Kupferstich-Kabinett celebrates 300th anniversary with "300 Years Keeping in the Present"

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Kupferstich-Kabinett celebrates 300th anniversary with "300 Years Keeping in the Present"
Installation view of the exhibition "300 Years of Collecting in the Present" © SKD, photo: David Pinzer.

DRESDEN.- In 2020, the Kupferstich-Kabinett will be celebrating its 300th anniversary, making it the oldest museum in any German-speaking country to specialise in art on paper. Since 1720, it has collected, preserved and researched into not only engravings, woodcuts, etchings, lithographs and other prints, but also drawings, watercolours and – key to the museum’s self-image – photographs. Dresden’s Kupferstich-Kabinett developed in the context of each age's contemporary zeitgeist, depending on political and social developments, not to mention the individual taste, in-depth knowledge, skills and ambition of the personalities associated with the museum. Today, it holds more than 500,000 works, making it one of the most important collections of its kind worldwide.

In 2020, the programme for the entire year hinges on the anniversary and is funded by the Sparkasse financial group, an official sponsor of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden since 2006, and the main sponsor since 2011. This spring, the cooperation agreement was extended for a further three years.

Marion Ackermann, Director General of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden: “We are extremely grateful to the Sparkasse financial group for their many years of work with us, and are delighted to have these partners on board for the anniversary of the Kupferstich-Kabinett and other projects in the coming years. In difficult times like these, a reliable, constructive partner provides especially valuable support.”

The highlight of the anniversary year is the exhibition “300 Years Keeping in the Present”, a retrospect of the collection’s history. A prologue in the studiolo of the Renaissance wing on the first floor of the Residenzschloss is dedicated to the days when prints were first collected in the Saxon Prince Electors’ Kunstkammer, between 1560 and 1720. Apart from this, the Kupferstich-Kabinett is also entering into its own series of dialogues with other museums run by Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD). Visitors to the Kleiner Schlosshof (Small Palace Courtyard) are met by a large-format installation by the artist Monika Grzymala (b. 1970 in Zabrze, Poland). The temporary piece “Raumzeichnung (stop motion)”, handmade for the location out of shaped strips of paper which loop along a web of thin fishing lines inside and outside the exhibition rooms, invites viewers to celebrate the wide variety of ways in which the beauty and vitality of paper can be expressed.

The main exhibition presents more than 200 works from all three centuries, sorted into themed chapters and shown chronologically based on the time they were acquired. The question asked throughout is how the collection developed in each contemporary context, what art was acquired under what circumstances, and what strategies were followed when organising and adding to the holdings. In the exhibition’s “treasure chamber”, visitors will discover outstanding drawings by great artists from the 15th century until today, replaced by different works every three weeks. At the very beginning, they are given the rare opportunity to take a short look at one of the icons of the Kupferstich-Kabinett: the only drawing by Jan van Eyck, alongside various other precious objects.

Initially, the Saxon Prince Electors collected drawings and prints to place in the Kunstkammer. These acted as a repository for knowledge about history and politics, imposed order on the world and widened people’s horizons beyond European culture. Over the years that followed, this specific examination of works of art on paper in the context of the Kunstkammer, set up in 1560, affected practice in the newly founded Kupferstich-Kabinett. As well as famous old masters such as Albrecht Dürer or Lucas Cranach, the Prince Electors also collected pieces by artists working at the Dresden court. In the early 18th century, the Kunstkammer holdings were split up to create the different collections of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, in the form they have retained to this day despite occasionally being reorganised and rehoused. An examination of the Kupferstich-Kabinett’s history as a museum since 1720 can be divided into three main themes each spanning roughly a century.

The first chapter, “The Princely Print Collection”, designed to match the architecture of the exhibition, presents the classification system used by the Kupferstich-Kabinett’s first director Johann Heinrich von Heucher, as reflected in the oldest inventory from 1738. This section contains works by Lucas van Leyden, Hans Burgkmair the Elder or Marcantonio Raimondi, among others. Another focus is on the collection of prints by contemporary “peintres-graveurs”, created based on the artists' own designs. With works by artists such as Hercules Seghers, Hendrick Goltzius, Bernardo Bellotto, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the Dresden gallery rose to international renown in the 18th century.

The second chapter, “On the Path to Becoming a Museum for Drawings, Prints, and Photographs”, focuses on the acquisitions made as art history developed into an academic subject. Collecting, research and the promotion of artistic talent often went hand in hand. Drawings by artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld or Ludwig Richter testify to Dresden’s importance as a home for art during the Romantic period. At the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, under Max Lehrs, the famous art historian and former director of the Kupferstich-Kabinett, the collection was enriched not just by important pieces by Old Masters and 19th-century works, but also by photography, poster art and Japanese polychrome woodblock prints.

Another room is dedicated to the third chapter, “Ruptures and Continuations”, and the period from 1920 to the present. Works by Otto Dix, Erich Heckel and Oskar Kokoschka, alongside photographs by Edmund Kesting and Charlotte Rudolph, represent the acquisitions continually made in the Weimar Republic. The Nazi confiscation campaign in 1937 caused heavy losses in the field of modernism. Another severe setback came after the end of the war and the liberation from the tyranny of Nazism, when 95 percent of the collection was looted and carried off to the Soviet Union. In 1958, most of these works were returned. From the 1960s on, under the long-serving director Werner Schmidt, the museum succeeded in acquiring large sets of works and numerous pieces focusing on Eastern Europe, in addition to East German non-conformist art and works from West Germany, Western Europe and the United States.

The art purchased in the post-1945 period includes works by Karl-Heinz Adler, Hermann Glöckner, Hans Hartung, Ilja Kabakov and Pablo Picasso.

The years following German reunification in 1989/90 presented challenges for the Kupferstich-Kabinett, like other museums, due to the variety of new artistic genres and media, and the global nature of the art scene. The outstanding artists from the period after 1989 include Wols, Miriam Cahn and Eberhard Havekost. Their art can be seen in the exhibition. The new acquisitions from recent years are presented on a separate wall, including significant current donations by MUSEIS SAXONICIS USUI – Friends of the Dresden State Art Collections – such as works by Karl-Heinz Adler, Marlene Dumas and Gerhard Richter from the capitalist realism portfolio. The annual gifts by Thomas Florschuetz (2019) and Monika Grzymala (2020) will be exhibited for the first time in this context.

The exhibition publication “Keeping in the Present: 300 Years at the Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett” is to be brought out by Paul Holberton Publishing, London. Edited by Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Stephanie Buck, Petra Kuhlmann-Hodick and Gudula Metze, it presents 84 masterpieces along with a richly illustrated chronology of the history of the Kupferstich-Kabinett on 300 pages.

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