The Hamburger Kunsthalle (Art Museum) has the largest art collection in
Northern Germany. It is housed in a huge building just north of the Hauptbahnhof, with the older masters in the older buildings and the modern art appropriately in a very modern cube. Having shed my entourage, I approached the museum in anticipation, expecting to enjoy an hour or two of fine art in peace and quiet without having to dash behind a three-year-old or worry whether the baby is crying too loudly.
The gallery has a huge collection ranging from the Middle Ages to the present, and works are generally hung in chronological order. The earliest pieces are from the 14th century and logically are religious in nature. The museum has works from most 17th-century Dutch masters, including Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and Pieter de Hooch, but none of the works are particularly famous - or indeed among the best samples by these artists.
The museum’s collection of 19th-century German artists is more impressive and includes large sections of Romantic works by such artists as Casper David Friedrich. In recent years these works have gained in popularity, although frankly the fad has not yet reached me. The sections on Subjectivity and Classical Modern are also large, with works by Menzel, Max Liebermann, Edvard Munch, and the Blauer Reiter and Brücke groups.
Up to here I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, but while crossing over to the newer cube, things started to unravel a bit. The Gallery of Contemporary Art was completed in the late 1990s to house the extensive collection of post-1960 art. I am not particularly fond of modern art, but do appreciate some works, especially paintings. However, in the vast underground galleries that connect the old and new buildings, the modern art consisted of piles of junk piled together. Anyone wanting to call a heap of cut-up car tires art is welcome to it, but if I were a Hamburg taxpayer, I would have objected to tax money being spent on it.
While walking down a hallway toward the atrium of the cube, I spotted a pile of packing materials masquerading as art. When actually entering the atrium, I was somewhat embarrassed, but also relieved, to realize that it actually was packing material and that it would presumably be cleared away once the new work was unwrapped. On second thought, adding a small plaque "Packing Material (2004), Anonym" would be cheaper and easier than getting another modern artist in to arrange what most people throw out.
The Hamburger Kunsthalle has a good collection, but frankly, I enjoyed the two hours there less than I expected I would. Admission is a rather steep 8.50€ (4€ for HH cardholders). If on an extended trip of Germany, fine art time and money are better spent in Berlin, Dresden, or Munich. In Berlin, 6€ give access to all 16 National Museums for 1 day, and 1€0 buy access to 50 museums for 3 days.