Mission statement and History

Photo: Christian Wasenmüller

The Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst is the institution in Bremen which is devoted to international contemporary art. Both a succession of solo and thematic group exhibitions and a collection presentation with long-term orientation allow lively, inquisitive encounters with artistic production from the 1960s to the present.

In 1989, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen laid the cornerstone for the Stiftung Neues Museum Weserburg, which opened its doors in 1991 as Europe’s first collectors’ museum. Since 2007, the institution has been named the Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst. Close partnerships with private and corporate collections serve as the foundation for an exciting and revealing contact with contemporary art in various formats and as an extension of the museum’s own collection.

International Orientation and Regional Roots

In multifaceted exhibitions, programs, outreach formats and scholarly publications, the Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst offers a wide range of insights into international art. There is a focus on highly-quality positions from Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme, as well as from the Sound, Conceptual and Minimal Art movements ; these positions characterize the program and engage in dialogue with the art of the 21st century. In addition to its decidedly international outlook, the Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst is also devoted to outstanding regional positions and to the promotion of young artists.

The Centre for Artists’ Publications

The Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst possesses a collection of artists’ publications and documents on a scale that is unique in Europe. The Centre for Artists’ Publications serves in equal measure as an archive, research institute and exhibition site. The numerous archives, bequests, Fonds and collections work with far more than 300,000 published or reproduced works of art from throughout the world — from postage stamps past books, correspondence, films, videos and records all the way to multimedia editions.

Our Vision of an Open Museum

The Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst is an integral part of the urban community. Our impact is directed towards art and its counterpart — namely the visitors. We give concrete form to the idea of the open museum as a site of exchange, diversity, participation and education for all target- and age-groups. We place particular value on the communal experiencing of art. The historical warehouses, with a central and remarkable location in the middle of the Weser River, provide almost 5,000 square metres of exhibition space serving as an ideal framework for these shared experiences.

As a museum of the 21st century, the Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst is a living organism which, besides fulfilling the classic tasks of a museum, turns its gaze towards change and is itself open to transformation. We commit ourselves to tolerance and to actions which are ecologically and economically responsible. We treat all colleagues in a dependable and respectful manner. We play an active role in shaping the modes of access to the present which an art museum can facilitate today and in the future. We intend to be one of the leading institutions in Germany for contemporary art.

History of the Museum

Nicolás Uriburu, Green Bremen, 2011, performance on the occasion of the anniversary "20 Years Weserburg"

On 14 November 1988, the foundation “Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen” was established through a resolution passed by the city parliament of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. The founding members were the municipality of Bremen, the Kunstverein in Bremen as well as the collectors Hans Grothe, Anna and Gerhard Lenz, Reinhard Konisch and Hartmut Ackermeier. The renovations of the building complex proceeded according to the plans of the Bremen architect Wolfram Dahm.

Thomas Deecke (1991 to 2005)

On 6 September 1991, the Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen was opened in the old warehouses under the direction of Prof. Dr. Thomas Deecke. The museum was an ab-solute innovation in Europe. For the first time, the concept was realized of a collectors’ museum in which the permanent exhibition would consist solely of works from private lenders. The energetic commitment of Thomas Deecke made it possible to establish a long-term connection between the institution and several outstanding collections from Germany and abroad. Since then, 5000 square meters of exhibition space have been used regularly to display works of contemporary art in numerous exhibitions and collection presentations. Mention should be made of successful exhibitions such as “Die Kunst und das schöne Ding” (1955), “Picasso, Guston, Miró, de Kooning” (1997) as well as “Fondation Maeght. Südliche Kunst unter nordischen Himmel” (2003). Moreover, many exhibitions that were developed by the curators of the Weserburg were subsequently taken over by well-known museums. For example, the exhibition “Minimal Maximal” (1999) went on tour from Spain all the way to Japan (2001) and Korea (2002).

