From the Collection: 1960–1969

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Mies van der Rohe. Model for the New National Gallery, Berlin. 1962–1968 0484

Steel, plexiglass, wood, cotton and enamel, 8 1/4 x 52 x 52" (21 x 132.1 x 132.1 cm). Gift of the architect. © 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Martino Stierli: The New National Gallery in Berlin is basically made up of one big empty space that is confined by glass walls. And this space is squeezed in by two horizontal planes: a monumental cantilevering roof, made out of metal, and a stone-covered platform upon which one arrives through a flight of stairs. It could be said that it is the synthesis of many decades of architectural thinking in Mies van der Rohe. It goes back to projects that started right after the Second World War, where Mies tried to build a completely open, column-free space.

What you can see in the model is the main floor of the galleries. The collection of the New National Gallery was actually shown in the windowless basement of the building, which you cannot see here in this model. This configuration has been criticized. Mies was very aware of this problem. For him, however, it was much more important to give an understanding of his obsession of the purity of a columnless, open, unitary space. One could say that it's the architecture itself that is here presented as the prime work of art. And the art that's actually on view becomes almost secondary.

Mies van der Rohe had his first career in Germany. He was forced into exile in 1937, after the Nazi takeover. And he became a very successful architect only in his second American career. In 1962, he was invited back to the city of Berlin to build this new museum. And it provided him an opportunity to reimport his American understanding of modern architecture—or, as it has been called, the "International Style"—back into what was now West Germany. So it was also a very important biographical moment at the end of his long and prolific life.