An oasis for contemporary art: KW Institute for Contemporary Art

Menschen vor dem Eingang zu den Kunst-Werken an der Auguststraße
Menschen vor dem Eingang zu den Kunst-Werken an der Auguststraße
Januar 2023

In the neighborhood of the Hackesche Höfe there are quite a few more beautiful places worth discovering. For example, the "Kunst-Werke" in Auguststraße. Here we present this institution for contemporary art and its program for 2024.

The former eastern part of Berlin in the 1990s: Gentrification is no big issue yet – quite the opposite: Large parts of Mitte are about to collapse. But there is plenty of space to try things out. And that's exactly what many artists and creative people want. Auguststraße turns into the epicenter of a vibrant art scene. The association KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e.V., which sets up shop in a dilapidated former margarine factory, is part of it all right from the beginning. Groundbreaking exhibitions and the first biennials are the starting points for director Klaus Biesenbach's international career as a curator, which has taken him to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2004, among other places.

Photos: Entrance to exhibition spaces, birches in the courtyard  © Valerie Schmidt

Eingang zu den Ausstellungsräumen der Kunst-Werke und Menschen im Innenhof
Eingang zu den Ausstellungsräumen der Kunst-Werke und Menschen im Innenhof

Coffee in the birch grove

Facing Auguststraße, the ensemble presents itself with a listed 18th-century front building. In addition to exhibition rooms, there are studios and flats here. A gateway leads to the elongated inner courtyard which is planted with a large number of birch trees. During the summer months, art lovers, Mitte residents and tourists gather here, catered by Café Bravo in its glass pavilion which was added to the courtyard in the 1990s. Both the birch trees and the café are, of course, art: The café was designed according to a concept by the artist Dan Graham and the birch trees are the remnants of a biennial action for which hundreds of young trees were transplanted from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Berlin. The actual exhibition spaces are spread over five floors in the 19th-century factory building at the rear, extended by a large high exhibition hall.

Photo: The courtyard in summer  © Marie Kube

Lichterketten erleuchten den Innenhof der Kunst-Werke im Sommer
Lichterketten erleuchten den Innenhof der Kunst-Werke im Sommer

Contemporary art

The progressive aspiration of the "KW Institute for Contemporary Art" is conveyed to visitors even before they enter the exhibition spaces: No cash is accepted either in the café or at the cash desk – unusual in a city where cashless payment is still often refused.

KW is proud to have presented many outstanding artists through first solo exhibitions and with important new works at KW. It does not have its own collection. Primarily, it aims to reflect contemporary social issues and current trends in art with changing exhibitions. Apart from this, there are no further specifications for the program. Projects also often result from cooperations with international partners. The term "contemporary" is interpreted rather generously. In the summer of 2024, for example, there will be an exhibtion of photographs by the French artist, writer and activist Hervé Guibert who died in 1991.

Photo: Exhibition hall with works by Michel Majerus

Ein großes Gemälde von Michel Majerus in der Ausstellungshalle der Kunst-Werke
Ein großes Gemälde von Michel Majerus in der Ausstellungshalle der Kunst-Werke

A place for discoveries

Blockbuster exhibitions and stars of the art world that even laypeople know about are not to be found at KW. Communication on their website, posters and newsletter is rather austere – lots of text, few pictures. This is for insiders. Those who are not put off by this can make exciting discoveries. As a rule, three exhibitions run in parallel: in spring between February and May, in summer between June and August, and in autumn/winter between September and January.

Guided tours with the curators are offered for the exhibitions, and KW also provides space for events such as workshops or artist talks. Performances are presented as part of the currently running series "Pause," next time between January 27 and 29, 2023: Artist Alexis Blake will explore the meaning and the act of breaking in an installation made of glass and steel, "using sound, voice and body."

Zwei Frauen hinter einer Glasscheibe bei einer Performance
Performance "Crack Nerve Boogie Swerve” by Alexis Blake

Exhibitions in 2023

KW has planned ten exhibitions for 2023. Two artists will be honored with solo exhibitions in Germany or even Europe for the first time: sculptor Enrico Davis (June 10 – August 20) and Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco (September 14, 2023 – January 7, 2024).

From February 24, a major exhibition of 100 works by Martin Wong, created between the 1960s and 1990s in California and New York, will be on view. The US artist with Chinese roots died early of AIDS. Wong combines homosexual motifs, Chinese iconography and graffiti. He deals with themes that he encountered in run-down areas of New York which were characterized by poverty, drugs and crime.

Photo: "Tell MyTroubles to the Eight Ball Eureka” from  Martin Wong

Gemälde mit Billardkugel von Martin Wong
Gemälde mit Billardkugel von Martin Wong

KW also commissions artworks: Between June and August 2023, an immersive installation by Emily Wardill will be on view, spanning the first floor of KW.

From September 14, the exhibition SKIN IN THE GAME will feature seminal works from the 1970s and early 1980s from the personal archives of internationally renowned female artists. The entire annual program of KW can be found here.

Photo: "La Venida de la Ceiba" by Karen Lamassonne

Visit to the Kunst-Werke

Even for people who are not interested in contemporary art, a visit is definitely worthwhile in summer – to have a coffee in the beautiful inner courtyard, chat and watch artistically minded people. Walking distance from Hackesche Höfe: eight minutes.

Opening hours:
Wednesday to Monday 11 am – 7 pm
Thursday 11 am – 9 pm
Closed Tuesday
Admission: 8 euros, reduced 6 euros
Opening hours Café Bravo:
Monday and Wednesday: 9 am – 7 pm
Thursday: 9 am – 9 pm
Friday to Sunday: 11 am – 7 pm
Tuesday closed

Zwei Frauen am Eingang der Kunst-Werke
Zwei Frauen am Eingang der Kunst-Werke