Derneburg Germany’s museum landscape has to be re-mapped. The gravitational forces have shifted. A castle in the Lower Saxony lowlands, in Derneburg, south of Hildesheim, is in the process of transforming itself into a radiant new attraction among the art museums for contemporary art.
The idyllic castle in Derneburg was a highly valued insider tip for many years. Current art and an almost idle time came together here. The concept behind it is demanding. “The visitors should be able to immerse themselves in an art experience in a pleasant way and at the same time experience a contemplative encounter with exhibitions of really great art that is simply not adapted to the latest fashions and agendas, says Andrew Hall.
The former commodity trader is the owner and main initiator of what is supported by his foundation Private museum. When the restoration of the opulent palace complex, which has been going on for a good 15 years, is finished – probably in four years at the latest – the insider tip should become a magnet for art travelers. A new hotspot for contemporary arts with special exhibitions that change several times a year.
The past few years have already given us a tantalizing foretaste of what is to come. The theme exhibition “The Passion” and several solo exhibitions with large-format colorful “Flower Paintings” by the Spaniard Jorge Galindo or the photographed “Priests” by the American artist Sante D’Orazio are currently on show. He was originally known for his recordings of supermodels and celebrities.
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The exhibitions are fed by the private collection of around 6,000 objects belonging to the Anglo-American couple Christine and Andrew Hall. Both are among the world’s most important collectors of contemporary art and are regularly among the top 200 in international rankings.
Andrew Hall made his fortune as one of the most successful oil traders ever. And on the stock exchange, his skillful knack for speculation has not left him either.
Christine and Andrew Hall started buying art at an early age. One of your focal points: German art after 1945. You currently have the most extensive collection of German post-war art in the USA. The much larger focus of the collection, however, is on American art. Often both of them bought whole bundles.
But why German art? Hall rejects speculative aspects: “We value German art for many reasons – not financial.” But also because it is still cheap compared to American art. He let the NZZ know.
The Halls acquired a collection of 120 works that was compiled by the painter Georg Baselitz and is now part of the Hall Art Foundation. Baselitz, the berserk of figurative art, had retired to Derneburg from 1974 to paint. There he bought a dilapidated castle that became a studio and residence. A new studio was built in the park.
As loyal Baselitz collectors, the Halls also came to Derneburg at some point to visit the artist who had become a friend. The enterprising artist offered the Halls his castle as the best location for their collection. The Vermont Americans liked that, even if it seemed a little crazy.
They bought the property, supplemented it with land purchases, began to renovate, restore, add to and remodel. The protection of historical monuments repeatedly had justified objections, then suddenly old tombs were found under part of the castle, and new problems were constantly being added. But Hall continued to develop the property purposefully, motivated by a noble cause: “We want to create a total work of art.”
The castle was laid out in 1213 as a monastery for Augustinian women choirs. It has an eventful, typically European history that tells of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, financial rise and inexorable decline. At the beginning of the 19th century, the complex came into the possession of the Counts of Münster. They in turn turned the monastery complex into a castle, in line with the latest fashion at the time in the historicizing style of English Tudor Gothic. The count grew up in London.
With the economic decline of the Counts of Münster, the palace and park fell into disrepair. The state of Lower Saxony acquired the large property. The counts sold the elegantly dilapidated house to Baselitz for 300,000 Deutschmarks. That, in turn, was given in 2006 – there was talk of 2.6 million euros – to the Hall couple. With the remark that they would finally have enough space for their large collection.
10,000 square meters of exhibition space
So much history is not easy to restore. Which state should be restored? The Halls began a continuous struggle with the past and with the preservation of monuments.
What drove Christine and Andrew Hall was the conviction that after the renovation, Derneburg Castle would be “one of the largest publicly accessible, private museums in Europe, if not the world”. Specifically, Hall means the 10,000 square meter exhibition area, which is to be distributed over large halls, high and even higher halls, spacious corridors, former barns and reception rooms, vestibule and basement rooms, cabinets and stables.
A further 16 are currently being added to the existing 96 exhibition rooms. And then the exhibition area also includes the park with its 85,000 square meters.
In 2017 the most important renovations were completed and the first exhibitions could be opened. “Would you like to drink a glass of mineral water?” This is how attentively visitors were greeted here. Where is there a ‘light lunch’ as an interruption to a tour of the exhibition?
Derneburg Castle looked like a paradise for pictures, but one after the fall of man. Until shortly before the pandemic, the entrance fee was 50 to 75 euros. Exhibitions could only be visited with a guide.
A hotel and restaurant are planned
Due to the hygiene regulations of the pandemic, Halls have reconsidered their concept. Individual strolls through the extensive gardens and the castle are possible for a low entrance fee. A maximum of 500 visitors are allowed per day.
The couple wanted Derneburg not only to be an international visitor magnet, but also to be attractive for research. Hall is planning a research library with over 50,000 books and, because it is far from the city, “a restaurant and visitor center and also a small boutique hotel.”
The large park is said to be populated by many sculptures. And what is the attraction of the castle? “Our exhibition program will introduce new artists and artistic perspectives, but also show internationally established artists with extensive exhibitions. Most of the exhibitions will consist of works from our collection. But we will also show works that are borrowed directly from artists. ”That sounds like a declaration of war on the large, state-sponsored exhibition venues of the republic.
Trouble from wildly parked cars
The residents of the village only found out about the big plans from the press. They fear cars parked in the wild and garbage piling up everywhere. The local mayor claims to have noticed chaotic conditions at castle exhibitions. In any case, the idyll seems to be endangered for many long-time residents.
Hall holds against it, says that not his visitors, but other tourists parked all over the place. Now an appraiser has been commissioned for pacification. A traffic concept is to be developed because the people of Derneburg have also recognized the opportunity that presents itself to them and the region.
The Hall couple plan to live in Derneburg for several months a year if their housing needs can be reconciled with those of monument preservation. They then have their art brought to the castle by air and sea, however climate-friendly that may be. And as long as that goes well, Derneburg will be one of the decelerating must-see dates for art travelers. And be a thorn in the flesh of the state-paralyzed exhibition houses.
The tickets for the park and the Museum Schloss Derneburg cost between 8 and 20 euros and are unlocked on a monthly basis.
More: Exhibition at the Hall Art Foundation: Baselitz and Beuys on display in a fairytale castle in Lower Saxony