German-born curator Klaus Biesenbach is heading back to Berlin to head up two of the country’s biggest museums.
Biesenbach, who has been leading the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles since 2018, has been tapped to become director of the Neue Nationalgalerie, which recently reopened after a major renovation and rehang of its formidable collection of modern art. He will also lead the Museum of 20th Century Art, which is under construction next door with a design by Herzog and de Meuron. The 57-year-old Biesenbach succeeds Joachim Jäger, who helmed the final era of the renovation and its new presentation.
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrat, a curatorial duo who have worked under the name Art Reoriented and who curated the 2021 Lyon Biennial, will lead the Hamburger Bahnhof museum, which focuses on contemporary art. They have been associate curators at the Gropius Bau since 2017.
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation made the decision today. Nabbing Biesenbach for the job was “an absolute stroke of luck,” said Hermann Parzinger, the foundation’s president. Culture minister Monika Grütters applauded the decision, calling it “a first-class choice” for Berlin. The three curators take up their posts on January 1, 2022.
In February, Biesenbach shifted roles at MOCA Los Angeles, where he previously served as director, to take on the role of artistic director. The museum had suffered financial challenges during the pandemic, laying off 97 part-time employees and experiencing a revenue drop of 26 percent.
Biesenbach’s new role comes around a week after the Los Angeles museum announced the appointment of Johanna Burton as executive director, noting at the time that she would split duties with Biesenbach in a relatively unorthodox arrangement. (Artnet News has reached out to MOCA to find out whether he will maintain a relationship with the museum and will update this story.)
Biesenbach knows Berlin well. He founded the KW – Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin in 1991 in a reunited and fledgling post-wall Berlin, before going on to become the chief curator and director of MoMA PS1 in New York.
The Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie opened in August to the public after a €140 million ($168 million) renovation by David Chipperfield, which returned the building to its former glory, after it had had fallen into disrepair after opening in the 1960s.
“This is a historic opportunity, challenge, and responsibility to illuminate the unique Berlin collections of the 20th century with a contemporary, experimental view and to make them accessible to a broad public,” Biesenbach said in a statement.
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