The Kunsthalle

Ricardo Palma Prieto:

The Kunsthalle, as a temporary exhibition space, is an institutional building devoid of compromise largely associated with the collecting or selling of art. It came to existence in German speaking regions in the 19th century, its intent was to bring art to the city and its people; it was conceived as a place to show contemporary art and to discuss contemporary issues within its society, thus introducing “art” to a broader audience. In short, the Kunsthalle can be summarized as a building typology dedicated to delivering “Kunst für alle” art for all. This public building has always been an important typology throughout history, still today the Kunsthalle is a prominent institution in the theory and practice of contemporary art that sets it apart from other art institutions around the world. From the start its aim was to promote art with an international focus, this impetus towards a global scene has been maintained.

Apart from their differences in the way they perform, what distinguishes the architecture of the Kunsthalle from that of the museum institution is its size and scale. While the museum has grown larger and larger in size, the Kunsthalle has remained almost unchanged since its conception. The more austere kunsthalle is smaller and less impressive. One recognizable aspect of the Kunsthalle is found it its object-like appearance; their solitary position makes them easily comprehensible from the outside. Equivalent to the museum there has been a particular interest in the use of natural light for lighting the interior. The lighting condition is an important aspect for the exhibition of art. Additionally, the Kunstahalle is to be located in a park or next to public squares that are accessible to an urban centre.

While maintaining its differences the Kunsthalle development throughout history is closely linked, not surprisingly, to the history of art. From the second half of the 20th Century new art and art exhibition formats emerged. The transition from a canvas on a wall to the use of pure space, performance pieces, and idea-based art brought changes to the traditional art hall. Due to the Kunsthalle’s deep-rooted compromise with the art world, it quickly adapted to these new art forms and flexibility became a norm.

The aim of the analysis is to explore how the Kunsthalle came into being? How the exhibition hall has changed over two centuries throughout Europe? And what constitutes the peculiarities of a temporary exhibition space? In order to answer these questions six examples have been chosen for the analysis and are arranged chronologically with a clear distinction in their epoch. The first three are projects designed in the late 19th century while the last three are built projects from the second half of the 20th century. This span of time will provide us with ideas on how art was viewed and displayed, as well as the commonalities and differences in the architecture that responded to the art world and to their public.

Over the analysis we can see changes on the architecture of the Kunsthalle. The classical Kunsthalle showed many rooms of same sizes, load bearing walls as primary structure and two floors of exhibitions spaces where the ground floor is side lit through windows and it’s top level is completely closed on all sides in order to use the walls for exhibitions making the top floor to be lit through its roof. The classical Kunsthalle follows the same typology of the Altes museum in Berlin and the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. The contemporary Kunsthalle on the other hand strives for flexibility, they have less halls but much bigger spaces. They share the same idea to lit the interior through natural light, commonly coming from the ceiling. One commonality is their scale, they all appear to have remained almost unchanged since its conception in comparison to the continuous grow of the collecting museum. Through a reading of the case studies we see the replacement of sequential rooms for bigger, more adaptable open spaces. The result of the open hall was born of the urgency for the highest form of flexibility that could accommodate different kinds of art or exhibition formats.

Therefore, what has changed in its typology since the first Kunsthalle designs is its exhibition space. While earlier Kunsthalles had the traditional enfilade and sequence of halls, the contemporary Kunsthalle became a void almost in its entirety. This space is not only dependent on empty space alone, but it relies on the relationship of its materiality, scale and light in order to create a deeper sense of the provisional life of a work of art. It is worth to note that the contemporary exhibition hall has sustained same light features while in terms of flexibility there has been new experimental ways and ideas about what the art space could be and do.

As a conclusion, I would like to question flexibility. In reality, flexibility is very determined of how these type of spaces are being used. The reason why the open hall is not good enough is because is not flexible, its predictability is left to its form, and a precise form is an absolute, therefore absolute space cannot give birth to new possibilities. Take a hall that is a square in plan, in order to create possibilities, you will have to build a layout within it, a temporary “architecture”. Is there a way the a-permanent architecture could create flexibility beyond functionality? If we look at the Kunsthuas Bregenz, the open space becomes flexible mostly from the perspective of its functionality. However, the only thing we know is that we cannot know what the content might be, therefore the need for a flexible space beyond its functionality is necessary in order to fulfil what a Kunsthalle could offer. This idea of flexibility has been taken as the main problem for the design exercise.

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