Carsten Ahrens (2005 to 2013)

On 1 November 2005 Carsten Ahrens took over the museum. On 1 January 2007 his proposal was implemented to change the name of the institution to “Weserburg Museum for moderne Kunst.” His solo exhibitions on Jörg Immendorff (2007) and Helmut Newton (2008) were popular successes; with presentations on the artistic output of Stankowski (2007) or the thematic exhibition “Freibeuter der Utopie” (2011), he was able to open the Weserburg to a wider public. Under his directorship, there also began the collaboration with the kek Kindermuseum which, with its thematically varying, participatory exhibitions, ushered many young persons into the museum. Moreover, Carsten Ahrens brought into the Weserburg the exhibition of the master pupils of the Hochschule für Künste Bremen; this series, together with the Karin Hollweg Prize, makes an important contribution to supporting young artists and continues to be presented each year at the Weserburg right up to today. It was likewise under the direction of Carsten Ahrens that the most difficult phase in the history of the museum occurred. In order to put the institution’s finances on a firm footing over the long term, the foundation Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen decided to sell works from its own collection and thereby to set up a “fund for the future.” In November 2010 Gerhard Richter’s painting “Matrosen” (1966) and the painting “Lucia-no 1” (1976) by Franz Gertsch were auctioned off. A total of 51 works of art were transferred through private involvement to the holdings of the Kunsthalle Bremen. In addition, Carsten Ahrens initiated a debate concerning an altered location for the museum which continued for a number of years. He left the Weserburg in June 2013.

Peter Friese (2013 to 2018)

Peter Friese became the provisional successor to Carsten Ahrens. A curator at the Weserburg over many years, he concentrated on the institution’s obligation, formulated in the statutes of the foundation, to exhibit art of the 20th and 21st centuries from private collections. On 11 June 2015, Peter Friese was named director and continued in the direction he had embarked upon since 2013: the presentation of large, special exhibitions, on themes of contemporary relevance, which are generated primarily out of the collections themselves and are directed towards a wide audience—for example, “Kaboom. Comic in der Kunst (2013) and “Land in Sicht 400 Jahre Landschaftsbilder” (2015) or “Cindy Sherman” (2018). Moreover, “Young Collections” (2014-2018) was an exhibition series which featured young, private collections that had not yet been presented to the public in this form. This program established connections to young collections that since then have collaborated closely with the Weserburg, including the Dominic and Cordula Sohst-Brennenstuhl Collection (Hamburg), the Von Kelterborn Collection (Frankfurt), the Ivo Wessel Collection (Berlin), the Christian Kaspar Schwarm Collection (Berlin) and the Florian Peters-Messer Collection (Rhineland). It is thanks to the endeavors of Peter Friese that the art patrons Karin and Uwe Hollweg particularly enriched the Weserburg in 2018. Together they accomplished no less than acquiring for the Weserburg and Bremen the Karl Gerstner Collection, one of the most important collections of works from Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme. And not only that — the purchase of the Sound Collection Guy Schraenen, one of the most important collections of its kind in the world, was made possible by the Hollwegs along with the Kulturstiftung der Länder. At the end of September 2018, Peter Friese entered retirement.

Janneke de Vries (since 2018)

Janneke de Vries has been the new director of the Weserburg since 1 October 2018.

History of the Building

Historical photo around 1870-1930
Historical photo around 1945

The old warehouses of the Weserburg have a long, dynamic history behind them. Before the building came to house art, it contained a tobacco factory and later the coffee-roasting facility Gebrüder Schilling. In 1893 the cigar factory Ad. Hagens Co. purchased the warehouses no. 20 completed on the Teerhof by the C. Poppe company and in 1897 built the so-called Hagensburg. The building was realized under the direction of the architect Johann Rippe and was the spectacular culmination of construction on the Teerhof before the Second World War. It was especially the two Neo-Gothic gateway towers that broke up the natural uniformity of the rows of warehouses and served as eye-catchers, especially when viewed from the Kaiserbrücke (today called the Bürgermeister-Smidt-Brücke).

In 1923 the coffee-roasting company Gebrüder Schilling bought the building complex, where it thenceforth engaged in the import, roasting and distribution of coffee. When coffee began to be roasted there, the name Hagensburg was changed into Weserburg. During the Second World War, the buildings on the Teerhof were severely damaged. In 1944 after the 159th bombardment, they lay for the most part in ruins; the Weserburg had been almost entirely destroyed. It was possible already in 1949 to rebuild it, whereupon the Schilling company resumed coffee-roasting. In 1973 the company with so long a tradition had to close down its coffee operations after fifty years; it sold the Weserburg to the municipality of Bremen.

In the following years, the building was taken over by the cultural scene. Artists set up studios; the Moks-Theater and the Städtische Galerie found new free spaces here. Altogether the building was home to more than twenty cultural and social facilities. The GAK Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst likewise found a domicile in the former coffee-roasting plant. It was during one of its exhibitions, a presentation of works by Edward Kienholz from the Onnasch Collection, that the idea arose of establishing a collectors’ museum for Bremen. It would take several years, however, until the plan was brought to fruition.