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When it comes to the visual arts, Germany’s harbor city quietly but confidently rivals Berlin. From world-renowned contemporary collections to intimate independent galleries, Hamburg’s art scene holds its own as an international artistic center while always taking care to cast a spotlight upon its local heroes. Here is a dynamic cross-section of the galleries to be found among the canals and red brick streets, with our insider guide to the top ten must-see galleries of Hamburg.
This gallery’s unique fusion of western and eastern, of the abstract and the political, can be directly traced back to the colorful life story of its founder and curator Andrée Sfeir-Semler. Born in Beirut in 1953, she studied art history in her home city before going on to Germany to complete a PhD on a social history of French art of the 17th century. The Middle Eastern themes and artists represented in the gallery’s exhibitions reflect Sfeir Semler’s continued connection to her home country, where the gallery also has a twin. Sfeir-Semler’s mindfulness of both Europe and Asia was exemplified by her recent exhibition of works by Swiss minimalist photographer Balthasar Burkhard, whose monochrome vision of Lebanon perfectly encapsulated her vision.
Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Admiralitätstraße 71, Hamburg, Germany, +49 (0) 40 3751 9940
One of the oldest art societies in Germany, the Kunstverein in Hamburg has been formally dedicated to showcasing the very best of contemporary art since 1817. The institution’s history is colorful: having evolved its progressive philosophy in the midst of the March Revolution and having had its exhibition Malerei und Plastik in Deutschland halted by Nazi culture minister Adolf Ziegler in 1936. Today the gallery continues to challenge accepted norms. Recently, the exhibition Let’s Make the Water Turn Black has brought the kinetic creations of Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer to Germany. Working with complex algorithms, this mechanical theatre of sculpture, light and sound is never the same twice, bringing into play ideas of freedom and ever-evolving identity.
Kunstverein, Klosterwall 23, Hamburg, Germany, +49 40 322 157
An unmissable feature of Hamburg’s harborside skyline, the Deichtorhallen forms the backbone of the Hamburg ‘Art Mile,’ which together constitutes one of the largest centers of contemporary art in Europe. The gallery’s tripartite structure encompasses three important artistic media. At the building’s center, the Halle für aktuelle Kunst gathers together more conventional works of painting and sculpture, with work by Richard Serra, Mario Merz, and Imi Knoebel lining the halls. In the south building, the Haus der Fotographie pays similar homage to the very best of international photography, tracing from the medium’s inception through to the present day. Finally, the Sammlung Falckenberg satellite gallery makes large-scale multimedia installations possible, allowing the loftiest ambitions of the likes of Jon Kessler and General Idea to be realized. And with fourteen million euros worth of investment currently being poured into the first of the three galleries, the only way is up for Hamburg’s premier contemporary art establishment.
Deichtorhallen, Deichtorstraße 1, Hamburg, Germany, +49 (0) 40 321 030
The Heliumcowboy Artspace might claim to be the most subversive art establishment operating in Hamburg today. Founder Jörg Heikhaus is not shy about his vision to redefine the future aesthetics of art itself, as he endeavors to send global shockwaves from his little space in St Pauli. Having done away with conventional exhibition tactics, the gallery seeks to cultivate the potential of a tiny group of blossoming creatives and provides these individuals with support for projects both in and outside of the city. Entry is by appointment only, but the bold future vision which awaits the visitor within is more than worth the phone call.
heliumcowboy artspace, Bäckerbreitergang 75, Hamburg, Germany, +49 (0) 40 4840 8860
The Produzentengalerie is located deep in Hamburg’s labyrinthine industrial canal district. The rusty red brick exterior conceals an arena for the illustrative depiction of a given theme or issue. The visitor is asked what the term might truly encompass: is it a deviation from realistic, figurative art, an aesthetic flight into the spheres of color and shape? Or is it a certain utopian quality in the subject matter? The mosaic of responses by the trio Achim Bertenburg, Heinrich Modersohn and Norbert Prangenberg is characteristic of the Produzentegallerie’s ‘variation on a theme’ approach, bringing together prints, drawings, photography, paintings and sculpture for one common purpose.
Produzentengalerie Hamburg , Admiralitätstrasse 71, Hamburg, Germany, +49 (0) 40 37 8232
The experience of Galerie W is one of magic and intrigue, as the enigmatic Wittus Witt seeks to derive artistic merit from the quaint tradition of the Victorian conjuror’s show. At 9 p.m. each Friday, Wittus Witt invites all who are curious to visit his Zauber-salon, where the curtain is raised to reveal a world of illusion and double meaning. Expressly distancing himself from tacky Las Vegas style cabaret, Witt draws his inspiration from 19th century Viennese magician Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser, whose performances held a depth and darkness lacking in modern shows. In daylight hours the gallery also showcases local artists’ responses to these ideas of deception and conspiracy that are so integral to the world of magic.
Galerie W, Ifflandstraße 64, Hamburg, Germany, +49 (0) 40 2275 8374