Art is literally all around you in Stuttgart, Southwest Germany’s largest city. The combination of four major art museums, more than a dozen galleries and one of Germany’s largest and loveliest Baroque palaces are a testimony to Stuttgart’s thriving art and culture scene. So active is it in nurturing young artists and preserving the region’s long and rich creative traditions, the state of Baden-Württemberg has an entire Arts Foundation dedicated to the long heritage of artists who have lived and worked here.
Not all Stuttgart’s art is in galleries and museums: in the broad Schloßplatz, the city’s focal point, you’ll find pieces of modern sculpture by Alexander Calder, Alfred Hrdlicka, and Otto Hajek. And it’s considered one of Germany’s top cities for creative street art: the 100-foot-long wall of an underpass in the suburb of Bad Cannstatt, known as the Hall of Fame, has grown into a tourist attraction.
The city’s premier art museum is the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, whose new building made architectural news at its opening in 1984. Designed by James Stirling, the post-modernist building added exhibit spaces that, combined with the Old Gallery, made Stuttgart’s State Gallery one of Germany’s most visited museums, with one of Europe’s finest art collections.
Superb collections of German Renaissance art and the 14th– to 19th-century Italian and Dutch masters (Rembrandt, Tiepolo) are almost overshadowed by the museum’s 20th-century paintings, especially those prior to 1980. You’ll see significant works by all the great artists of that era — Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Salvador Dalí, Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Beckmann, and Pablo Picasso, including his 1956 sculptural group, The Bathers.
The big glass cube that dominates one side of the Schloßplatz was designed to house works as modern and cutting-edge as the building itself: The Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. The clean lines and uncluttered expanses continue inside, compatible spaces to display the works of contemporary and the modern art that the museum is dedicated to. Stark white walls and indirect lighting in its 5,000 square meters of exhibition space show off the vibrant colors and bold images of modernist works to their best advantage.
Some of the most important installations and sculptures of Swiss conceptual artist Dieter Roth are in the permanent collections, as are the playful free-flowing paintings of Stuttgart-born abstract artist Willi Baumeister.
Here too, is the largest collection of significant works by Otto Dix. You don’t need to know the characters he portrays to enjoy and appreciate Dix’s work, but the museum’s excellent descriptive panels (in English) enhance this exhibition. Providing the background to his satirical paintings of German high society between the world wars, the signage identifies many of the 1920s socialites and celebrities he satirizes.
Although it is not specifically an art museum, the Landesmuseum Württemberg is dedicated to sharing the cultural and artistic history of Württemberg from the Ice Age through the end of World War I. To this end, the arts displayed extend from the oldest known works of sculptural art through exquisite Art Nouveau textiles.
Masterpieces of bronze, iron, silver and gold from the Hochdorf princely grave show the artistic culture of the Iron Age, and the collections include Celtic and Roman metalwork and jewelry, medieval sculptures and 4000 years of glass art. These, in addition to medieval art, musical instruments, and the magnificent Württemberg royal crown and crown jewels, are housed throughout the four wings of the Altes Schloss or Old Castle, an immense building in the center of Stuttgart, built between 1553-78.
From the porticoed courtyard, descend the spiral staircase of the corner tower into vaulted underground rooms dating back to the 16th century. Among its pillars and arches is displayed a collection of Renaissance clocks, their cases showing the apex of the goldsmiths’ art.
A children’s museum, the Junges Schloss – Young Castle – highlights themes from the collections and special exhibitions with interactive and hands-on creative activities to engage young visitors. Free concerts, including a choral performance during the December Christkindlmarkt, are held in the huge Altes Schloss courtyard.
For a look at the opulent arts of the Baroque era, travel a short distance to the town of Ludwigsburg to tour Ludwigsburg Palace, one of Germany’s loveliest Baroque palaces. To decorate his private apartments, Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg hired the master fresco artist Matthäus Günther, whose work in more than 40 churches throughout Bavaria and Tyrol helped develop the popularity of the rococo style in southern Germany.
The effect is breathtaking; even the walls of dressing rooms are covered in hand-painted scenes and designs. The ceiling of the soaring Marble Hall is a fresco of clouds on a blue background that gives the illusion of looking up into the sky.
Outside, expansive gardens complete the setting, and although the layout and design are not as they were in Duke Carl Eugen’s day, the north garden recreates the elaborate designs and Baroque-style border. Elsewhere, the garden evolved with later owners and styles, and some of these features have been preserved and restored.
Among the lush flower beds, trees and landscapes you’ll find Emichsburg Castle. The artificial ruin with its tower was built as a folly in the early 1800s, surrounded by a landscape garden and a playground for young palace guests. The playground had been restored, and the garden hosts frequent festivals and programs to engage young visitors and involve the local community, so the castle is a lot more than just a beautiful tourist attraction.
A vibrant segment of Stuttgart’s cultural landscape is its abundance of art galleries, each with its own specialties and appeal. Owned by a long-time observer and expert on the local art community, Kunsthaus und Galerie Keim specializes in works created after 1945. Another major name in art circles, Galerie Schlichtenmaier shows one of the world’s top collections of art by Stuttgart-born artist Willi Baumeister, whose works you’ll see in the Kunstmuseum. For contemporary sculpture and graphics with a political message, look to Galerie Reinhard Hauff.
Other galleries are connected with institutions dedicated to nurturing local arts and artists. Künstlerhaus Stuttgart is a public/private-supported center for contemporary art, with an internationally recognized gallery. The Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen supports a variety of cultural programs, including a gallery of works by local and international artists. The Kunststiftung (Arts Foundation) Baden-Württemberg promotes artists who were born or worked in the state, a good place to see the work of younger and emerging artists.
Stuttgart is well equipped to welcome travelers for both business and leisure, with both hotels and restaurants. You’ll find original contemporary art on the walls of the luxury Waldhotel Stuttgart. Rooms have balconies overlooking a woodland park, a quiet setting only a short U-Bahn ride from Schloßplatz. The dining room serves local and international dishes based on local ingredients. For lunch in art-infused surroundings overlooking Schloßplatz, take the elevator to CUBE Restaurant, on the top floor of the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart.
By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Europe Correspondent, Planetware
Luxury Travel Editor, BellaOnline
Features, Global Traveler Magazine