The Museum der Moderne Salzburg is responsible for a diverse, extensive collection totaling some 55,000 works ranging from the 19th and 20th centuries to the present day. Since it was founded, it has also had a focus on graphic art and photography. Along with its own collection the Museum der Moderne Salzburg is responsible for the Federal Photography Collection, which itself comprises some 12,000 titles. Since 2014, the Museum has also been entrusted with a further prominent collection: the internationally oriented Generali Foundation Collection, which holds around 2,100 works in various media, and whose focus is on conceptual art, media art and performance-based art. In total, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg holds some 31,000 works on paper, 22,000 photographs, 800 paintings, 700 sculptures and installations, and 800 films and video works (including installations with electronic media).
Since it was founded, six directors have been responsible for its collections up to now: Otto Breicha (1980–1997), Peter Weiermair (1998–2001), Agnes Husslein (2001–2005), Toni Stooss (2005–2013), Sabine Breitwieser (2013–2018), and Thorsten Sadowsky (2018–2022). The foundations of the collection of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg were laid by the art dealer Friedrich Welz (1903–1980) when he donated his private art collection – primarily consisting of modern graphic art – to the Province of Salzburg in the late 1970s, on condition that a museum be created to house it. The Modern Gallery and Graphic Art Collection – Rupertinum was accordingly opened in 1983, declaring its aspirations to be an “Albertina of the West” in reference to the Viennese museum that is especially famous for its graphic art collection. The new Museum in Salzburg was housed in the historic Baroque building of the Rupertinum. Welz’s problematic contact with the National Socialist regime meant that the Museum der Moderne Salzburg decided in 2004 to embark on extensive research into the provenance of its holdings.
Under director Peter Weiermair (1998–2001), work began on giving a more international focus to both the program of the museum and its collecting policy. The building on the Mönchsberg was inaugurated in the fall of 2004, bringing not only an expansion of the museum’s exhibition space to some 3,000 square meters, but above all spacious rooms suitable for exhibiting larger-format works to complement the Rupertinum’s more intimate spaces. This also promoted a reorientation in the museum’s collecting strategy under the leadership of Director Agnes Husslein (2000–2005), who began to focus on large-format paintings, installations, expansive sculptures, and media art. At the same time, the museum started showing more works by young contemporary artists on the national and international scenes and acquiring them for its collection.
During the tenure of Toni Stooss (2005–2013), the gallery owner Thaddaeus Ropac donated a large number of works to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, including art by Georg Baselitz, Sylvie Fleury, Anselm Kiefer, Imi Knoebel, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Hubert Scheibl, Not Vital, and Erwin Wurm. This gift not only fostered the museum’s strategic shift toward Austrian and international contemporary art, it also directed its attention toward abstract art. Under the direction of Sabine Breitwieser (2013–2018) and Thorsten Sadowsky (2018–2022), the international orientation of the museum’s collection, for which Lena Nievers has been responsible as Head of Collection since 2018, has been strengthened by acquisitions of larger-scale works and groups of works by artists such as Kader Attia, Anna Boghiguian, Andrea Geyer, Renée Green, Nilbar Güreş, Dorit Margreiter, Paulina Ołowska, Sigalit Landau, Wiebke Siem, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, and Fiona Tan.
One of the thematic cornerstones of the collection of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg is the Expressionist image of the human being. This focus helped to shape the early history of the collection and meant that it had a clear emphasis on figurative art. When the Museum’s new premises on the Mönchsberg were built, contemporary positions in Austrian and international art were given greater prominence. As the center of competence for Austrian photography after 1945, the Museum has an extensive collection of the most important works in the photographic history of the country. A top-class collection of Japanese photography also exemplifies the Museum’s international perspective. The internationally renowned Generali Foundation Collection, which is one of the most important corporate collections in Austria, has a significant focus on contemporary art, featuring feminist, performative and conceptual works created since the 1970s.
The current strategy for the further development of the collections of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg pays special attention to acquiring works by female artists. The aim is to undo today’s clear asymmetry in favor of male artists by achieving a greater long-term balance. It is also necessary to expand the scope of the collection, which has hitherto been oriented toward Austrian, Western European, and North American art. With a few exceptions, this Eurocentric approach has not yet been subjected to critical questioning. What the American art historian Hal Foster has called the “ethnographic turn in contemporary art”—artistic strategies that draw on anthropological and ethnographic methodologies and are focused on issues of cultural difference, diversity, and representation—has so far been underrepresented in the collections of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg. The days in which what was called global art was largely white art, while other positions and associated value systems and aesthetic concepts remained excluded from the Olympus of the white cube, are over. Instead, the critical examination of the “cultural construction of whiteness” (Kobena Mercer) is on the agenda. Another focus in the collections and research program is the East-West problem in Europe; here, we examine from an artistic perspective what Europe means for us and for our identity.
The aim is to explore the hybridity of the “third space” between cultures that the Indian theorist Homi K. Bhabha has described so vividly. What we need is a “polyperspectival” way of thinking that deconstructs and dissolves conventional narratives and stereotyped modes of perception. What is at stake is the human condition—the defining terms of human existence and the human as a being-in-the-world.
As part of a comprehensive digitization process, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg is working on making the collections digitally accessible on this website.
This digitization process is supported by the Salzburg state.