The Gropius Bau in Berlin is entering a new era. From September 2023, curator and cultural scientist Jenny Schlenzka will take over the management of the house. Schlenzka, born in Berlin, has been working in New York for 20 years. There she led Performance Space New York, a dream factory for experimental dance, theater and interdisciplinary performance art based in the East Village since the 1980s, into the 21st century.
After the former director Stephanie Rosenthal left the Gropius Bau in autumn 2022 after just over four years in office for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Berlin’s most important exhibition house ran on autopilot for months.
The Gropius Bau ran on autopilot for months
The search for a successor ran in the background, the exhibition program planned by Rosenthal was in the foreground, an interim director was not named. The Gropius Bau is the exhibition center of the Berlin Festival, which is funded by the federal government. Its director Matthias Pees, who has been in office since September 2022, is said to have suggested Schlenzka as a candidate.
For Jenny Schlenzka, this career step is also a homecoming. Her love of theater developed in Berlin, and she studied cultural studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin. “The Gropius Bau is one of the most beautiful exhibition halls in Germany, maybe even in Europe,” she told the New York Times in an interview about her farewell.
Jenny Schlenzka came to New York University (NYU) in 2002 on a scholarship. As a film and theater fan she discovered performance art for herself and became an assistant to Klaus Biesenbach, who was then setting up a film and media department at MoMA. Biesenbach made Schlenzka Assistant Curator of Performance at MoMA, later Associate Curator at MoMA PS1.
Schlenzka ensures more diversity
She will be missed in New York as a bold innovator who rebranded and renamed the Performance Space, formerly called PS122, in 2017. She worked with communities in the East Village. Her series “No series” dealt with denial. It was about saying “no” to being forced to “perform” all the time, it was about fixed identities, about the pressure to normalize.
In 2020, Schlenzka put the program, the budget and the keys of the house in the hands of artists for a year. Despite the pandemic, they pulled it off. Institution and artistry reached their limits. Despite all the difficulties, it was a productive experiment, says Schlenzka.
Jenny Schlenzka is known for putting artists at the center of her programs and themes. Experimental live programs and ephemeral art will certainly gain more weight under her leadership. And the signs point to transdisciplinarity. When he took office in 2022, Matthias Pees had already said that he wanted to dovetail the festival program in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele and the Gropius Bau more closely.