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The modernization process took all of four years, and at the end of it the museum emerged with a fundamentally changed interior and exterior. Photo © Lenbachhaus
N minus X – to read is to learn, part 3
by Thomas Wagner
1/23/2014

Since the re-opening last May, Munich’s Lenbachhaus has had a surprising new look. “Das Lenbachhaus Buch” presents an overview ofthe completely modernized municipal gallery, covering its history, architecture and collections. The modernization process took all of four years, and at the end of it the museum emerged with a fundamentally changed interior and exterior. Not only was the entrance shifted to the place where the former Lenbach studio building abuts with the new build designed by Foster + Partners; the building now open out onto Königsplatz with Leo von Klenze’s Classicist ensemble.

There’s always been a special flair to be discerned inside the Lenbachhaus, for its core consists of the villa of the king of Munich’s painters, Franz von Lenbach; it was designed by architect Gabriel von Seidl in the Italian style and completed in 1890. The villa was bought by the municipality in 1924 in order to establish a municipal gallery in it, whereby Lenbach’s estate (supplemented by additional acquisitions) initially formed the backbone of the collection. The gallery opened in 1929, and in 1957 received a donation from of Gabriele Münter: a large number of works by the “Blaue Reiter” group and by Wassily Kandinsky.

Exhaustive modernization was urgently necessary not just because of the lack of space, but also given the state of the ensemble of buildings, last extended in 1972, the year of the Munich Olympics, to include an annex on the south side. The older sections were in a poor state of repair, the facilities technology out of date, no air conditioning available, and fire protection and security equipment were all no longer up to scratch. This was the situation when, in 2002, on the back of a competition and discussions with countless architects companies, the City of Munich commissioned Foster + Partners to undertake the modernization and expansion. In the opinion of Director Helmut Friedel several objectives had to be achieved at once: The villa was to be stripped of the later additions and installations, all visitors were to enjoy barrier-free access, the main exhibition halls were to be united on one and the same floor, and overall the gallery was to be open and inviting, accessible at least in part to the city even outside opening hours. What this entailed, how Foster + Partners tackled the task, and what the final result was can now be gleaned in detail from Powell’s essay “Foster, der Alchimist: Neu und Alt im Lenbachhaus”.

The book not only sheds light on the building’s architectural renaissance. There’s also an in-depth account of the collection, with illustrations of the key works in it. And the book is rounded out by a series of photographs that Michael Wesely took “during the New Lenbachhaus era” of Lord Norman Foster, Munich’s Lord Mayor Christian Ude, Director Helmut Friedl, artist Olafur Eliasson as well as staff members and collectors. Wesely is a master of long exposure times and did not seek to capture brief moments in his images but instead had those whose photos he took sit for 300 seconds, as if the process of exposure were following them through time. Suddenly, juxtaposed to the façade of the extension building he designed Lord Foster seems soft and yet concentrated, while Olafur Eliasson’s head almost dissolves completely and the staff members posing on a staircase seem as if Old Master Gerhard Richter had with his blurring technique salvaged them from a photo and turned them into a painting.

Das Lenbachhaus Buch
Geschichte, Architektur, Sammlungen
Edited by Helmut Friedel & Matthias Mühling
240 pages, 200 color illustrations
Verlag Schirmer/Mosel
EUR 49.80

In addition to the unique collection of works by the “Blaue Reiter” group and of 19th-century paintings from Munich, the Lenbachhaus also houses a block of works by Joseph Beuys. In 1979, the gallery was embroiled in fierce controversy when it decided to acquire Beuys’ environment “Zeige deine Wunde”, a hotly debated issue, and in 2012 it continued this policy, acquiring “Vor dem Aufbruch aus Lager 1” – an approach that was rounded out on the occasion of the re-opening by the donation of a group of Beuys pieces dating from 1948 to 1968. The collection was gifted to Lenbachhaus by publisher Lothar Schirmer, and the works are located in four rooms in the former Lenbach studio wing, and the entire set of these works is specially documented in the book “Joseph Beuys – Lenbachhaus und Schenkung Lothar Schirmer”.

