Any overview of the collection must begin with the works of Paul Klee (1879 -1940). Initially, 88 works by this artist – all of them formerly owned by a private collector in Pittsburgh – formed the core inventory of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. For this ensemble of paintings, drawings, and works in color on paper, the Federal State of North Rhine Westphalia paid altogether 6 million German marks – an immense sum at the time, albeit one that seems ludicrously minimal today.
Cubism and Picasso
Among major work ensembles devoted to individual artists is one consisting of 12 works by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) which encompasses nearly all of this artist's major creative periods. In its own way, each of these works represents a highpoint of the collection, and each underscores the heterogeneity of Picasso's oeuvre, his delight in stylistic experimentation, and the inexhaustible inventiveness of his fantasy-driven art.
Another important focus at the Kunstsammlung is the “Pittura Metafisica” tendency, represented by the works of Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), as well as works by Surrealist artists.
American Art after 1945
Another prominent accent within the Kunstsammlung is formed by circa 40 works of American art after 1945. The monumental Number 32 by Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), dated 1950, is one of the artist’s mural-sized “drip paintings,” and is among the most important examples of Abstract Expressionism. Among four works by Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) is Wager, produced in 1957, one of the largest and most intricate of his “combine paintings.”
Photography and Video
The newly-won importance of artistic photography over the past two decades is reflected in the oeuvre of Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931–2007 and *1934), from which the Kunstsammlung has acquired six series and three individual images.
The artist’s room and the installation are collecting priorities of the Kunstsammlung, and both areas have been expanded continuously in recent years. Most of them are installed in the K21 Ständehaus. Among them is Nam June Paik’s TV-Garden, Christian Boltanski’s El Caso, Ilya Kabakov’s My Grandfather´s Shed and works by Paul McCarthy (*1945) and Thomas Schütte (*1954).
Contemporary German Art
In 2005, the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia succeeded in acquiring the collection of Simone and Heinz Ackermann. The focus of the collection is figurative sculpture and installations beginning in the 1980s, and it includes a number of works by well-known artists from Düsseldorf such as Katharina Fritsch, Martin Honert, Reinhard Mucha, Thomas Ruff, and Thomas Schütte.
For a variety of reasons, artists have continually called into question the boundaries between traditional genres such as painting, sculpture, and drawing. An important artist who generated the contents of his works out of the specific properties and characteristics of the materials he employed was Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). In 1992, his late work Palazzo Regale (1985) was acquired for the Kunstsammlung.