The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MK&G) is one of the foremost institutions for design in Germany. Its collection ranges from antiquity to contemporary innovations, encompassing the European, East Asian and Islamic cultural areas. The museum regards itself as an institution for discourse and considers the designing of our world as one of the most significant issues of our time.
WE CHALLENGE OURSELVES AND all of YOU TO QUESTION AND RETHINK THE DESIGN OF THE WORLD TOGETHER.
Unlike museums that evolved out of aristocratic cabinets of curiosities or institutions dedicated to the fine arts, museums of arts and crafts have a more hands-on goal – in a very real sense: they provide exemplary models for the trades and industry and are intended to shape society’s taste. Among the institutions that emerged in the second half of the 19th century with this aim in mind is the MK&G. The first museum of arts and crafts, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (originally the South Kensington Museum), is followed by museums in Vienna, Berlin, Paris and many other cities. Justus Brinckmann, a jurist and the founding director, tenaciously pursues plans to establish a museum of arts and crafts in Hamburg too. His first attempts fail for money reasons. In 1873, Brinckmann spends nine weeks in Vienna during the World’s Fair and is gifted numerous objects. Among them, as he writes in a draft letter to Senator Hayn in 1873, are "... sample collections of Japanese lacquerware and a collection of raw materials and moulds for making porcelain... in addition, several Austrian manufacturers (including Josef Thonet) have placed series of their wares at my disposal in order to illustrate the division of labour or the technical methods involved." Right from the start, Brinckmann collects objects not just from Europe but from Persia, India, the Caucasus, China and Japan as well. The fact that he is eventually able to turn his museum of arts and crafts into reality after all is due not just to Brinckmann’s persistence but to the support of the Patriotische Gesellschaft, as well as his financial backers’ intention of increasing the sales opportunities for Hamburg businesses if they improve the quality of their products thanks to the outstanding examples on show at the museum.
Brinckmann presents the first acquisitions and gifts that he brings to Hamburg in rented premises on the ground floor of a building at St. Annenplatz, which today forms part of the Überseequartier district. Two and a half years later, the museum moves. The building at St. Annenplatz has to make way for the Speicherstadt warehouse complex. In September 1876, construction of the large school and museum building at Steintorplatz is completed; the new premises are occupied in 1877. At the time, neither the two major roads nor the central station that flank the MK&G today exist. The park-like grounds are home to a three-storey building whose four wings and two inner courtyards are reminiscent of a palace. Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann, Hamburg’s Director of Construction and the building’s architect, describes it as follows: "… a simple countenance, avoiding all luxury, yet with a dignity appropriate to the significance and scale of such a large edifice…". The facade of the Kaiserhof hotel, dating from 1619, is regarded as the architectural highlight of the building and incorporated in the north courtyard – at the instigation of Justus Brinckmann, who is just as committed to heritage preservation as he is to the museum. Except for the gymnasium, the ground floor is reserved for Brinckmann’s museum and the natural history collections. The other storeys are occupied by a number of different schools for various ages and vocations, including the building, engineering and technical trades. There is also a Drawing School and a School for Mechanical Crafts. Brinckmann subsequently complains of the lack of space, as do those who come after him in the following years. Step by step the schools move out – the School of Arts and Crafts, for instance, moves to its new building at Am Lerchenfeld in 1914 and becomes the University of Fine Arts. Eventually, the educational establishments surrender the entire building to the museum. Nevertheless, directors like Axel von Saldern are critical of the floor plan: the small rooms and long corridors are less than ideal for a museum. Over the decades, the museum building is extended multiple times: in 1987, for instance, Axel von Saldern has the "Spiegelsaal" (Hall of Mirrors) from the Budge mansion reconstructed and installed in the north courtyard. Designed by Martin Haller in 1909, this testament to upper-class domestic culture has thus been successfully preserved and made accessible to the public. In 1996, the husband-and-wife foundation established by Hans-Otto and Engelke Schümann enables the construction of an entire new wing. At the same time, Heikeding Körting Beurmann and Andreas Beurmann gift the museum their collection of historical keyboard instruments. Harpsichords and pianos take up residence in two storeys of the new building by architect Jan Störmer. On the second floor, the museum gains an additional exhibition space - the "Forum Gestaltung" (Design Forum) – and the Gerd Bucerius Library moves into the basement.
