The Felix Nussbaum Haus Museum is in Osnabrück, Germany. It houses the paintings of German-Jewish painter Felix Nussbaum. The Museum also has an exhibition space, which pivots on racialism and intolerance.
Felix Nussbaum was born on the11th of December 1904 in Osnabrück. He was the second son of a Jewish middle-class merchant family. It seems that the artist had given up all hope after being forced to live in exile and with the constant threat of being discovered since 1933.
“If I perish, don’t let my paintings die, exhibit them!” Felix said these words in 1942 while giving his works for safekeeping to his Belgian dentist friend, during his Belgian exile. He and his wife Felka Platek (a Polish painter) were discovered two years later and then deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered in 1944 in a Nazi concentration camp.
His two cousins, Gustel Moses-Nussbaum and Shulamith Jaari-Nussbaum, who live in Israel, with the help of Osnabruck officials, got two rooms dedicated solely to showcase the works of Felix Nusbaum in the town’s Museum of Cultural History. After retrieving nearly 160 of his paintings (some of which were incomplete or damaged), from the Belgian dentist, the Municipal Corporation of Osnabrück decided to add another building just for the works of Felix Nussbaum. A design competition was held in 1994 and Daniel Libeskind’s design which he coined as, “A Museum without Exit” was selected. In July 1998, 54 years after Felix Nussbaum’s death– the Felix Nussbaum Haus Museum opened its gates to the public.
The Museum is an 18,900 square-foot extension to the Osnabrück Museum. The structure is made entirely in concrete, without coatings in the “path”, the exterior area of exhibition halls is covered with wood and the bridge is zinc-clad.
The museum is made of three intersecting structures; the first structure is made of wood and displays Felix Nussbaum’s early paintings. The second structure is made of concrete and cuts distinctly through the first structure, it showcases the paintings made by the artist while he was in hiding. The third is a metal (zinc-clad) structure showcasing his recently retrieved paintings.
Daniel Libeskind also designed a narrow gallery to showcase the works of Nussbaum, which the artist had painted in the basement while in hiding. “You cannot take in the paintings from a distance; they must be viewed in the claustrophobic and dimming environment in which they were painted,” Libeskind said.
The structure reflects the personal turmoil of the artist through an array of broken geometries, claustrophobic spaces, and dead ends. The Felix Nussbaum Haus is connected to the Museum of Cultural History but has its own entrance.
The slopes in the corridors, windows which slit and breach the walls, the doors that shut with a clang giving the feeling of imprisonment and the sharp turnings, all this experience disorients the visitors and creates a sense of “lack of connection”, thus creating the environment the painter faced in his life during his exile, and thereby understanding his predicament which reflects through his paintings. The tour of the museum is like an experience of going back and forth in time.
The visitors enter into the Nussbaum pathway, which is cut open to stress on the importance of entering ‘The Museum without Exit.’ The long narrow pathway and the bare-blank concrete exterior highlight – the empty canvas of Nussbaum’s martyred life and it is needed to comprehend his ‘oeuvre’.
The second structure displays the paintings of the Felix Nussbaum, made while in hiding from the Nazis called “Nussbaum Gang.” It evokes the feeling of cramped quarters in Brussels, where he painted his last canvasses. The metal structure displays Nussbaum’s newly discovered paintings. The subdued lighting and the interior maze of pathways, many leading to dead ends, gives rise to the feeling of subjugation.
The three structures denote the three important phases of Felix Nussbaum’s life and each faces, the three important locations of his life, they are the cities—Rome, Hamburg, and Berlin where Felix Nussbaum studied art and the fourth side faces the concentration camp, where he was killed. The galleries house approximately 170 of Nussbaum’s paintings. In 2011, Daniel Libeskind also designed and completed an extension to the museum.
Architect Daniel Libeskind, born in 1946, is an American architect of Polish- Jewish descent. He is the son of holocaust survivors and his wife Nina is a Jew. He built the Felix Nussbaum Haus Museum at the age of 52 and it is his first completed building.
Daniel Libeskind’s building breaks the traditional idea of museums as “Temples of Contemplation”. He wanted the visitors to experience the physical and emotional turmoil, which Felix Nussbaum went through during his exile, not only through his paintings but also through his iconic structure. His building does not allow visitors to be submissive spectators. Daniel Libeskind’s architecture sets new standards regarding the building of a museum.