crucial photographic moment.
What the two photographers share is their penchant for a new and creative combinationing of images into new
compositions that convey meanings that are more than the sum of the individual parts. While Lempert associatively groups
his pictures, combining them in different ways and thus encouraging comparisons, Piller appropriates existing material
and arranges it as a tableau or series.
The selection made by the artists gives only an inkling of the almost infinite possibilities of the archive. In the presentation,
a table uses bird pictures to give viewers an idea of the some 75,000 photographs in the MKG collection. The works chosen
by Lempert and Piller range in date from the turn of the last century to the 1960s. Photos of a Manchurian crane, a wattled
crane, an eagle owl, and a tawny owl originated in the Hamburg studio of J. Hamann. Taken circa 1905, the colorized
photographs show stuffed birds displayed in dioramas. Walter Hege’s bird images were featured in 1933 in the Nazi
publication Deutsche Raubvögel (German Birds of Prey). Hege also produced a number of bird documentaries, for example
Am Horst der wilden Adler (Aerie of the Wild Eagle, 1932) and Uhu als Jagdhilfe (The Eagle Owl as Hunting Companion,
1934), from which he extracted photographic stills. Karl Stülcken in turn published his photos in scientific photo series for
scholarly publications, and his photos became known to the general public through his book Der kleine Vogel Greif (The
Photographs: The exhibition shows recent works by Jochen Lempert and Peter Piller as well as historical photographs by
Harold Egerton, Johann H. W. Hamann, Walter Hege, Karl Stülcken, Hedda Walther, and others.
The exhibition accompanies the inauguration of new facilities for the Photography and New Media Department, made
possible by the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation within the framework of the Kunst auf Lager alliance. In addition to new
climate-controlled storage and a study room, an exhibition area has now been created for the regular presentation of the
photographic department. The exhibition on the subject of Birds curated by Jochen Lempert and Peter Piller is the first in
the new series Reconsidering Photography.
10 December 2017, 3 pm, with Jochen Lempert and Peter Piller
7 December 2017, 7 pm, Dr. Esther Ruelfs, Head of the Photography and New Media Department
21 January 2018, 3 pm, Dr. Cathrin Hauswald, Photography and New Media Department