Besides the many individual exhibits that Brinckmann collects and is gifted over the years, he takes a holistic approach right from the start and formulates his concept of creating complete room interiors as a representation of cultural history thus: "…in time, a whole series of such rooms, each of them to be furnished and equipped in the style of the particular epoch, from the very biggest down to the very smallest item". However, funding for acquisitions is always in short supply. The 100,000 marks that Brinckmann receives in 1900 for the Paris World’s Fair are an exception – and enable him to buy contemporary works for the first time. Chroniclers report that the purchases made at the Paris World’s Fair are particularly effective at attracting the attention of the public and press. Brinckmann himself puts it like this: “Rather than resembling a museum gallery or a shop, the Parisian Room should create the impression of a habitable hall of the kind a friend or collector of modern art might furnish for himself.” Brinckmann’s approach of collecting items across all boundaries and categories is pioneering. He insists on high standards of stylistic quality and production. One area of focus is ceramics, and under his direction the collection grows to become one of the biggest in Europe. Objects from antiquity and musical instruments are also rather unusual for a museum of arts and crafts. Thanks to his profound knowledge of the international art trade and his far-reaching connections, he is able to acquire outstanding objects even when money is in short supply. Excursions, years-long contacts with the art scene and the fundamentally countercyclical approach of collecting items that are not yet famous – examples of commercial and poster art, for instance – complete the picture. Brinckmann proves just how important the museum’s interpretive mission is to him by providing every object with a detailed label and hosting explanatory tours and lectures. Like Gottfried Semper before him, he sees the collections as "schools of public taste". Brinckmann’s successor, Max Sauerlandt (1919-1933), strikes out in new directions. Besides purchasing contemporary art, he very deliberately encourages artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. In addition, Sauerlandt discontinues the system of categorising the presentation according to groups of materials; instead, he interprets stylistic periods on the basis of holistic complexes and organises them in direct proximity to one another. That means he shows contemporary works in close context with pieces from antiquity, deeply convinced that all genres are equal and all cultures are interconnected. The presentation of the exhibits in small groups of rooms, which Sauerlandt has painted in rich, vibrant colours, changes the feel of the spaces and thus also the atmosphere of the museum as a whole. His intention to accompany a visit to the museum with music that suits the artworks and smells that harmonise with them, thereby turning it into a "total experience", is nothing short of revolutionary. In order to secure financial support for acquisitions, Sauerlandt founds the Justus Brinckmann Society in 1921, which is distinct from the identically named circle of friends that supports the museum today and was born out of the Arts and Crafts Association in the 1950s. After the war, promoting arts and crafts becomes an important goal of the Justus Brinckmann Society – which it strives to achieve by expanding and cultivating the annual arts and crafts fair and awarding the Justus Brinckmann Prize. The first such fair was organised by the founding director himself back in 1879. The tradition is resumed in 1949 with around 50 exhibitors. In 1933, Sauerlandt is relieved of his duties and banned from entering the premises; he dies a year later. Much of Max Sauerlandt’s contemporary collection is seized by the Nazis as "degenerate art" and remains lost to this day. After 1945, the prewar acquisition policy is resumed: the Modern Art and Art Nouveau collections are strengthened, as are the Ancient Art and Islamic Art collections. The founding of the Design collection deserves special mention. Axel von Saldern, who was director of the museum from 1971 to 1988, describes the acquisition policy after the second world war as follows: "For decades to come, it will often only be possible to make out a system behind the acquisition policy up to a point, because there are too many imponderables shaping the course of events: the market situation, cashflow, the interests of the museum director at the time, the specialist knowledge of the curators, storage opportunities and so on." All things that have not yet changed to any significant degree, even now in the 2020s. Erich Meyer (1946-1961), "blessed with enviable powers of persuasion" (Axel von Saldern), extends the collection with the addition of numerous exquisite pieces like the monumental wall hanging from Lüne Abbey and Tilman Riemenschneider’s Madonna. Lise Lotte Möller (1961-1971) systematically continues her predecessor’s acquisition policy and enlarges the collection with first-rate large- and small-scale sculptures. She continues to expand the ground and first floors, tries to compensate for the loss of the artworks seized by the Nazis by acquiring works of equal merit and, as a result, creates a collection that is held in high regard well beyond the city limits of Hamburg. The museum has been a public foundation since 1999.
