In the past few years, the Kunstsammlung NRW in Düsseldorf, the Berlin-based Hamburger Bahnhof/Museum für Gegenwart and the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt/Main have been reassessing their collections, research and exhibition activities, and broadening their traditionally European/American-centric focus to encompass a global perspective. Their aim is to develop new exhibitions of their collections which convey the narrative of a pluralistic modernity. Now the Lenbachhaus in Munich has also expressed interest in participating in the “Global Museum” programme, launched by the Federal Cultural Foundation in 2014. For the first time in the museum’s history, the Lenbachhaus team, under the direction of Dr. Matthias Mühling, intends to investigate the potential of the “The Blue Rider” (Der Blaue Reiter) from a global perspective. In their project, provisionally titled “Group Dynamics – The Blue Rider Collection and the Artists‘ Collectives of the Modernist Period in a Global Context”, the museum’s curators will examine the role of the Blue Rider in the context of other artists‘ collectives of the modernist period and present their findings in a major exhibition.
A universal understanding of art
The Blue Rider is regarded as one of the first international artists’ groups, whose members included a surprisingly large number of women for that time. Even back then, the artists thought in “global” terms, in that they propagated a universal understanding of art. Their motto was “The entire work, named art, knows no boundaries and peoples, just humanity.” This notion which elevated art as a common language of “humanity” beyond cultural upbringing and national affiliation was quite progressive, both politically and culturally, in the colonial world of the pre-World War I era.
Equality among all types of cultural productions is a central concept of the Lenbachhaus project. The reason for this is that the artists of the Blue Rider were neither interested in the time or place a work was created nor the nationality or religion of the artist, but rather the fundamental concept of an artwork. Based on this principle, they defined abstraction as a universal language, a utopian ideal which the artists of the Blue Rider attempted to reify in their own works.
Artists' collectives from around the world
Although the Blue Rider’s cosmopolitan understanding of art is generally well-known, the Lenbachhaus recognises that its displays, research activities and exhibition programme are characterised by a Western perspective. Therefore, the Lenbachhaus wishes to incorporate internationally (or globally) oriented positions and working methods. To this end, works by the Blue Rider will be shown in combination with those produced by artists’ collective of the modernist era from around the world. These include examples from Central and South America, India, China, Japan, Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia. By presenting the qualities of the Blue Rider in a global context, it may be possible to gain new perspectives on the group and underscore the relevance of the collection in an increasingly diversified society. The project’s organisers plan to study the period between 1900 and 1970. The beginning of this phase was characterised by a number modernisation movements around the world. By the end of this period, decolonialisation processes were well underway and new nations were forming, e.g. in Africa, which coincided with the creation of new art schools and artists’ groups.
New focus on the Blue Rider Collection
Both the new focus of the Blue Rider Collection and the presentation of artists’ collectives from Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa, South and Central America and Asia will be integrated into the standing collection at the Lenbachhaus. This, of course, will result in a significant change to the central areas of the museum. By displaying works by the Blue Rider alongside those of non-European artists’ groups, the museum hopes to emphasise the importance of these collectives from a global perspective. The re-organised presentation of the Blue Rider will be supplemented by selected, top-quality loaned works of non-European art, for instance, sculptures from Bali, South Borneo and Gabon, which can be found at the Bernisches Historisches Museum today, the images of which are included in the “Blue Rider Almanac”.
Going beyond the Western perspective
In preparation for the exhibition, the goal of which is to present a utopian and idealised exhibition of exemplary works which goes beyond the perspective of Western art history, the team at the Lenbachhaus will address fundamental questions related to the current role of the art museum as an institution and the main challenges it faces. What is the role of a museum nowadays? Starting at the local level, where is it possible to transition to international and global perspectives? What narrative of modernity should museums present? How can alternatives to existing narratives be developed? With this approach, the Lenbachhaus joins the three other museums and their exhibition projects, funded through the “Global Museum” programme. The Federal Cultural Foundation established the programme in order to encourage renowned museums and art collections to reassess and develop their holdings further, to review the Western art-historical canon and constructively scrutinise the established concept of modernity.
The Federal Cultural Foundation has agreed to finance the exhibition project “Group Dynamics – The Blue Rider Collection and the Artists’ Collectives of the Modernist Period in a Global Context” (working title) at the Lenbachhaus Munich with 800,000 euros through the “Global Museum” programme from 2017 to 2021.
March 2021: New presentation of the Blue Rider Collection
October 2021: Exhibition "Group Dynamics - The Blue Rider Collection and the Artists' Collectives of the Modernist Period in a Global Context"