Stefan Becker: Stimulating art for the North – A very special kind of museum


When businessman Bernhard Sprengel and his wife Margrit donated their exquis­­ite art collection to the city of Hannover in 1969, no one could have imagined that it would be built up to one of Germany’s leading art museums within just three decades. The donation was linked to an obligation to establish a museum. The first section of Hannover’s Sprengel Museum was opened on the eastern bank of the Maschsee in 1979. The museum’s extension followed in 1992. Alongside the Sprengel collection, the building is home to works belonging to the city of Hanno­­ver and the state of Niedersachsen, cre­ated since 1900. They had previously been part of the collection at the neighbouring Niedersachsen State Museum Hannover.

Today, the visitor can follow a spectacular tour through the development of art, from the early 20th century to the present. Those who want to sense the spirit of awakening into the modern era should visit one of the key rooms of the museum. There, Pablo Picasso’s early cubist paint­­ing “Three Woman, rhythmic version” from 1908 is located directly opposite Umberto Boccioni’s 1911 painting “The Street Enters the House”. Two works which dispense with tradition with all their might and radic­­alism and clear a path for new directions.

These directions and new opportuni­­ties can be investigated in detail in the Sprengel Museum Hannover. The highlights of the collection are large groups of work by Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso, as well as Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde and Kurt Schwitters. These are complemented by works from the artists’ groups “Die Brücke” (The Bridge) and “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider). These classics of the modern era are supplemented by significant collections of art since 1945, including Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. One very special feature in the museum’s collection is the artists’ rooms. A reconstruction of the “Abstraktes Kabinett” (abstract ca­­bi­­net) of El Lissitzky can be seen here, as can re­­­constructions of Kurt Schwitters’ “MERZ­­bau”, “Lichträume” (light works) by James Turrell and Daniel Spoerri’s “Gekippter Raum”.
Since 1993, the museum has been systematically expanding its collection and exhibition of photography and media. Exhi­­bitions on the work of artists such as El Lissitzky, Gisèle Freund, Thomas Ruff, Stephen Shore, Boris Mikhailov, Heinrich Riebesehl and Heidi Specker have given the Sprengel Museum Han­nover an international reputation as a centre of artistic photography. The concept of integrating photography into the collection of classic fine art is char­acteristic of the Sprengel Museum Han­­nover and has made a significant con­tribution to the international profile of the institution.

Since 1994, the Sprengel Museum Han­­nover has been home to the archive of Kurt Schwitters, the great Dadaist. The extensive works of this Hannover artist is explored and documented here, and is being provided to popular internat­ional exhibitions.



Pablo Picasso, Trois femmes, version rythmée (Drei Frauen, rhythmisierte Version), 1908.


With a large donation of over 400 works from various eras, the French artist and honorary citizen of the city of Hannover, Niki de Saint Phalle, provided the Sprengel Museum Hannover with another highlight for its collection in 2000.

As well as the large and outstanding collec­­tions, it is the exhibitions which are key to the museum’s development. With its highly regarded exhibitions, the Sprengel Museum Hannover has repeatedly provided stimuli for the art landscape of the North and drawn visitors from all over Germany and Europe to Hannover. This includes the large cooperative projects “Klee im Norden” in 2003/2004 and “Made in Germany” in 2007, as well as the “Marc, Macke und Delaunay” exhibition in 2009, which ex­­ceed­ed all expectations with over 250,000 visi­­tors and proved that the museum can not only implement high quality exhibition concepts, but can also make use of the necessary marketing and communica­­tion instru­­ments and enter into sponsoring part­­ner­­ships, without which such large exhibition projects could not be successful.

With the museum’s expansion, the success story of the Sprengel Museum Hannover is set to continue. Designed by Swiss archi­­tect Marcel Meili, an annex is being built to house around 1,400 square metres of additional exhibition space, special ware­housing and a large events room, which will be able to be used for receptions and gala dinners regardless of the museum’s opening hours. This extension will allow the collections focussing on the classics of the modern era, Kurt Schwitters, Niki de Saint Phalle and the photographic collections, to be displayed more consistently. In addition, there are many more opportunities to make the particular treasures among the over 50,000 pieces in the museum’s warehouses which have previously not been shown acces­­sible to a wider public.

The Friends of the Sprengel Museum Han­­nover actively support the museum’s devel­­opment by purchasing works of art and undertaking public relations work for one of the most important German art museums of the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition, with the fund-raising campaign “Mehr Museum” (more museum), the Friends of the Museum are actively support­ing the museum’s expansion.

Stefan-Becker-KopieThe author has been chair of the friends of the Sprengel Museum Hannover since 2010. Professionally, the philosophy and art history graduate is responsible for public relations for a regional bank.