The Brain

in Art & Science

28 January to 26 June 2022

What is the brain: control centre, supercomputer, locus of the self? One thing is certain: it is one of the last great mysteries of the human body. Brain research is constantly delivering new insights, but it also continues to face a great many unresolved questions. Not least because of this, the human brain inspires a wealth of speculation and hypotheses – not only on the part of scientists but also among artists. Uncharted territory offers space for fictions and fantasies as well as for bold theories.

«If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn't.» Emerson Pugh, 1977

In this exhibition, art, cultural history and science converge to create an intriguingly multifaceted panorama. In addition to brain research and neurology, philosophy, religion, the history of medicine and psychology have their say. The interdisciplinary dialogue constitutes a deliberate experiment with the aim of approaching the brain from different directions.

In five sections, each devoted to a complex question, the exhibition takes the visitor on a journey through the cultural history and scientific exploration of the brain. The seemingly simple first question, ‘What is in my head?’, probes the anatomy of the brain. The second question, ‘How do I envision the processes of the brain?’, asks about the cognitive functions and active processes in the brain. The third question is of a more philosophical nature, ‘Are my body and I the same thing? The dualistic idea of our soul as a separate entity that is detached from the body persists doggedly. Modern brain research prefers to speak of ‘consciousness’ instead and considers mental processes as inseparable from physical ones. The interplay between body and mind is evident in the function of our senses. The fourth question is therefore, ‘What do I make of the world?’ How does the world enter our heads and how reliable are our perception and memory? In conclusion, the fifth question of the exhibition is, ‘Should I optimise my brain?’ Today, implants in the brain are helping to alleviate symptoms of illness. But what will the human being of the future look like? Artistic visions in response to this question are often inspired by the latest research. Much of it remains pure fantasy, but it stimulates interesting thoughts. For the question of what humanity might become is preceded by a much more fundamental, ethical consideration: What is it that makes us human?

The exhibition brings together some 300 exhibits from the realms of art, cultural history and science. Among them are important objects from the history of science such as René Descartes’ skull or Korbinian Brodmann’s brain map drawings. From the realms of art history and contemporary art, there are works by Willi Baumeister, Mariechen Danz, Birgit Dieker, Max Ernst, Jan Fabre, Isa Genzken, Douglas Gordon, Asta Gröting, Jessica Harrison, Norbert W. Hinterberger, Olaf Holzapfel, Carsten Höller, Frances Kearney, Paco Knöller, Joseph Kosuth, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, André Masson, Sigmar Polke, Arnulf Rainer, Odilon Redon, Dieter Roth, Michael Sailstorfer, Oskar Schlemmer, Jeremy Shaw, Kiki Smith, Fiona Tan, Rosemarie Trockel, Lu Yang and Thomas Zipp et al.

An inclusive guidance system takes visitors through the exhibition. In addition, an independent 3D exhibition was developed to run on the internet parallel to the ‘analogue’ exhibition in the Bundeskunsthalle. The two exhibitions are linked through several augmented reality experiences in the Bundeskunsthalle. The accompanying virtual exhibition was made possible by the NEUSTART KULTUR programme of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive publication.

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Admission tickets

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Free admission for everyone up to and including the age of 18.
Happy-Hour-Ticket: 7 € (available two hours before the museum closes; individual visitors only, all exhibitions.) Combined ticket for all exhibitions available. More information

Literatur zur Ausstellung in der Bibliothek


Photography is not only allowed in this exhibition, it is encouraged. You are also welcome to share your photos on social media and use the official hashtags.


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