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iture. Photo © Sophia Walk, Stylepark
On travels after dictation
von Sophia Walk
5/11/2014

If a museum building and an exhibition take each other by the hand and say: “Hey, let’s tell a little story about postmodernism!” then there would be no better couple than Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt (DAM) and the exhibition “Mission: Postmodern – Heinrich Klotz and the DAM Chamber of Marvels”, which opened on May 9, 2014. It is the museum’s jubilee exhibition, as this year on June 1 it celebrates turning 30. The DAM’s birth and infancy were accompanied by founding director and the father of the collection, Heinrich Klotz. He was a man, or so the impression you get in the exhibition, who was forever restless and kept a dictaphoned record of his experiences and encounters. These form the “Klotz Tapes”, as Oliver Elser, curator of the exhibition, calls them, and they are certainly the key to the show.

The DAM’s building is itself part of the show, as here two old familiars of architectural history meet, early 20th century architecture and postmodernism. In 1979 Cologne-based architect Oswald Mathias Ungers (1926-2007) was commissioned to convert the early 20th century villa on the South bank of the Main, built in 1912 to plans of architect Fritz Geldmacher (1869-1947). And even if Oswald Mathias Ungers forever emphasized that “I have nothing to do with that postmodernism”, his design strategy of a house within a house is completely postmodern: Three parts of the façade were preserved, the building firmly gutted, and the interior redesigned.

The paths to becoming director

The exhibition itself is subdivided into themes that are closely bound up with Klotz’ endeavors. After an introduction into the zeitgeist of the day, one first encounters the director’s office, which has been reconstructed as a groundplan for the purposes of the exhibition and in which his original furniture stands - Ungers designed it for Klotz as founding director. Four entrances lead into the room and symbolize the three “milestones” in the oeuvre of Heinrich Klotz, which led to him being appointed director.
These paths are represented on the outer sides of the walls of the director’s office. The first path is “Die röhrenden Hirsche”, the name of a book Klotz authored in the 1970s, addressing the popular theme of the roaring stag images: In it, he emphasizes how kitsch was a response by a people who were starved formally speaking by post-War architecture. He interprets building décor as the kitsch of a justified counter-movement. At the time he was professor of art history at Marburg University and the second path shows his participation in the modernization of Marburg’s old town. He did not consider “saving the old town” an activity informed purely by a wish for preservation and commissioned Ungers, Sterling and Charles Moore to draft proposals: He wanted contemporary buildings in old structures. The proposals were not realized, but it gave Klotz a sharper profile in debates. The third path leading to the director’s office relates to Klotz’ international contacts. After the death of the old Modernist heroes such as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, he got to know a generation of US architects who later became the cutting edge of postmodernism. He conducted “Interviews following Giorgio Vasaris” with Robert Venturi, Charles Moore, Rem Koolhaas, Aldo Rossi, Oswald Mathias Ungers and Philip Johnson. Vasaris was an early art historian (1511-74) who described Renaissance artists as celebrities and was the first who in this way accorded them the status of artists. Taking his cue from this approach, Klotz portrayed the architects in a similar vein, in part engaging in controversial discussions with them.

“Things” on walnut veneer

After the director’s office, the show presents indexes from past exhibitions, each of which is brought back to life by a large illustration of the then exhibition situation: In “Building, Stones, Ruins” Klotz used caricatures to criticize certain architectural approaches. His “Revision of Modernism” and its counterpart the “Vision of Modernism” are both included in these indexes.

In the first upper level, visitors step into the so-called “Chamber of Marvels”, located between two wall panes clad in walnut veneer. “Leave the entire building empty and by a shed next door where you can store all your things!” is how Klotz quotes Oswald Mathias Ungers from one of his tape recordings of 1984. The most important works for these “things”, meaning the collection which Klotz assembled between 1979 and 1989, are now on show in this chamber of marvels the DAM has created, a cosmos of architecture drawings.

Frankfurt postmodernism

There is a special section in the exhibition devoted to Frankfurt postmodernism, during which period the city’s most important cultural buildings were erected: The Museum für Moderne Kunst designed by Hans Hollein, Archäologische Museum created by Josef Paul Kleihues, Museum Angewandte Kunst by Richard Meier, the extension to Liebieghaus by Scheffler und Warschauer, the Messe-Torhaus by Oswald Mathias Ungers and the Messeturm by Helmut Jahn – to name but a few. In this light, Frankfurt, the “PoMo” city, can be viewed benevolently. For postmodernist architecture is definitely one of the phases in the discipline that the discourse on architectural theory has to date largely eschewed. The exhibition ensures that the DAM is once again fulfilling the function that Heinrich Klotz felt museums should have. They should not just be vessels in which exhibits go on show, but above all places where controversy arises and things get discussed.

Mission: Postmodern
Heinrich Klotz and the Wunderkammer DAM
May 10 – Oct. 19, 2014
Deutsches Architekturmuseum DAM
Frankfurt am Main
Guided tours every Saturday and Sundays at 3 p.m.

With Ungers' reconstruction of the villa on the banks of the Main in Frankfurt postmodernism moved into the building from the “Gründerzeit“. Photo © Sophia Walk, Stylepark
For the exhibition "Mission: Postmodern - Heinrich Klotz and the Wunderkammer DAM" Heinrich Klotz’ director's room was recreated. There are some sound bites of the DAM's founding father on the walls. Photo © Sophia Walk, Stylepark
The outer walls of the room show Heinrich Klotz' paths to the director. Path 1 is his book "The roaring stags of architecture" in which he explains the kitsch in architecture.
Photo © Sophia Walk, Stylepark
lk, Stylepark
The exhibition "Revision of the Modern - Postmodern Architecture 1960 - 1980" was the first exhibition in the DAM 1984. In the current exhibition about postmodernism it is documented.
Photo © Sophia Walk, Stylepark
og. Photo © Sophia Walk, Stylepark
In the chamber of marvel’s - the centerpiece of the exhibition - drawings, models, sculptures, components and photographs from Klotz' collection are shown in salon hang.
Photo © Sophia Walk, Stylepark