The Kunsthalle initially emerged in the 1830s, around the time the church’s relationship to art was being destroyed. But Meschede explains that the Kunsthalle model was mainly developed over the last 50 years “into a very interesting engagement in the contemporary.” Meschede’s own approach at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld carries on a legacy from his first job as assistant to Kasper König and Klaus Bussmann at Skulptur Projekte Münster (Sculpture Projects Münster). “Site specificity was a big issue that really attuned my thinking about shows,” he says.
It’s not just the art system that is different in Germany—it’s the country’s structure. “Every federal state has its own laws and its own regulations. That’s totally different, I think, from Great Britain, France, and Italy and other countries,” Gregor Jansen, director of the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, points out. That cultural history still impacts the approach of institutions like his. “If you look back again to the ’60s, there was this very close relationship between Düsseldorf, Cologne, Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent. There was a beginning of a new thinking around production and sociopolitical ideas and an anti-institutional movement. And of course this new situation of the Cold War.” The Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, as many other similar spaces, was set up against this background and has retained its progressive approach.