Lise Lotte Möller is likewise behind a great many exhibition catalogues that have come down to us from the past and document how, during her tenure, the museum presented a wide range of special exhibitions on very different themes – from Mesopotamian and Indian Art to the Middle Ages and Oskar Kokoschka. Since then, special exhibitions have become indispensable as an additional source of revenue. Besides aesthetic and entertaining themes such as Louis C. Tiffany (1999), The Chanel Legend (2014), Tattoo (2015) and Beauty. Sagmeister & Walsh (2019/20), there is a growing focus on socio-political issues that revolve around the environment, sustainability and speculative visions of the future, such as Climate Capsules (2010), Out to Sea. The Plastic Garbage Project (2012/13), War & Propaganda 14/18 (2014), Food Revolution (2017), 68 (2018/19), Social Design (2019) and Life on Planet Orsimanirana (2021). Exhibitions and ongoing research projects create awareness of developments in society and challenge the way the world is designed. Since September 2020 the "Freiraum", an open space at the heart of the MK&G building, has been serving as a platform for interaction with the urban community, a free zone where the many different voices of design and participation are heard and discussed.
The MK&G already offers numerous digital enhancements that reach out to viewers and accompany them at every station of their “visitor experience,” i.e. before, during, and after their digital or analogue museum visit. However, an overarching vision is still needed. For this purpose, the MK&G has developed a Digital Strategy with a view to finding answers to the following key questions: How can we remain relevant in the digital age as an institution with an educational mandate? How can our services meet the changing needs of a digital society? How can we continue to convey cultural heritage and cultural identity and reach even more people through digital offerings? And what social impact will these measures have?
The Digital Strategy will form the strategic framework for the digital evolution of the MK&G over the next two years. It is designed to provide guidance for internal developments, define the public position of the museum, and set out initial measures to be taken. The strategy paper is a “living document” that formulates an overarching vision and will continually evolve.
The MK&G was founded to inspire people with examples of human creativity and to share the associated knowledge with as many people as possible. The targeted digital measures will carry our founding mandate forward into the digital age. We understand “digital strategy” here as an integrated approach that affects many areas and develops both digital and analogue aspects hand in hand.
Senator Dr. Carsten Brosda (Chairman)
Culture Senator of the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg
Thomas Delissen (Vice-Chairman)
Culture Department of the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg
Dr. Sebastian Giesen
Chairman of the Justus Brinckmann Gesellschaft
Dr. Michael Ollmann
Finance Department of the Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg
Dr. Jana Scholze
Associate Professor Kingston University London
Creative director Jung von Matt
Chairman of the Staff Council of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Partner, Berenberg, Joh. Berenberg, Gossler & Co. KG
Journalist, Member of the Board of Trustees, Martha Pulvermacher Stiftung
Head of the registered society "Hamburg macht Kinder gesund"
Dr. Sebastian Giesen
Chairman of the Justus Brinckmann Gesellschaft
Head of the cultural department at the Körber-Stiftung
Radio play producer
Prof. Dr. Martin Köttering
President of Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg
Dr. Bernd Kundrun
Chairman of the Foundation for the Hamburg Art Collections
Prof. Dres. h.c. Manfred Lahnstein
Federal Minister (retired), Chairman of the Curatorium of the Zeit-Stiftung
Dr. Katharina Prinzessin zu Sayn-Wittgenstein
Senior Director of Hamburg Office at Sotheby's