“The general assembly in the TU lecture hall hoots boisterously as a member of the group Unbeachtete Produktionsformen lists examples of a frequently neglected aspect of everyday culture with feminine which the exhibition attempts to thematise, process or explain by means of artistic plays, performaces and other events.“1 It was with this eye-witness report from an nGbK general assembly in 1980 that Ingrid Wagner opened her article Frauen und Kunst in der NGBK – eine Re-Kapitulation for the publication marking the 40th anniversary of the nGbK. Jula Dech notes the following about the early years of the nGbK, that it was a place where “the other conditions of the so-called ‘new left’ [were reflected]: there was practically no sensitisation for gender-related questions. Almost as a matter of course, discrimination against historical and current women’s art was repeated.”2 She goes on to say: “Art by women – was a largely uncharted, still invisible country – without its own formal canon or its own vocabulary of colour. Art, according to the predominant view, was without gender.”3
Hence, the first solo exhibition of a woman’s work – Käthe Kollwitz (1974) – had no feminist background, rather it demonstrated the artist’s political approach.4

Therefore, the first two exhibitions devoted explicitly to “women’s art” also intended simply to make art by women visible in the first place. In 1977, the exhibition Künstlerinnen International 1877–1977 was held – the “first major inventory of women’s art in the last hundred years”.5 Ten years later came the exhibition project Das verborgene Museum. The title refers to “the invisible artistic tradition of women, their exclusion from the ‘imaginary museum’ of art, in which they appeared not as acting (as artists) but largely as male projections and fantasies.” 6 For more than two years, basic research was conducted in Berlin’s public collections in order to make a feminine tradition of art visible and raise awareness for the problems lurking behind it. In addition to criticism of the “patriarchal ideology and writing of history”, the concept aimed “also to express artistic- and cultural-political intention.” It is not sometime ‘later’, not ‘tomorrow’ that, as observers of art, we wish to address works by women. Contemporary female artists must be better and more frequently represented in public collections today, in other words, they must be bought and also exhibited.”7

At the same time, the 1980s saw a change in thinking. In addition to numerous exhibitions by female artists that created this awareness, the nGbK also hosted shows that explicitly addressed feminist issues, such as Kulturplätze / Frauen – Autonomie – Kreativität – Subkultur (1985), in which women’s initiatives in Berlin were showcased.
With the launch in 1992 by the Berlin city government of a programme to promote female artists in Berlin, who had been recognized as receiving too little representation, “women’s art” received a further boost. Looking to Latin America (in solidarity) was typical for the nGbK: in the years 1981 and 1991, there were exhibitions showing art by Mexican women.
Perlen für die Säue. Erotische Kunst von Frauen für Frauen (1991) and Dorothy Iannone’s exhibition (1997) shifted the focus to female desire and its repression. While Iannone’s works had already provoked censorship of previous exhibitions, Perlen für die Säue saw the Berlin public transport system’s advertising department, now unified after the fall of the Berlin Wall, intervene and ban billboards highlighting sexual abuse of daughters by fathers and resistance to it.

Although the subjects of gender and queerness have been gaining prominence in recent years, the project No play – Feministisches Trainingcamp, demonstrates that feminist questions and issues have by no means become less relevant or topical and, ideally, are intersectionally interwoven: “The training camp is based on a queer understanding of feminism with a special emphasis on collective grass roots organisaiton.[…] For this, it is necessary to understand the interdependence of categories of gender, race, class, disability and sexuality in violent power structures in an intersectional manner.”

And where are we now? Although Jula Dech still expressed pessimism in 1990 that equality of the sexes was still a radical Utopia “Women as artists remain an unsolved problem for bourgeois society”8 Ingrid Wagner came to the conclusion in 2009 that the nGbK was “predestined to be a venue for the exhibition of feminist positions and what is known today as the gender debate in the field of art.”9 Marion Beckers, who today runs Das Verborgene Museum, which emerged from the eponymous nGbK project, adopts a more nuanced formulation, saying: as a woman, you still had to fight at nGbK in the 1980s but people also worked together and the female management meant that there were always strong women on your side, which was a novelty at that time in Berlin.

Anna-Lena Wenzel, 2015, revised 2019

  1. Wagner, Ingrid: Frauen und Kunst in der NGBK – eine Re-Kapitulation, in: 40 Jahre NGBK, Berlin 2009, S. 161. 

  2. Dech, Jula: Blinder Fleck – Die Neue Gesell(en)schaft und die Frauenkunst, in: : 21 – was nun?, NGBK, Berlin 1990, S. 57. 

  3. Ebd., S. 57f. 

  4. This exhibition was held after criticism of previous major Kollwitz exhibitions, “which negate the effect that reaches into society and interpret it as an illustration of the “social idealism” of a hermetic and ‘autonomous’ personality. In contrast, our exhibition seeks to place those works by Käthe Kollwitz – in the the categorical-theoretical sense, in which she confidently placed herself – in a context of effect both indirect and direct.” „Zu dieser Ausstellung“, in: Käthe Kollwitz, hrsg. v. Frankfurter Kunstverein 1973, o.S 

  5. Vgl. Dech (1990), S. 58. 

  6. Breitling, Gisela / Flagmeier, Renate: Vorwort, in: Das verborgene Museum I, NGBK, Berlin 1987, S. 7. 

  7. Ebd., S. 8. 

  8. Dech (1990), S. 62. 

  9. Wagner (2009), S. 167.