The Museum Morsbroich collection has been closely linked to its exhibition history since 1951 and the thematic focuses of the various institute directors.
The first director of the museum, Curt Schweicher (1952 to 1958) wholeheartedly implemented Morsbroich's founding mission of taking a stand against the barbarity of National Socialism and for an active commitment to contemporary art. He collected works both from the fields of classical avant-gardes and contemporary art. He purchased paintings by Erich Heckel, Alexej von Jawlensky, Gabriele Münter and Oskar Schlemmer, as well as graphic works by Picasso and Henri Matisse. At the same time, he succeeded in acquiring works by contemporary artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, Antonio Corpora and Adolf Fleischmann.
Udo Kultermann (1959 to 1964) and Rolf Wedewer (1965 to 1995) as directors placed their focus on magic as a perspective for interpreting the world. As early as 1959, Kultermann exhibited works by Otto Piene, Heinz Mack and Yves Klein. In 1960 he organised the legendary “Monochrome Malerei” exhibition and in 1962 he dedicated the most comprehensive retrospective yet to the work of Lucio Fontana. He exhibited Chinese contemporary artists and the Crystal Chain: Visionary architects from Bruno Taut and his circle” (both 1963). On the occasion of the exhibition “Konstruktivisten” in 1962, he summarised his firm belief in the transformational power of art as follows: “The common characteristic of the works shown here is the newly created and thus transformed possibility of experiencing our world that arises out of the creative endeavours of individuals.” (Introduction to the catalogue)
While Kultermann’s magical world view was mystical and rather introverted, in 1965 Rolf Wedewer took up his post in Leverkusen more offensively with the aim of starting a highly controversial public debate. Characteristically, his first exhibition was entitled “Metamorphoses” and dealt with the question of the forms in which the dream worlds of surrealism could assert their place in the contemporary art world of 1965. His purchases in the years 1965 to 1975 and the acquisitions made by Udo Kultermann before him form the core of the museum’s magical collection today: Alexander Calder’s Mobile (1942, acq. 1962), Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale (around 1960, acq. 1962), 2 Weiße Bilder by Piero Manzoni (1958/59, acq. 1960/61), works by Jan J. Schoonvoven, Günther Uecker, Otto Piene, Jef Verheyen, Yves Klein and Francesco Lo Savio; early works by Arnulf Rainer, and Daniel Spoerri’s room-filling installation 20 Objets de Magie à la Noix. Zimtzauberkonserven – Symizyklus (1967, acq. 1969).
Among Rolf Wedewer’s early acquisitions is also Gerhard Richter’s Tiger (1965, acquired 1968), whose work came to form a thematic focus of the collection with watercolours, pictorial drawings and editions. Wedewer was responsible for further thematic focuses including extensive purchases of graphic works by Georg Baselitz, Alfred Hrdlicka, Fred Sandback, American minimalism and German Informel art.
Susanne Anna (1995 to 1999) and Gerhard Finckh (2000 to 2006) already had fewer funds available to them, but were able to purposefully strengthen the collection and motivate collectors to donate works. Susanne Anna enlisted the Leverkusen collectors Marianne and Fritz Walter to donate their collection including paintings, drawings and sculptures of German Informel art. In the international field, her acquisitions of Sherry Levine’s 9-part installation Hobbyhorses (1996), David Rabinowitch's 10-sided conic Plane in 7 Masses and 3 Scales (1994, acq. 1997) or Lawrence Weiner’s lettering “Auf die Barrikaden!” stand out.
Gerhard Finckh expanded the collection in the long term with a view to new media. Among others, he purchased Tony Oursler’s “Command Hallucination” (2001, acq. 2002) and was able to secure important photographic works such as Anna and Bernhard Blume’s “Ödipale Komplikationen” (1979, acq. 2003) or a series of legendary police photographs by the Swiss artist Arnold Odermatt for Morsbroich. Iconic, too, is the work “Museum – Use Mum” by Elmgreen & Dragset (2001, acq. 2002). In 2004, the museum’s acquisition funding was suspended because the city of Leverkusen had to adopt an emergency budget.
Markus Heinzelmann (as of 2006) expanded the sculpture park with funding from the Museumsverein Morsbroich e.V. association and the honorary friends of the museum. Site-specific artworks such as the neon text CLOSED by Jonathan Monk (2008, acq. 2008 by Provinzial Rheinland) on the facade of the castle, the popular “Water Island Morsbroich” fountain by Jeppe Hein (2010, acq. 2010) or Werner Reiterer’s balloons in the trees of the park (Life isn't Funny / Life is Great, 2012, acq. 2012) transform the park into a free-of-charge art experience for local residents. As part of the “Keramische Räume” exhibition in 2014, the museum received a representative museum cross-section of sculptures, paintings and graphic works by Norbert Prangenberg donated from a Cologne resident’s private collection (Niels Dietrich), which is perhaps the most important acquisition of the last 20 years. With means from NRW culture funding and the Museumsverein association, important works by the Leverkusen-born artists Thomas Grünfeld (o.T., Ei/weiß, 2000, acq. 2014) and Wolf Vostell could be acquired.