Schirmer gave the gallery 15 original sculptural items from Joseph Beuys’ early days (including the legendary “Bathtub”), two additional pieces and large-format photographs with lost site-specific sculptural installations – all as permanent loans. Anyone visiting Munich should take the time to view the objects and environments, presented for the very first time together in the new rooms. That said, something else takes place in the book, which boasts full-page reproductions of each of the Beuys objects and also contains five early interviews with Joseph Beuys as originally published.

If you read Lothar Schirmer’s essay, which is simply entitled “A Short History of the Beuys Collection”, you’ll find out not only about the collector and his passion, but also how he came to enthuse so about Beuys even though the drawings the then 19 year-old saw at documenta III he actually found repugnant. You’ll enjoy a marvelously leisurely, fluffy and yet precise account of Beuys’ oeuvre, especially in Schirmer’s descriptions of individual works.

Which is certainly not a matter of course for an artist who is considered somewhat inapproachable and Romantic, not to say mystical or even eccentric. For example, we read how with the “small sheep” (Ohne Titel, 1949) Beuys gradually emancipated himself from his teacher Ewald Mataré and in the “large ears shaped like double crystals” seem to highlight “listening as the paramount sensory process”. Or, as regards the case of the “Bathtub” and the “Oven”, how irresponsibly the City of Leverkusen was when it had the object, which was on loan, “cleaned” prior to the opening of an exhibition in the municipal museums there in 1973, and all the legal consequences of the awful act.

“In 1977 Beuys,” Schirmer recounts, “after having presented a multiple in a Munich gallery, worked through the night and onto the following morning to recreate both the ‘Oven’ and the bathtub.” And Schirmer remarks pithily at the end on Beuys’ “Dead Hare” (1962-67): “Normal consumers perhaps consider the ‘Dead Hare’ a pile of garbage, but caution: in Joseph Beuys’ anthroposophical understanding of art there is no such thing as garbage. Everything is primarily material and thus substance.”

Joseph Beuys
Lenbachhaus und Schenkung Lothar Schirmer
With essays by Joseph Beuys, Helmut Friedel and Lothar Schirmer
152 pages, 111 color illustrations
Verlag Schirmer/Mosel
EUR 49.80


MORE on Stylepark:

N minus X – to read is to learn, part 1: Each time a new year begins, one is beset by a strange sense of disquiet. As though we needed to fight off a virus, we start tidying up.
(15 January 2014)

N minus X – to read is to learn, part 2: This time in the direction of photography and drawing.
(19 January 2014)

„Wirbelwerk“ by Olafur Eliasson, 2012, in the foyer of the new Lenbachhaus. Photo © 2012 Olafur Eliasson,
Image out of the book „Das Lenbachhaus Buch“ © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
„Blue Rider“ in the collection of the Lenbachhaus: “portrait with apples“, 1909, “zoological garden I“, 1912, both by August Macke.
Image out of the book „Das Lenbachhaus Buch“ © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
View in the book: „Joseph Beuys Lenbachhaus und Schenkung Lothar Schirmer“.
Image out of the book © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Joseph Beuys, „Lavendelfilter“, 1961 © Joseph Beuys Estate/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, photo: Mario Gastinger/ donation Lothar Schirmer
Joseph Beuys, „Badewanne“, 1960 © Joseph Beuys Estate/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, photo: Mario Gastinger/ donation Lothar Schirmer
Joseph Beuys, „Ofen“, 1960 © Joseph Beuys Estate/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013 Foto: Mario Gastinger/ donation Lothar Schirmer
Joseph Beuys, „Hasengrab“, 1962-67 © Joseph Beuys Estate/VG Bild-Kunst 2013, Foto: Mario Gastinger, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus/ Schenkung Lothar Schirmer
Joseph Beuys, figure made of burned clay (detail of „Bienenkönigin I“) © Joseph Beuys Estate/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, photo: Mario Gastinger, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich/ donation Lothar Schirmer
Joseph Beuys, „Schaf“, © Joseph Beuys Estate/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013, photo: Mario Gastinger, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich/ donation Lothar Schirmer