The Kulturforum is a wonderful cluster of art and culture, offering exhibitions for various interests. The different galleries are all housed in one building making it the perfect destination if it is raining. If you are a bibliophile exploring Berlin, make sure to visit the Kunstbibliothek.

During my time in Berlin, the Kunstbibliothek was holding an exhibition that intermingled antiquarian books with works of a contemporary artist, Henning Wagenbreth. This juxtaposition was beautifully executed and clever. When I first walked into the gallery space, a large extravagant sculpture commanded my attention. Expecting the focus to be on books I was taken aback by this structure comprised of vibrant colors and chaotic elements. At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. Once I began to discern its individual details, I understood that this was a complex sculpture of mixed messages and imagery meant to be loud, maybe even confusing. Books are merely vessels to hold information, this sculpture challenges what a book can be. Even the bottom of the structure seem indicative of opened books although abstract.

Henning Wagenbreth, The Tobot Tower,2008 ff., wood, acrylic © Henning Wagenbreth / Nikolaus Brade

The next piece I was drawn to in the gallery was an antique book opened to a print of the Tower of Babel. This directly informed the sculpture across from it. Completely different in design and style both tell the story of a tower built on dissonance and a cacophony of language. I enjoyed this modern work laced between antique images and how this told a new story and invoked alternative perspectives.

Turmbau zu Babel, Druck, 1550

The rest of the exhibition consisted of work in this format. There were antique books, playing cards, and posters paired with their contemporary companions. Wagenbreth’s colors and imagery were stunning. As someone who’s passion and profession revolve around rare, fine, and antique books, this exhibition was pleasantly different from my expectations. 

Henning Wagenbreth, JazzFest Berlin, 2010, poster, silkscreen print | Johann Hanias, Schmuckstücke, darunter kleine Landschaften, 1654, ornamental print © Henning Wagenbreth | Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek

I hope to return to Berlin in the near future and catch a new exhibition at the Kunstbibliothek. For now I will just have to follow from afar.


Below are a few more books (personal favorites) featured in the exhibition.

Bernard de Montfaucon, Mains Votives, Paris 1724
Patricio Tricasso, Enarratio Pulcherrima Principorum Chyromantiae, Nuremburg 1560
Jörg Wickram, An Entertaining Little Book of Fate, 1671