Bode-Museum: Sammlerglück. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Marks-Thomée

Last Tuesday, I took the day off, went climbing in the morning, waited for the rain to stop, spent the late-afternoon with Dasniya, and in-between went to one of my favourite museums, the Bode-Museum on Museumsinsel. The Bode was the first museum I went to, when I began my museum pilgrimage at the end of 2013, prior to my head-over-heels into mediæval art. Back then, I was trying to get into the Pergamon or somewhere on a Sunday, Totally queued out. I wandered up to the Bode; no idea what I was getting into, thinking myself so damn special for finding the one Sunday museum without a queue. Then I saw all the religious bollocks. Much disappointment. I’ve been back four times now. Religious bollocks. I can’t get enough of it.

I was going this time especially for the temporary exhibition, Sammlerglück. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Marks-Thomée, more of that mediæval religious stuff. Of course I made a round through the Northern European and Germanic stuff. I have a feeling they’ve changed some of this, not that it matters, I find new stuff every time, fall in love with a different piece. I was also going as a kind of “Fuck you” to Der Spiegel and the crap of their hatchet-piece, Why Berlin Is the Most Boring Museum City in the World. If I ever get back to serious blogging, I’ll go the hack on that, but as the wonderful people from Stockholm’s Historiska museet said (paraphrasing here), these collections are comparable to the major, internationally known ones, it’s just that mediæval art is not as easily to access as say, Italian Renaissance Masters or the Dutch Masters, or Impressionists, or … I mean, look at me, 18 months ago I was all sadface on my first visit to the Bode; now I schlepp to other cities and countries to gawp at the mediæval stuff.

Some of that Spiegel piece did touch on pertinent issues, which for me are questions of context, and accessibility. The latter first. I heard about the exhibition from a couple of places, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin mailing list, Museumsportal Berlin. Outside and in the main foyer were three large banners, one each for the Ein Gott (disappointing), Das verschwundene Museum (beautiful and poignant), and Sammlerglück. Then there’s only two banners. Where’s Sammlerglück? Fuck knows. For a long while I thought maybe it was a ruse to get people into the permanent collection, but then I found it near the East Wing entrance. Accessibility. This is something SMB is capable of, which they so often slip up on in small yet important ways.

Context, then. I’m thinking of Historiska museet, and Muzeum Nardowe we Wrocławiu (fucking brilliant, one of the absolute best), and wondering for SMB if it’s to do with, “Well, the Gemäldegalerie is for painting, so we’ll put sculpture in the Bode,” so you get altarpieces with paintings on the wings in one place and altarpieces with sculpture around the frame in the opposite because no one can really decide where the objects that are mixes of both belong. Then you get a small handful of Byzantine works that could probably go in the Altes Museum, because they pretty much belong in the Antikensammlung, leaving more room for paintings (harhar) on loan from the Gemäldegalerie. There’s a lack of conceptual overview of what each museum is, what each collection is (i.e. where one bleeds into another), whether to group works by region or era or type that makes a bit of a mess of what are nonetheless—in the Bode-Museum and Gemäldegalerie—incredibly beautiful and rich collections. It makes what’s on display poorer also.

If I had my way with the Bode, I’d shift all the non-Northern European stuff out, and all the Byzantine, anything pre- say, 9th century or so. I’d plunder the Gemäldegalerie for all those glorious works, raid the SMB’s archives for any and everything, raid the Kupferstichkabinett also (which is pretty much inaccessible anyway) for works on paper, and throw down on Wrocław and Stockholm. I’d put together works from the masters of Lübeck, works of the era of pilgrimages, of Bynums, works documenting the very specific representation of St. Mauritius as a black African which came out of these regions, of Magdeburg, of the northern trade of artworks with Sweden, of the north-south and east-west routes which meet in the swampy plains of eastern Germany, all of this history that the museum is more than capable of exhibiting, which for whatever reason I learnt more about from a trip to Stockholm than I have from Berlin’s museums.

Then I’d get lighting and exhibition designers who know you don’t bounce harsh fucking light on lacquered paintings into the eyes of visitors, nor do you put them opposite windows, and who know how to use non-reflective glass for works that can’t be left naked. I had a few hissy fits in the Sammlerglück exhibition over this, some of the works were simply not possible to view from anything less that 45º off to one side. And follow all that with masses of information on walls and beside the works (yes, and those SMB audio guides) so you’re sweating with the magnificence of it all.

Anyway, the Sammlerglück exhibition! Strange and rare thing that it is. It’s the private collection of a Westphalian politician from the early 20th century, Fritz Thomée. He started with mediæval art, became friends with the director (and his assistant) of the museum, Wilhelm von Bode, expanded into Italian, Renaissance, and other art (not the collection’s strong point), even picked up some Asian pieces. There’s a large photo of him at the start of the exhbition, sitting in an armchair, smoking, his house full of bits of altarpieces, retables, old stuff. It’s dead strange.

There’s a lot of exceptional work—mostly small scale—in the one large room of the exhibition. It’s mostly presented with care and attention, and looks beautiful. I ended up photographing almost all of the 90-ish pieces (exceptions being a few pieces that were destroyed by glare or glass) because it might be once this closes, they won’t be easily seen again, and together they do make a very fine collection.

Imagine the whole Bode museum like this, it’d be utterly fucking sublime.