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The Lenbachhaus in Munich reopens to the public after 56.4 million euro renovation
A visitor looks a the painting "Operation" by Christian Schad at the new Lenbachhaus in Munich, Germany, on May 6, 2013. The Lenbachhaus opened to the public on May 8, after renovation works have been completed. AFP PHOTO / FELIX HOERHAGER.

MUNICH.- The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus is located in the villa and former studio wing of the painter Franz von Lenbach (1836–1904) as well as in neighbouring buildings on both sides of the villa that were later acquired and renovated. It is noteworthy that Franz von Lenbach had his studio built first (1887–88) before the residential wing could be completed in 1890. In an early sketch of the idea in his own hand (ca. 1886–87) Lenbach emphasized that his new home should be a “museum.” With Gabriel von Seidl (1848–1913) as his architect, the painter had thus begun work on a studio building that was intended to confer prestige.

The site that Franz von Lenbach chose for the building was significant to his self-image as an artist. Topographically, it was located in the immediate vicinity of the great state art collections, especially the Glyptothek and the exhibition building on Königsplatz which now houses the Antikensammlung, but it was also very near the Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek. Moreover, his plot was located outside the municipal limits, marked at the time by Königsplatz and the Propylaea city gate. It was there, in a rather prestigious neighbourhood just beyond the outskirts of Munich, that he was able to plan his villa complex. Count Schack, his biggest patron, had his villa next door, while Richard Wagner’s house was on the opposite side of the street. Located on Brienner Strasse, which leads from the royal Residenz to Nymphenburg Palace, Lenbach thus made his home on the second most important road traffic axis in the modern Munich of the nineteenth century. In contrast to densely built Ludwigstrasse, which was designed without trees or gardens, the royal route to Nymphenburg Palace was lined by trees and flanked by buildings with small front gardens. In keeping with the highly exclusive nature of the area, the studio wing presented an imposing public face with its order of columns on the side facing the street, while the facade towards the garden was merely given pilasters.

Franz von Lenbach had the residential wing, which is now the middle section of the old building, built in the style of a Tuscan villa. The open flight of stairs with a fountain facing the garden cites an architectural motif from the Villa Medici in Rome. The stone pedestal of tuff boulders is another Roman architectural element – best known from the Trevi Fountain – which the Asam brothers had introduced to Munich when they built their church on Sendlinger Strasse. Originally, the two sections of the building – villa and studio – were connected only by blind architectural features.

The historical garden designed by Max Kolb (1829–1915) was supplemented by a two-storey wing by Hans Grässel (1860–1939) on the north side; its exterior was modelled on Gabriel von Seidl’s architecture, resulting in today’s three-wing layout. This extension – a classic example of successful architectural adaptation – was built from 1924 onwards, after the City of Munich had acquired Lenbach’s villa from his widow, Lolo von Lenbach, and transformed it into a municipal art museum. In return, Lolo von Lenbach had donated to the city a large portion of Lenbach’s art collection and a number of his paintings. Before the museum opened in 1929 the entire ensemble was painted ochre as a way of making the various architectural elements seem more visually homogenous.

When, in 1957, Gabriele Münter donated her valuable art collection, containing not only works by Wassily Kandinsky and herself but also those by other ‘Blue Rider’ artists, and then Elly Koehler and Bernhard Koehler, Jr, presented their paintings by Franz Marc and August Macke to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in 1965, a suitable place to house these collections had to be found. An extension by Heinrich Volbehr and Rudolf Thönessen to the south of the historical site was completed within three years, in time for the Olympic Games in .

The Lenbachhaus had been conceived as a private villa accessible to only a few visitors. The issue of providing general access for museum visitors did not arise until the building was opened as the Städtische Galerie in 1929. At the time, it was assumed there would be just over ten thousand visitors annually. However, as a broader audience became increasingly interested in modern art, and thanks to an extensive, international exhibition programme at the Lenbachhaus from the 1970s onwards, attendance has steadily risen, recently exceeding two hundred thousand visitors annually. The large subterranean exhibition space of the Kunstbau, designed by Uwe Kiessler in a hollow space between Königsplatz underground station and street level, has contributed significantly to that growth. Since first opening in 1994 it has staged large exhibitions which embrace all areas of special interest represented in the museum’s holdings. In the final year before our institution closed for renovation in 2009, 450,000 visitors were counted. For the major Kandinsky exhibition in 2008, which presented his paintings in the Kunstbau and his graphic works in the Lenbachhaus itself, special means of access had to be created to cope with the stream of visitors. The normal entrance to the villa via the beautiful open flight of stairs in the garden would not have been sufficient.

