The Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst or GfZK (Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig) was established in close connection with the political revolution in Germany. It can be traced in the large part to the initiatives of the East German art historian Klaus Werner. In the GDR, he developed the utopian idea of founding a “donor-supported museum of international and contemporary art”. A meeting with the fine arts entity of the Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft im BDI e. V. (Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy at the Federation of German Industries) in the summer of 1989 played a central role in the later realization of this vision. It was there that the idea of creating a museum of international contemporary art in East Germany was formulated and elaborated. The political events that ensued over the following months gave the plan unexpected momentum. In November of 1990, Klaus Werner and Arend Oetker (member of the Kulturkreis) founded the Friends of the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst e. V., which is still active today. The efforts of the Association lent the project a certain energy and attracted public attention. In addition, the relationship and dialogue with artists, museum curators, collectors and patrons as well as negotiations with political decision-makers helped to enable the realization of these ambitious goals. At first, in the absence of their own exhibition site, exhibits were created at different locations around Leipzig. In 1998, the Herfurth Villa was modified by Peter Kulka to become the museum, founding the first and only museum of contemporary art in East Germany since reunification. Under the direction of Klaus Werner, a place was created in which art from East and West Germany could be presented together, and also in diverse international contexts.
The changes in the political, social and urban environment (in the post-Soviet states) have shaped the programme of the 2000s under director Barbara Steiner. With the establishment of a separate department, art education has been awarded significant weight within the GfZK. In order to facilitate the expansion the institution’s activities, a new GfZK building was constructed in 2004 in cooperation with the group of architects AS-IF. Since 2012, Franciska Zólyom has directed the GfZK.