Swiss curator Christoph Vitali—whose leadership of the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and the Haus der Kunst in Munich, among other major arts institutions, once earned him the appellation “Maestro of all art managers”—died in his hometown of Zurich at the age of seventy-nine on December 18, reports Monopol.
Born in 1940 to a sculptor and a teacher, Vitali earned his doctorate in law in 1968 from the University of Zurich and worked as a lawyer before he changed careers, directing his attention to the arts. He served as head of the city of Zurich’s cultural department from 1971 to 1978 and as the administrative director of the Städtische Bühnen—the first permanent theater venue in Frankfurt—but did not gain widespread recognition in the cultural sector until 1986, when he became the founding director of the Schirn Kunsthalle, where he remained at the helm until 1994. There, he staged a number of landmark shows, including a Wassily Kandinsky retrospective in 1989 that drew nearly 190,000 visitors; “Marc Chagall: The Russian Years 1906–1922” (1991); and “The Great Utopia” (1992), which was devoted to the Russian avant-garde.
In 1993, Vitali became the first director of the Haus der Kunst, which was turned into a foundation the year prior. He oversaw a $27 million renovation of the dilapidated Nazi-era building—originally inaugurated by Hitler in 1937—that houses the museum. During his decade-long tenure he organized over one hundred exhibitions, including numerous blockbusters such as “Elan Vital”(The Eye of Eros, 1993); “Resistance – Thought Pictures for the Future” (1993–94), for which contemporary artists weighed in on the institution’s fraught history; and a presentation of works from the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia (1995) that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. Under his guidance, the Haus der Kunst also extended its hours to 10 AM to 10 PM, and began holding nightly performances.
“Christoph Vitali had the gift of welcoming people to the arts and making them tangible and tangible for everyone,” said Bernd Sibler, the Bavarian State Minister for Education and Culture. “His passion for art and his love for artistic detail were therefore reflected in his exhibitions. The years in Munich were a great gift for the art and cultural landscape in Bavaria.”
Vitali departed the Haus der Kunst in 2003, when his contract with the noncollecting museum expired. He then headed to Switzerland, where he was hired as director of the Fondation Beyeler, allowing founder and acting director Ernst Beyeler to play a smaller role at the museum. Vitali held the post from 2003 to 2007, then worked for a stint as the interim director of Bundeskunsthalle Bonn. He received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1997 in recognition of his contributions to the arts. Among his other accolades are the Stadttaler from Zurich for his impact on cultural policy, the Goethe plaque of the city of Frankfurt, and the medal “Munich shines – The friends of Munich.”