A variety of architectural shortcomings had long since been evident, due not only to the growing number of visitors but also to the severe damage inflicted on the building by a 1944 air raid, and the subsequent hasty and shoddy repairs after the war. Moreover, the Lenbachhaus no longer conformed to contemporary safety regulations and lacked many of the necessities for modern museum operation, which created an urgent need for complete refurbishment. The city council thus approved the necessary measures for an architectural study.

Based on the results of that study and the requirements of a modern museum, the architects Foster + Partners, who were selected after the project was put out to tender in 2002, developed their core concept for the new Lenbach - haus. The first task was the straightforward refurbishment of the building, which for various reasons that had become clear in a number of studies was expanded to include partial demolition and new construction. Accordingly, the Munich city council passed a resolution in 2006 that the Lenbachhaus should undergo “general refurbishment with partial new construction” in accordance with the expanded design by Foster + Partners, and a budget of 56.4 million euros was set. Now that work has been completed, it is clear that the construction has met the established guidelines in terms of both schedule and budget. The Förderverein Lenbachhaus e. V. (Friends of the Lenbachhaus) provided 2.5 million euros for this project, which helped with the acquisition of a magnificent sculpture by Olafur Eliasson for the new atrium, the installation of artificial LED lighting, and improved fittings in bronze. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research provided a grant of two million euros that was of crucial importance to the implementation of the LED lighting project.

The architectural design followed a number of key stipulations. First, nothing about the historical three-wing external layout was to be changed. The garden, which is listed as a historical landmark, could not be altered either, and the authentic Lenbach rooms could not be touched. But it was equally clear that access to the villa via a small garden gate and open flight of stairs no longer met contemporary needs. Among other things, this route was not wheelchair accessible. One longstanding and all too familiar drawback to be remedied by the architects concerned the previous layout of the museum; the promising outward appearance of the villa opened into a confusing spatial structure, especially on the south side. That was due not least to the fact that Franz von Lenbach had placed the central structure of the villa between two existing neighbouring buildings. Hans Grässel had found a suitable architectural solution for the north side in the 1920s, whereas a connection to the adjacent building to the south had only been achieved on the first floor. In other respects, the structures and the stairwell of the earlier building had been retained, though stripped of their function, and the new building of 1972 was added to the south side without being linked to the internal logic of the existing structures.

Architects Foster + Partners developed a twofold approach. First, they freed up the historical villa and emphasized its core structure with an atrium that guides one around Lenbach’s villa like a hall – locating it “sculpturally” within the museum, so to speak. The second major idea was to lead visitors into the house through a new entrance via the square in front of the Propylaea. This makes sense, given that most visitors arrive at the Lenbachhaus either from the east, in other words from the city centre and other museums in the arts district, or from the south, from the main train station or the underground. This new access route to the museum passes through a foyer that offers an initial view of the garden and the old grounds, then takes visitors into the atrium, where the unusual sequence of rooms comes as a real surprise.

By locating the new entrance in what was once merely an architectural connector between the villa and the studio wing, the tall, arched opening once more really comes into its own. Moreover, orienting the Lenbachhaus towards the square in front of the Propylaea opens up the historical view onto the studio building. At the same time, in the opposite direction it creates a new, unobstructed view of the Propylaea and Königsplatz, including a prospect of Leo von Klenze’s neoclassical architecture that has not been possible in some time.

This new entrance connects the old Lenbachhaus with the new structure by Foster + Partners. The dimensions, colours, and features of the cubic building to the south were inspired by Gabriel von Seidl. The facade design in brass-coloured metal speaks its own language, with slender, graceful elements alluding to the diverse architectural forms of the studio building. The colour of the material chosen for the facade establishes an association to the old building without abandoning the character of a contemporary structure. The facade of the new extension is articulated on the first and second storeys by brass-coloured tubes that are ten centimetres in diameter and approximately four metres tall; they are backed in turn by concave sections of yellow sheet metal. The idea of using the metal facade to articulate the building is particularly evident on the rear facade, along Richard Wagner Strasse. The parts of the building that have been newly constructed from the ground up are distinguished by the round tubes. The section built above the historical basic structure has a series of concave panels, while the new sections on the old building fabric are sheathed in flat sheet metal – yet the material remains the same throughout. Thus from the west it is possible to see that a third level has been added. At the same time, it was imperative that there be no detrimental changes to the original villa complex on the garden side. Not only did this mean the new structural elements could not rise above the level of the villa’s existing flanking buildings, but it also ensured the preservation of the sloping roofs and clerestory and provided sufficient height to house the extra floor. The first and second storeys, which exclusively house rooms for the permanent collection, were built on the same level across all the parts of the building. Universal access to all exhibition spaces has now been achieved, something that would have been impossible in the old Lenbachhaus with its many half-landings.

