New Architecture in Germany

More Space, More Art – The “New” Lenbachhaus in Munich

Matthias Mühling; © LenbachhausLenbachhaus München; © Lenbachhaus

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.

Matthias Mühling; © LenbachhausIn 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.

Das Neue Lenbachhaus: Raumansicht „Der Blaue Reiter“; © Lenbachhaus

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.

On the one hand the “civic” element is not only to be found on the small-format level, but also in the political utopia the gallery has been promoting since 1945 – a utopian approach that abides by a social obligation to exhibit political issues. That is why, for example, we were very quick to show the works of Willie Doherty, who has done a lot of work on the conflict in Northern Ireland. We deliberately showed him in the period after 2001 – a time in which there was suddenly a lot of talk about the clash of cultures and religions.

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.

Erwin Wurm, Ohne Titel, 2008; © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2013, Foto: Lenbachhaus

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.

One thing however should not be forgotten – the experience of contemporaneity is incredibly important. The Beuys of today is very different from the Beuys of 1979. That is what I mean by the paradox of the gallery – the fact that the works are physically always part of the present. Today there are hardly ever people coming in who say, “what a load of rubbish that is”. In this respect this form of conservation is not the right way. You have to keep the confrontation with the work alive.

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.

Das Neue Lenbachhaus: Raumansicht Kandinsky; © Lenbachhaus

The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus was openedin 1929 in the former residence of the portrait painter Franuz von Lenbach. After large-scale renovation work thebuilding with its new extension was reopened in May 2013. The new building was integrated into the original ground plan of 1972, meaning that the gallery has not increased its total floor area. More space was created by adding another floor and some new functional areas, such as an auditorium, a large restaurant, a book shop, a huge visitors’ court accommodating 800 people, a large restoration workshop and 400 square metres of additional exhibition space.
Susanne Lorenz
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
June 2013

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