Art in Architecture Commissioned on behalf of the state

Art in architecture in Germany has a long history behind it. The public sector has played a key role in the commissioning of artworks since 1950, and art in architecture can tell us a great deal about the changing identity of the state.

Via Lewandowsky, “Roter Teppich” in the Bundesministerium der Verteidigung in Berlin, 2005 Via Lewandowsky, “Roter Teppich” in the Bundesministerium der Verteidigung in Berlin, 2005 | Photo: Sandra Elbern, © Bundeswehr, rights: IMZ-Bildarchiv / artwork: © VG Bild Kunst 2013 On January 25th 1950, the German Bundestag adopted a decision to allocate one percent of the contract volume of all construction projects (...) for spending on public artworks“. In doing so, members of the West German parliament laid the basis for one of the world’s foremost art-in-architecture collections. As a result of this move, more than 1000 works of art have since been commissioned on behalf of the state. Over this 62-year period art in architecture has developed not only in government and parliament buildings, but also in research institutes, offices, military bases and motorway service stations. It is additionally to be found in German institutions abroad, such as embassies, consulates and Goethe Institutes that feature artworks in a variety of styles and genres. Besides receiving support from the government, art in architecture is also promoted by the individual federal states as well as local authorities, towns and municipalities. Furthermore, there is a strong corporate commitment to art within architecture.

Representing German culture and policies

Artworks created in Germany have become a part of the collective cultural and media memory. The steel sculpture “Berlin” by Eduardo Chillida, for instance. This sculpture always comes into view when international politicians meet Mrs Merkel at the Chancellor’s office, the Bundeskanzleramt. The work features two steel pillars that reach out towards each other with arm-like ends, thus symbolising the reunification of Berlin and Germany. Before reunification, when Bonn was the capital of Germany, the famous sculpture of Henry Moor “Large Two Forms” was installed on the grounds of the Federal Chancellor’s Office. This was done at the request of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and for decades dominated the media scene in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Rich and diversified dialogue with architecture

m+m, “Kleine Reise”, Installation in front of the Bundesgesundheitsministerium in Bonn, 2009 m+m, “Kleine Reise”, Installation in front of the Bundesgesundheitsministerium in Bonn, 2009 | Photo: m+m/ artwork: © VG Bild Kunst 2013 Many more artworks have been being created in Germany that relate to architecture in different ways. The spectrum ranges from abstract mosaic walls in a military bases up to an autonomous sculpture positioned in front of a job centre. Art in architecture can be a wall hanging or an interactive sound installation, the artistic design of a door knob or an entire building. The artwork must communicate with the given space, adopt an attitude towards it, enhance the architectural appeal, set a contrast, stand out or blend with the architectural design. It is quite uncommon for the artists to be involved in the project design process. In most cases they have to respond to the finished project – sometimes much to the dislike of the architects who see their building as a piece of art that should not be disturbed by the work of others.

Artworks used for representation purposes

Besides communicating with the architectural design, art in architecture is also used to fulfil specific intentions of the client. When a state provides the funding for art within architecture, in particular for a building of representative significance, importance is also attached to asserting a certain self-image. Since the nineteen thirties art has benefited from state support in many European countries and in the U.S. Practically all of these countries make no distinction between art in architecture and art in public spaces. This is not the case in Germany. Whereas artworks in public spaces are set up in squares and parks and relate to their urban or natural environment, art in architecture is always understood to mean art that relates to the building.

From contract work to cultural flagship

In Germany, the history of state-funded art in architecture goes back a long way. It was even laid out in the constitution of the Weimar Republic in 1919, that art in architecture should receive support. The main objective was to help artists and also boost the image as a modern cultural nation. The Nazi regime supported art in architecture, mainly to have better control over artists and their work, and to suppress art to style imposed by the state. After 1945, during the nineteen fifties and sixties period in East Germany, artwork was dominated by socialist realism and was to relay the message of a happy community in a new society. Later on, the focus turned more and more to the artistic design of new building developments. In West Germany, on the other hand, after the early nineteen sixties, artworks were selected that would underscore Germany’s established connection with international abstract modernism. Many attendees at the documenta, also international artists, were commissioned by the state.

Central role in German Reunification

Inges Idee, “Im selben Boot”, free place in front of the Mensa, Marinetechnikschule Parow 2001 Inges Idee, “Im selben Boot”, free place in front of the Mensa, Marinetechnikschule Parow 2001 | Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin Art in architecture assumed a major role after the reunification of Germany in 1990 and the decision to make Berlin the country’s new capital. Not only architecture, but also art in architecture was used to demonstrate a democratic reunited Germany to the rest of the world. Artworks played a key role in this process and helped to open up buildings that were burdened by their history during the Nazi and East German regime. By reflecting Germany’s complex history these buildings were made free for a new use. The carpet by Via Lewandowsky in the ministry of defence, for example. This work depicts the ruins of Berlin to remind us of the consequences of the war.

Art in architecture was and still is an important source of income for many artists and quite often it is the only opportunity to realise artwork that would otherwise not have a chance on the art market. Germany and German institutions abroad are benefiting from artworks that address the architecture, location, history and function of a building in many different ways. And sometimes in a delightfully light and ironic manner, like the sculpture “in the same boat” by the Berlin artist group “inges idee” that was created for a navy college in Parow.