Whereas numerous windows in Lenbach’s original villa complex provide the exhibition spaces with a great deal of natural light, the new building by Foster + Partners mainly features an enclosed external skin. The exception is the ground floor of the south wing, where the café and restaurant “push” outwards by extending onto the patio and through the light radiating out of the dining area.

Because lighting is one of the central concerns of any museum, much attention has been paid to both natural and artificial light. Above the upper edge of the new building by Foster + Partners, light-grey quarter circles are visible; these are the narrow sides of light sheds that protrude into the sky like little sails. The northern light that falls through these sheds into the exhibition spaces on the second floor allows the collection of ‘Blue Rider’ paintings to be presented in a wonderful natural light.

The LED Lighting Project
One particular objective of this construction project was to provide artificial light that would illuminate the exhibited works as naturally as possible. Two very different tasks had to be managed. The rooms that obtain natural light through light sheds or windows must have artificial light of approximately the same quality. And naturally the rooms without natural light have to be equally well illuminated. The decision to use LEDs for all the various applications could only be made once a central solution had been found. We are indebted to the Munich artist Dietmar Tanterl for coming up with an initial approach to suitable lighting using lightemitting diodes and for monitoring OSRAM’s technical implementation in conjunction with Munich’s municipal building department.

LED lighting is much discussed these days, but since the level of actual knowledge is often low the debate is marked by a great deal of imprecision and even fallacies. An LED – short for “light-emitting diode” – is an electronic semiconductor. When the diode is forward-biased, it emits light. One crucial advantage of LEDs is that the individual points of light do not flicker at the Hertz rate like fluorescent lights but instead provide calm, uniform lighting. We were primarily concerned with providing lighting akin to daylight in the exhibition spaces. Because the qualities of natural light can vary considerably, however, we needed a broad spectrum of light, from very cold, bluish light (6,000 kelvins) to warm tones (2,500 kelvins). The goal was to develop an adjustable lamp composed of LEDs of assorted colours that could achieve a range of lighting effects for specific tasks. Another advantage of LED technology is that brightness can be regulated once a certain quality of light has been achieved. Thus works of art can be illuminated to different degrees by the same light.

One particular challenge was to create consistent lighting in rooms where there are great differences in the available natural light. Both the luminous ceilings and light sheds in combination with artificial light were intended to provide lighting similar to daylight. Satisfying all these requirements necessitated finding “tailor-made” solutions. Even the spotlights used to light individual objects were developed with LED technology. For the first time in any museum, all of the exhibition areas in the Lenbachhaus can been illuminated with the same quality. Thanks to a wide variety of options the lighting in each room can be controlled and set separately, meaning that it becomes possible to react to the specific art on display. The goal of creating lighting that is as natural as possible and optimally illuminates the works of art has effectively been achieved when visitors are not even aware of the “lighting”.

Art in Architecture
Even from a distance, Thomas Demand’s text sculpture LENBACHHAUS (2011–12) guides visitors to the new entrance of the Lenbachhaus. Its very size and its presence in front of the facade of the new building, which shimmers with the lustre of brass, asserts that it is much more than a mere appellation. The height of its letters both corresponds to the pedestal of the neighbouring studio building and determines its length, creating a tension between the sculpture itself, which is clearly distinguished from the facade by colour, and the architectural structure. The text is composed of separate, three-dimensional letters in an Antiqua typeface and protrudes just a few hand’s breadths from the side of the facade, tapering into a sans serif towards the front. Both levels of text on this metal sculpture are linked by wedge-shaped crossbars, providing a sculptural effect that reinforces the interplay of light and shadow. The Antiqua is taken from the typography used when the museum was founded in 1929, while the sans serif corresponds to the in-house typeface utilized today. Demand produced each letter individually rather than employing any standardized, existing typeface, and the result is highly unconventional, yet unified lettering. The blank and interim spaces of this sculpture reveal its exceptional three-dimensional quality, for the sculpture glows in the slender lines of its simple metal letters, thus marking the new entrance to the building even at night.

