The Schirn building itself is a bit like a modern art work in the heart of Frankfurt's old quarter, a light, angular design contrasting with the grand, red sandstone cathedral and the Römer, the old town hall. This art gallery lies in the heart of the city – and is an important focal point in Frankfurt's cultural life. It is also one of the most celebrated galleries in Germany and in Europe.
Schirn is the Hessian word for a structure such as a hut or a shed, but this belies its significance in the world of art. Since opening in 1986, the Schirn has staged some 200 exhibitions. It has no collection of its own but organises temporary exhibitions and projects on selected themes or the work of individual artists. The themed exhibitions have made most notable contribution to the gallery's international reputation, for instance Viennese art nouveau, Expressionism, Dadaism and Surrealism, the history of photography and subjects such as 'shopping – art and consumerism', and the visual art of the Stalin era. Major retrospectives have honoured artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Frida Kahlo, Bill Viola, Arnold Schoenberg, Henri Matisse and Julian Schnabel.
Taking a stance on topical themes and aspects of artistic creation can be said to be the Schirn's hallmark. It aims not only to engage visitors in a meaningful exhibition experience but also to encourage active participation in the cultural discussion.