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Leipzig on View

Another of the city's venues is the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst (Gallery for Contemporary Art), or GfZK. In 2004, the GfZK opened a new wing designed by the Berlin and Vienna-based architecture firm AS-IF. The gallery's mission is to exhibit Leipzig artists alongside their colleagues from other former Soviet Bloc countries in order to explore how they are addressing post-socialist life in Eastern Europe. The show "Urban Paintings" recently paired Leipzig-trained Doris Ziegler's old-guard realist canvases with pieces by Verena Landau, a Leipzig artist schooled in the former West Germany, and work by Rafal Bujnowski, a Polish artist. On the new building's ground floor, locals young and old gather for conversation at Café Neubau. On Friday and Saturday nights, the café becomes Club Weezie, with music from DJ's and live bands.

Leipzig was spared the devastation suffered by neighboring Dresden during the war, and much of the city's gilded Baroque architecture survives. There are also a few visible remnants of Communist-era architecture, including a heroic sculpture of Karl Marx, for whom Leipzig University was once named. The city's latest cultural landmark, the Museum der Bildenden Künste, sits squarely between relics of two architectural eras: the empty hulks of dour housing blocks and the Katharinenstrasse's neat file of sherbet-hued Baroque houses. Designed by the little-known Berlin architects Hufnagel Pütz Rafaelian, it opened at the end of 2004 as the new home of the city's most august museum, founded in 1873 by the Leipzig Art Association. The building doesn't look like much from the outside: a plain box with parts of its skin cut away to reveal two-story glass atriums around the perimeter. But inside, double-height galleries filled with daylight and finished in blond wood and smooth, exposed concrete showcase work from new Leipzig School artists alongside the canvases and sculptures by Max Klinger and Caspar David Friedrich.

Much of eastern Germany has been struggling with economic stagnation, a shrinking population, and more than 18 percent unemployment. But in 2002, Porsche opened a test course and a gleaming factory (which looks like a giant UFO) in Leipzig, and in 2004, shipping giant DHL announced that it was moving its European operations base from Brussels to Leipzig-Halle Airport; nearly $400 million in investment and the prospect of 10,000 new jobs came with DHL's announcement. And last summer, former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder cut the ribbon on a swooping building by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid at BMW's new plant outside the city center.

Zwirner recognizes that someday, like London and Cologne, Leipzig will see its reign as a hot new art city come to an end, and another city—he predicts Shanghai—will take its place. But Leipzig's resurgence will outlast the art world's waning interest. As GfZK curator Ilina Koralova puts it, in every sense, "Leipzig is back."

Raul Barreneche is a contributing editor for T+L.


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