The petite lady looks intrigued. She approaches a Max Beckmann painting full of curiosity, studies it and comments on it as if she were a visitor like any other in the Gunzenhauser Museum. But this is in fact “her” museum, as many of Chemnitz’s citizens would say with great respect. For without Ingrid Mössinger – the dynamic and hugely well connected Director General of the Chemnitz Art Collections – things would certainly look very different in the former bank building that now houses an internationally recognised collection featuring works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Conrad Felixmüller and, of course, Otto Dix.

An industrial city? A city of art!

Before taking up her post in Saxony in 1996, art historian Mössinger worked in a number of different cities, including Sydney and Frankfurt am Main. But her greatest success was to come in Chemnitz, or the “City of Modernity” as it styles itself. It’s a title that Chemnitz richly deserves and one to which Ingrid Mössinger’s negotiation skills have made a significant contribution. In 2003, she persuaded Munich gallery owner Alfred Gunzenhauser that Saxony should become home to his art collection. It was a coup that both impressed and irritated the art world in equal measure. Chemnitz? An industrial city in eastern Germany? Ingrid Mössinger is passionate in her response: “It’s not! Or at least, it’s more than that…” While industrialisation obviously brought many factories and smoking chimneys to the city, it also attracted “industrialists, lawyers and bankers who were enthusiastic about art, held lavish parties and filled their houses with artworks,” says Mössinger. Edvard Munch and numerous other artists lived in Chemnitz at that time, she explains, and many of them received commissions for new works.

Art for today and tomorrow

It is for this precise reason that Chemnitz is the perfect location for Gunzenhauser’s collection, which comprises 2,500 important modernist and Expressionist paintings plus significant works from the second half of the 20th century. The museum director moves on, examining two sombre works by Dix before halting in front of an unobtrusive painting. Manfred Bluth is the artist’s name that appears on the plaque next to the frame. “That one triggered Alfred Gunzenhauser’s passion for collecting,” says Ingrid Mössinger. “When he was a student, he saw it in Rudolf Springer’s gallery in Berlin and eventually bought it. He paid for it in instalments of 20 marks a month.” It’s a fascinating story and many of the other 2,500 Gunzenhauser works have similarly interesting tales attached to them. Unfortunately, there is only room to display a fraction of the paintings over the three floors of the exhibition, but Ingrid Mössinger remains pragmatic. It’s probably reassuring for a museum director to know there is still plenty of subject matter safely stored away ready for many more impressive exhibitions. “Nothing bad will happen to them just because they’re not currently on show,” she says. Which is indeed the case.