A profound and at the same time constantly evolving collection forms the backbone of museum work. It makes it possible to recognise what previous generations have considered valuable, which gaps perhaps need to be closed at present and which omissions need to be made up for in the future. This requires both solid scientific research capabilities and the joy of experimental surveys and contextualisation. All those involved in building up the collection, above all the artists, can rely on the fact that the handling of their works in the museum is characterised by consistency and long-term responsibility.

The collection at the Kunstmuseum Ahlen currently comprises around 1,500 exhibits by more than 200 artists. To date, the Kunstmuseum Ahlen has not shown a permanent exhibition of its own collection, but the catalogue ‘Ans Licht! Die Sammlung im Kunstmuseum Ahlen’, published in 2023. In addition, the changing exhibitions are conceptually in a ‘virtual’ exchange with the collection and motivate visitors to constantly contextualise and reinterpret it. Where possible, individual works or groups of works are integrated into temporary exhibitions.

The development of the collection began in 2006, with the exhibition profile developed by founding director Burkhard Leismann providing significant programmatic impetus. Since then, the collection has been steadily expanded through regular new acquisitions from the Theodor F. Leifeld Foundation and the museum's sponsoring organisation, as well as through donations and permanent loans from private lenders and public institutions. The various focal points of the collection are linked by a common leitmotif: The phenomenon of ‘light’ and its manifestations in painting and photography, but also in sculptural and site-specific works.

Classical Modernism

In the so-called classical modernism, i.e. the period between 1895 and 1920, the collection traces the development of painting from light-saturated late impressionism to colour-intensive expressionism. The earliest works from this area of the collection are by Auguste Renoir, Christian Rohlfs, Emil Nolde and Erich Heckel. One focus is on artists of Rhenish and Westphalian Expressionism, such as Heinrich Campendonk, Helmuth Macke, Heinrich Nauen and Heinrich Dieckmann from the Krefeld School of Arts and Crafts, as well as Peter August Böckstiegel, Hermann Stenner and Ernst Sagewka from the circle of Westphalian Expressionists. The collection of early works by Wilhelm (Will) Wieger, also a Krefeld companion and fellow student of Campendonk and Helmuth Macke, is unique in a museum collection in terms of its size and quality. It comprises around 80 drawings, pastels, oil sketches and paintings from the period before the First World War. The stage designer and painter Egon Wilden, whose artistic estate was donated to the Kunstmuseum Ahlen and scientifically analysed here, had a special connection with Ahlen. An inventory catalogue from 2009/2010 makes his work accessible. 

Art after 1945

‘Light’ as a metaphor for a social and artistic new beginning after the dark years of National Socialism and the Second World War characterised the generation of ZERO artists represented in the Kunstmuseum Ahlen by Heinz Mack, Günther Uecker, Leo Erb, Kuno Gonschior and Oskar Holweck. A departure from classical painting, a turn towards innovative materials and techniques, the consistent renunciation of any narrative, the withdrawal of one's own signature and a great interest in transparency and light characterise this loose, yet closely connected group of artists. The painter Fritz Winter, who spent his youth in Ahlen before going to Dessau as a Bauhaus student, plays a special role in this chronological context. Also worth mentioning is Adolf Luther's collection from the 1950s to 1980s, which comprises around 30 works in the form of drawings, oil paintings, material paintings and so-called Zerreißungen as well as works made of glass, with concave mirrors and lenses. In the field of post-war art, sculptors such as Rudolf Knubel, Horst Linn, Rolf Nolden and Peter Schwickerath, whose sculptural works and sculptor's drawings have been included in the collection, as well as painters such as Bernd Damke, Erwin Bechtold and Eduard Micus, who are each represented with larger groups of works.

The constructive-concrete art of the 1960s and 1970s is vividly represented by positions such as Heinrich Siepmann and Hans Steinbrenner and continued into the present with works by Klaus Staudt and Imi Knoebel. Works by Fritz Klemm, Rolf Rose, Sándor Szombati, Peter Stohrer, Armin Turk and Lothar Wolleh enable discoveries beyond the museum mainstream.

Contemporary art

Exhibitions of contemporary art led to numerous acquisitions, mostly directly from the studio, as well as permanent loans and donations that could be integrated into the collection, including works by Margret Eicher, Margareta Hesse, Henning Kürschner, Susanne Lyner, Albert Merz, Michael Riedel, Elisabeth Sonneck, Jobst Tilmann, Helga Weihs and Beat Zoderer. The theme of ‘light’ also continues prominently in contemporary art with installations in outdoor spaces by Egill Saebjörnsson and Adam Barker-Mill as well as interventions in museum spaces by Christoph Dahlhausen.

An intensive cooperation developed with the ‘total artist’ Timm Ulrichs, so that the Kunstmuseum Ahlen now houses a comprehensive collection of around 100 works, mainly multiples. Following the early death of Andreas Horlitz (2016), the estate of the Munich artist and photographer came to the Kunstmuseum Ahlen. In addition to numerous artistic works, mainly glass and mirror objects and light boxes, it includes a large collection of photographic sketches, slides and prints, as well as writings, letters and documents.

speth-lage Collection

At the end of 2023, the collector couple Brigitte Spethmann-Heitlage and Eckhard Heitlage gave their collection of Concrete Art to the Kunstmuseum Ahlen, comprising around 180 works by 130 international artists. The speth-lage collection was donated to the Theodor F. Leifeld Foundation. It includes works by artists such as Adam Barker-Mill, Günther Uecker, Edda Jachens, Horst Linn, Adolf Luther, Jan von Munster, Klaus Staudt and Timm Ulrichs, who are already represented with works in the Kunstmuseum Ahlen, but also important new positions, for example by Erich Buchholz, Inge Dick, Rupprecht Geiger, Isa Genzken, Almir Mavingier, Dóra Maurer, Vera Molnár and Regine Schumann.


On 25 May, Wienand Verlag published a 400-page book on the Kunstmuseum Ahlen's collection to mark its 30th anniversary. Numerous illustrations and texts present prominent works and newly discovered artists, providing insights into the depot and behind the scenes of museum work.