The world’s first large-scale exhibition on the theme of BREATHING in the art of the Old Masters and the present day looks at the many different facets of the act of breathing and its representation. More than 100 works engage in exciting dialogues, in some cases across the epochs. The result is an unconventional exploration of an existential theme that at first glance seems to be merely an unconscious, biological process but which in fact unfolds myriad social and political dimensions: from breath as a central biblical metaphor and an expression of our relationship to the world, onward to air pollution and respiratory illnesses, all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement (»I can’t breathe«).

Organised into different chapters, works by some 45 artists from 18 countries grapple with the topic of breathing in all its many facets, illustrating its socio-political and global relevance as well as its current explosive potential.

The interdisciplinary artistic media on view cover a broad range – from painting, sculpture and installation, to photography and drawing, to performance, video, film and sound pieces. The show features outstanding loans from public and private collections such as the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, as well as the Leiden Collection in New York. Among them are major works by the Old Masters Hendrick ter Brugghen and David Teniers the Younger as well as by international contemporary artists including Oscar Muñoz from Colombia and the Indian artist Vibha Galhotra – current fellow of the Philipp Otto Runge Foundation. In addition, artists have been invited to create new works especially for the exhibition (Helen Cammock, Alice Channer, Joachim Koester, Sebastian Stumpf, and others) or to modify existing works (Forensic Architecture, Kasia Fudakowski, Teresa Margolles, Markus Schinwald and Nina Canell). Augmented by works from the collection, BREATHING takes up an unusually large amount of space, extending across several areas of the Hamburger Kunsthalle building and all the way outside with a one-time monumental light projection (IN MEMORIAM by Jenny Holzer) on 19 November 2022.

Even in ancient times, breathing was recognised as more than just air flowing in and out of the body. It is the vehicle of life, of thought, of inspiration, and in many world cultures, of the soul. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, breathing is considered a central moment of the divine act of creation. We often take breathing for granted in our everyday lives, only paying attention when it becomes difficult as a result of disease, climate change, pandemics or physical violence. The last words spoken by George Floyd in 2020, »I can’t breathe«, have become virtually synonymous with racist and institutional violence. Far from being a neutral physiological process, breathing always has socio-political overtones, because having air to breathe exposes mechanisms of social and political inclusion or exclusion on varied levels, radically calling into question how we relate to the world and to each other. This is especially true in the days of a global pandemic, when access to oxygen has become vital and one’s own breath and that of others has come to represent a source of contagion and a potentially lethal threat.

The exhibition BREATHING gives visitors the opportunity to approach the multifaceted theme from a variety of angles and to identify both historical analogies and changing permutations through time in how artists handle this topic. Following FAIL BETTER (2013), WAITING (2017) and MOURNING (2020), the show is a further highlight in a series of socially relevant thematic exhibitions at the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Featured artists:

Marina Abramović & Ulay, Hendrik Andriessen, Thomas Baldischwyler, Hen­drick ter Brugghen, Helen Cammock, Nina Canell, Alice Channer, David Claerbout, Natalie Czech, Johan Christian Dahl, Cornelis Gerritsz. Decker, Lucinda Devlin, Johann Georg von Dillis, Allaert van Everdingen, Valie Export, Forensic Architecture, Hamburg Master (aka Master Francke), Caspar David Friedrich, Kasia Fudakowski, Bernardino Fungai, Vibha Galhotra, Jacob Gensler, Francisco de Goya, Andreas Greiner, Jeppe Hein, Dutch Masters (18th century), Jenny Holzer, Joachim Koester, Teresa Margolles, Jan von Mieris, Willem van Mieris, Bertram von Minden, Oscar Muñoz, Cornelia Parker, Giuseppe Penone, Dirk Reinartz, Anri Sala, Ari Benjamin Meyers, Godfried Schalcken, Markus Schinwald, Hendrick van Someren, Sebastian Stumpf, David Teniers the Younger, Thomson & Craighead, Lee Ufan, Claude-Joseph Vernet and David Zink Yi.



As part of the supporting programme, there will be two action weekends with guided tours, staged readings, artist and expert talks, and lectures (1–2 October and 19–20 November 2022).

Audio Tour:

For visitors wishing to explore the exhibition more thoroughly, or to prepare for or follow up on their visit, the Hamburger Kunsthalle app provides four audio tours that explain different aspects of the exhibition at thematic stations (free download on a mobile phone or accessible on an audio device for a 4-euro fee): an audio tour for adults in German and English plus a guide for children 8 years and over and an audio guide in easy language (both in German).


A richly illustrated publication (Hatje Cantz Verlag, Berlin) will approach the topic of breathing from diverse perspectives and disciplines, with excerpts from fiction and poetry, art-historical texts, and socio-political analyses forming puzzle pieces that can be put together to form a more comprehensive picture of this elusive and fascinating phenomenon. The book is available for 32 euros in the museum shop or on at the bookstore price of 44 euros.


Supported by: Hubertus Wald Stiftung, Freunde der Kunsthalle e. V., Hans Brökel Stiftung für Wissenschaft und Kultur, ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, Rudolf-August Oetker-Stiftung, Philipp Otto Runge Stiftung, Christine and Heinz Lehmann, Kunst- und Literaturstiftung Petra und K.-H. Zillmer, Danish Arts Foundation, Hamburg Ministry of Culture and Media

Ausstellungsansichten zu ATMEN



Projection on the exterior façade of the Galerie der Gegenwart, 19 Nov 2022, 8 p.m.-9 p.m.

Exhibition catalogue