The Best of Germany: Städelschule

"Was du liebst, bringt dich auch zum Weinen" von Tobias Rehberger

The Best of Germany: Städelschule

At the heart of Frankfurt’s art scene is a school that has attracted many international art students to Germany. The Städelschule has a reputation for a high level of instruction and for nurturing students working at the forefront of conceptual and experimental contemporary art.
by Diana Perry

The professional home of well-known teachers from Max Beckmann in the 1920s to Martin Kippenberger and Jörg Immendorff in the 1990s, the Städelschule is one of the most renowned art schools in Europe.  The school’s relatively small number of students–about 150 in the visual arts and 40 in architecture–allows for direct and intense engagement with professors.

The current list of professors teaching in the fine arts program reflects the faculty’s international caliber. For example, prospective students can study film with Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, fine art with British artist Simon Starling (both recipients of the prestigious Turner Prize), or sculpture with Tobias Rehberger (winner of the Venice Biennale Golden Lion award). Artists Judith Hopf and Willem de Rooij (fine art) and Michael Krebber (painting), all featured in 2012’s Documenta 13 in Kassel, are also faculty members.

The international emphasis at the school is reflected in the students and faculty; more than 60 percent of the students come from outside of Germany. Courses are taught in either German or English, and although a language test is not required as part of the application process, students are expected to have adequate English and/or German skills.

One of the Städelschule's distinguishing features is its connection to both an extensive museum collection and a cutting-edge exhibition space. The Städel Museum covers seven hundred years of European art history from the 14th century to the present. Established in 1817 in tandem with the art school, the museum is home to an extensive collection of work by artists such as Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Picasso, and Kippenberger. Last year, the museum expanded its holdings of contemporary German art with a display of 600 artworks on permanent loan from the Deutsche Bank’s collection.  The new wing that houses the collection doubled the museum’s exhibition space. Students at the Städelschule literally work in the museum’s backyard—their studios overlook the new extension.

Portikus, located off the Alte Brücke on a small island in the river Main, is an architecturally striking space where international exhibitions of contemporary art are presented. Portikus has been part of the Städelschule since 1987, and students are encouraged to engage in dialogue with the artists who exhibit there. In the last few decades, Portikus has developed into an important venue for experimental art in Germany. Artists training at the Städelschule can take advantage of the school’s close relationship to the space, which has helped build up their international reputation. In one memorable recent exhibition, New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson transformed Portikus into a gigantic walk-through camera obscura.

The Städelschule program

Studies at the Städelschule focus on artistic work created within the framework of professors’ classes, and the real emphasis is on each student’s personal studio work. Potential students apply to join a specific professor’s class, in order to train directly under that teacher, who is very often an established artist with an international reputation and career.  Anyone who wants to study fine art at the Städelschule must be at least 18 years old, and has to submit a portfolio with a selection of his or her artwork, in any medium.

Each professor’s class is made up of students in various semesters, and while it is possible to change classes, it must be with the permission of both the current and future professor. Every student at the Städelschule must take classes in history, art theory, and philosophy, as well as various technical classes. The Städelschule is tuition-free with minimal fees required each semester.

Alongside the more traditional mediums of photo, print, and sound at the school, there is also a cooking lab. This was set up in 1978 by Peter Kubelka, who was appointed professor of the “Class for Film and Cooking as an Artistic Genre.” Kubelka, an artist and filmmaker who was a co-founder of the Anthology Film Archives in New York, insisted that cooking is a philosophical art. The tradition of cooking at the Städelschule has carried on in a variety of forms, such as international symposiums during which artists from around the world present regional specialties to hundreds of guests.

The Fine Art program is the main program at the Städelschule, but there are also graduate degrees in Architecture and Curatorial and Critical Studies. The Städelschule Architecture Class offers a two-year Master’s in architecture. The current dean, Dutch architect Ben van Berkel, works with Johan Bettum, a Norwegian architect and program director at the school, to prepare students in the architectural program for professional or academic careers.

The Master’s program in Curatorial and Critical Studies provides prospective curators and art critics with a theoretical and practical basis for their future work. Students have the opportunity to combine academic expertise with curatorial skills and practical knowledge, and the program is a joint endeavor between the Städelschule and Goethe University in Frankfurt, as well as five leading museums.

At the end of the five-year program in fine arts, students receive a certificate that they have completed their studies. Students can then apply for the title “Meisterschüler” or “Meisterschülerin” with the support of the primary professor. This is a title that is specific to art studies in Germany, and conveys the sense that, after five years of learning from the professor in a “master class,” the student has really reached the next level of artistic accomplishment. It isn’t the direct equivalent of a Master’s degree, but it reflects the emphasis on the master/apprenticeship relationship the stretches back centuries in fine arts training. 

Each winter, all fine arts students can show their work at the school’s annual exhibition of student work, the Rundgang. This three-day event is a highlight of the art calendar in Frankfurt, when the school’s doors are opened to the public. These student exhibitions attract large numbers of viewers–in 2012, more than 13,000 attended–and are accompanied by a series of performances, talks, film screenings, and parties that brings together the contemporary art world in Frankfurt. In October 2012, for the fourth year running, graduates of the Städelschule presented their final works at the MMK Zollamt, an offshoot space of Frankfurt’s Museum of Modern Art.

For more information, check out the following websites:


Städel Museum


MMK Zollamt

Museum of Modern Art (Frankfurt)

by Diana Perry