Georg Desmarées, The Artist with his Daughter Antonia, around 1760 © Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen Munchen. Photo: Nicole Wilhelms.

BERLIN.- – In spring 2011 three major German museum bodies – the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen Munich – will join forces with the National Museum of China to present an exhibition on the art of the Enlightenment, to be held in Beijing. The exhibition reveals the unfolding artistic and intellectual curiosity and openness of mind which characterized this era in European history. It is furthermore the first international exhibition to be hosted at the National Museum of China when it reopens in early 2011 after the completion of an extensive refurbishment and expansion program.

The initial agreement on the long-term presentation of works of art by the three German museum partners in the National Museum of China was signed by the then German President Horst Köhler and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in May 2007. The joint exhibition project between the three German museum bodies and the National Museum of China was then formally agreed to
in writing on 29 January 2009, during a ceremony in the German Chancellery in Berlin which was attended by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The exhibition project is closely connected to the Sino-German cultural exchange programme, bilaterally agreed to in 2005, which aims to foster mutual understanding between the two countries and broaden cultural ties. It is also a component of the Sino-German ‘Communiqué on the Comprehensive Advancement of the Strategic Partnership’, signed by Wen Jiabao and Angela Merkel in July 2010 in Beijing.

The exhibition falls under the joint auspices of Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, and Christian Wulff, German Federal President. It has been predominantly funded through the German Foreign Office, while BMW Group have also given their backing as a further partner. The exhibition will be accompanied by an event series entitled ‘Enlightenment in Dialogue’, jointly organized by Stiftung Mercator and the National Museum of China.

This cooperation between the three German Museum clusters and their Chinese partner is the result of a long-standing and inspired dialogue which has been conducted over many years. For Berlin, Dresden and Munich ‘The Art of the Enlightenment’ is the logical continuation of their joint involvement in China which began in 2005 with the photography exhibition ‘Humanism in China’ and continued in 2008 with the exhibitions ‘Living Landscapes: A Journey through German Art’ and ‘Gerhard Richter’ held at the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC).

In a joint statement, the director generals of the three German museum bodies announced: ’The exhibition unveils the visual world of an epoch on the cusp of modernity, which gave birth to ideas that are still of seminal importance for art today. It is exactly this essence and impact which ‘The Art of the Enlightenment’ will strive to make palpable to the Chinese public.’

With their vast and diverse collections, partly rooted in the rich collecting culture and arts landscape typical of the European Enlightenment, the three German museum clusters make an ideal partner for this project. Nearly 600 works of art, exhibited on 2700 m², offer a breath-taking overview of the artistic spectrum of the arts of the Enlightenment ranging from painting, sculpture, drawings and prints, over crafts and fashion to scientific instruments. Among the highlights are masterpieces by Chodowiecki, Friedrich, Gainsborough, Goya, Graff, Greuze, Hogarth, Kauffmann, Pesne, Piranesi, Tischbein, Vernet and Watteau. A total of nine sections will fix the visitor’s gaze on core themes of 18th century art: ‘Court Life in the Age of the Enlightenment’, ‘Perspectives of Knowledge’, ‘The Birth of History’, ‘Far and Near’, ‘Love and Sensibility’, ‘Back to Nature’, ‘Shadows’, ‘Emancipation and the Public Sphere’ and ‘The Revolution of Art’.

The exhibition has been jointly conceived and organized by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen Munich and the National Museum of China. The team of curators which was made up of members from all four museum institutions, has received substantial support from
renowned research organizations in the field of sociocultural sciences, including the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the Institute of History at the University of Potsdam and the BerlinBrandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. All research results will be documented in a detailed catalogue, published in English and Chinese which, for the first time, will make the foundations of European art from the Enlightenment available to the wider Chinese public. The educational programme of accompanying art talks and tours has been developed by the National Museum of China and the three German museum bodies, in conjunction with the Goethe Institute.

In addition, Stiftung Mercator in cooperation with the National Museum of China is initiating and organizing a series of events, entitled ‘Enlightenment in Dialogue’. In five separate dialogue blocks, Chinese and European scholars will discuss the various facets and themes of the Enlightenment. The series will describe and elaborate on the foundations of the European and Chinese Enlightenment whereby the concept of the Enlightenment will not just be limited to the areas of philosophy and historiography, but will also be transposed to the cultural climate of the present day and connected to such other themes as Chinese history and tradition, modernity, science and art. The series will thus form a bridge between the historical concept of the Enlightenment and the present day.

The National Museum of China will celebrate its reopening in the spring of 2011 after completing a refurbishment and expansion programme executed by the Hamburg-based architect studio Gerkan, Marg und Partner. With spaces totalling nearly 200,000 m² in surface, it is set to become the largest museum building in the world. The building’s new dimensions will enable it to become a forum for the arts and cultures of the global world, able to host international exhibitions and events, as well as displays devoted to Chinese artistic and cultural history. The present exhibition, which so magnificently showcases one of the prominent artistic and philosophical legacies that
continue to shape the identity of Western civilization today, clearly marks the mission and responsibility of museums today, as they become sites of Enlightenment, with a wide openness to the world and an acceptance of their role as mentors.


Antoine Watteau, Entertainment in the Open Air, around 1720 © Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin. Photo: Jorg P. Anders