More Space, More Art – The “New” Lenbachhaus in Munich
Following a long period of restoration work that included an extension, the year 2013 has seen the reopening of the Lenbachhaus art gallery in Munich. Goethe.de talked to the director designate, Matthias Mühling, about the gallery’s moving history, Beuys and floors – and about whether the gallery can learn something from Bertolt Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera”.
Mr Mühling, the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus was first opened in 1929. What events and developments were important for the gallery in those first eight decades?
Museums and galleries often first come into being as private collections of art set up by aristocrats and at some later point in time then open their doors to the general public. It was, however, a different case altogether with the Lenbachhaus gallery, because it was set up right from the start as a museum that was to house works of art. This made it important for the city of Munich from the word go.
In 1957 the artist, Gabriele Münter, made a generous donation of the works of the Blauer Reiter (The Blue Rider) group of artists and this ushered in a new phase for the gallery – the Lenbachhaus became a gallery that gained enormous international prestige due to this donation. In 1972 an extension was added to the gallery to cope with all the visitors that would be in the city of Munich for the Olympic Games and this enhanced its international reputation even more.
A major turning point however was the purchasing of the installation entitled zeige deine Wunde (Show your wound) by Joseph Beuys in the year 1979. This led to us expand more into the realm of internationally renowned art. In my opinion it was the 1970s that were the most interesting years for the gallery.
A gallery without any educational barriers
Now the gallery has been reopened, what are you hoping will happen to it in the next 80 years?
I hope that we are not going to just sit in the gallery and think we know exactly what is going to happen over the next 80 years. It really has to be a place where we sit and reflect carefully on what might happen. What I am particularly hoping for is that people will continue to identify with the gallery. Even people who have never been here like the gallery.
We are popular, we are a gallery that knows no educational barriers. It is always loud, there are always children running around and the people know that nobody is going to get upset about this. And that is how it should remain, that is what I am hoping for.
A political utopia after 1945
In the meantime you have started to emphasise that the Lenbachhaus is a “civic” gallery. What do you mean by this?
The word “civic” is justified alone by the fact that the gallery was created by people for people. The collection itself, however, is in its origins also civic. The works on show at the Alte Pinakothek gallery, for example, were in the past only meant to be appreciated by a small elite, whereas the small-format landscapes we have here used to be hung on the walls in people’s homes.
New meets old
When visitors step into the gallery’s old, historical entrance area, they are welcomed by various sculptures by Erwin Wurm. Is this an example of showing on the inside what has been boldly proclaimed on the outside – new meets old?
Yes, this, too, is an obligation that our house has always abided by, because Lenbach always mixed contemporary art with Old Masters. In the eclecticism of the 19th century we also find this juxtaposition – along with the esprit, of course. This why in some places we have this combination of old and new.
The “experience of contemporaneity”
This combination of old and new is also to be seen in the room containing the Joseph Beuys installation “zeige deine Wunde”. The floor in the room is no longer bare concrete, but is covered in bright parquet flooring. A pathology lab with a living-room atmosphere – was that intentional?
It is all about how Beuys should be shown today. In its extreme form we have the fetish version that strives to preserve everything in its original state. Then we have the approach that could not care less. Back then Beuys did not choose or specify what kind of floor his installation should have. Originally it was the floor of the gallery, which had in fact already been changed in all the other rooms.
You once said you wanted the Lenbachhaus gallery to offer intelligent entertainment. What did you mean?
To answer the question we have to go back to Bertolt Brecht, who was convinced of two things: when workers go to the theatre, they firstly have to be allowed to smoke there and, secondly, they have to hear one of Hanns Eisler’s smash hits every ten minutes. Otherwise he will just go home, after all he has already worked a 12-hour day. The theatre has to address the things he is interested in and, at the same time, it has to be entertaining.
Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera) is one of the most important diagnostic works on human society. Brecht simply found the right art form to perform it in: theatre, music, dancing, sex – it has it all. Incredible entertainment potential. I know that we will never be able to achieve the same, but that would be the ideal that, in my opinion, we should be striving for.
Do you have a favourite room at the gallery?
The new Kandinsky Room with its black silk, with a solemnity that nevertheless still exudes the accuracy of Bauhaus, the white against the black. Yes, that is the room I really like to spend time in. I do in fact like a lot of the rooms. One tends to think that the people who work in a gallery or museum know everything, but for me there are still quite a few pictures that surprise me.
conducted the interview. She is an online journalist who writes mainly on art for the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio & TV) and also works as a free-lance editor.
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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