The visitor passes through a foyer to reach the atrium, which is probably the most surprising room of the new Lenbachhaus. Raised several steps, it surrounds the exposed core building of Lenbach’s villa. At the time of its construction the latter was squeezed in between its former neighbouring buildings, but now it looms up edifice-like within a hall approximately eleven metres tall and is passable on all sides. The floor of whitewashed oak planks emphasizes the residential character of the atrium, with the old building soaring up like a solid block. A view through the old stone walls into Lenbach’s original rooms reinforces the impression that the villa building has been rededicated – a historical document integrated into the museum’s succession of display rooms.

Also in the atrium, an imposing work of polished metal and coloured glass extends down from the ceiling to just above the visitors’ heads. Wirbelwerk is Olafur Eliasson’s title for his spiral vortex from 2011–12, which relies on the concept of dynamics. The circular motion of a whirlpool reaches down but then sucks everything from the depths back up to the surface. The Coriolis effect, the form of kinetic energy that describes a spiral form of bodies rotating from centrifugal motion, was recognized as a physical phenomenon around 1800. The recording of dynamic processes it makes possible are key to an understanding not only of currents in air and water such as whirlwinds and ocean currents, but also of the order of galaxies. The rising spiral, and its triangular forms, is a formal element in Constructivist sculpture, probably the most famous example being Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International of 1917. In Eliasson’s work, the form is inverted and ascends steeply. Widening sections of triangular, transparent coloured glass are held by polished metal tubes that taper conically downwards, emphasizing the gyratory effect. Lights within the sculpture cause it to radiate like a lamp, projecting shadows and coloured lights onto the surrounding walls. Depending on the brightness of the room, these projections can seem clearer or more diffuse. By colouring his sculpture, Eliasson is alluding to the visual world of paintings, which his work aspires to lead up to but from which it reaches down at the same time. Wirbelwerk is a kind of kaleidoscope, opening up and expanding the room despite its dimensions. This sculpture of steel and glass has a diameter of around seven metres at its widest and is over eight metres high. Some 450 panes of glass were inserted with great precision to form a large colourful vortex that will “seize” the visitors’ attention and draw them into the building.

Dietmar Tanterl’s intervention in the north wing of the Lenbachhaus in the form of the light sculpture ROTWEINROT (REDWINERED, 2008/12) consists of eighteen lamps on three sides of the stairwell. Slender, vertical konzenlighting elements are mounted at regular intervals in front of the walls in such a way that they all stand on an imaginary baseline, indeed, the three-dimensional acrylic glass bodies seem to float in front of the walls. Because we are in a stairwell, we perceive these lighting elements from different perspectives, which arrests and calms the up-and-down nature of the stairs. The space of the stairwell appears to have been widened. The stele lamps of frosted acrylic glass radiate light into the room from the three front sides; the rear wall of white painted metal and the mounting creates a slight distance from the wall, establishing an association with sculptural figures.

At regular intervals, these tall cuboids light up in white alternating with tripartite red-white-red, whereby the red is so gentle that the borders with the central white section remain fluid. This crescendo and decrescendo significantly changes how the space is perceived. As the quality alternates between cool light and a warm overall tone, the whole room seems to breathe. Tanterl has six lamps of equal size constantly shining white on one wall, which only serves to emphasize the otherwise unceasing transformation. The title ROTWEINROT is a slightly ironic reference to the heraldic colours of Austria, with Dietmar Tanterl, as an Austrian who has lived in Munich since the 1970s, taking a somewhat playful approach to national identity. But there is nothing more than a slight whiff or reflection of the national symbol here, as if proximity or even identity itself were disappearing and more like a vague memory. Yet this work also follows the trend already observed of using light to create a situation that affects the viewers’ emotions and sensations, without otherwise enlightening them about the components that trigger the reaction. Everything seems strictly rational; everything can be read immediately. It requires only a probing eye that wants to see what causes the effect in question.

The Collections
The atrium reveals a further innovation in the Lenbachhaus: a signage system that shows visitors the routes around the institution’s various collections. Instead of compelling people to follow a specific path through the museum, they can decide for themselves what they would like to see: signs lead them directly to the historical Lenbach rooms, the art of the nineteenth century, the ‘Blue Rider’, Joseph Beuys, and art after 1945..

In the historical rooms, Lenbach’s paintings are presented in the ambience that the artist himself designed. The original furnishings and the arrangements of his own works and works of art from a wide range of periods have been recreated, based on contemporary photographs. These rooms thus offer an authentic impression of Lenbach’s ideas about art and the notion of conveying status in the late nineteenth-century Gründerzeit era.

The nineteenth-century paintings in the Lenbachhaus collection were, until recently, limited to the Munich School. Nowhere else in Germany did landscape painting after 1800 evolve as richly and freely as it did in Munich, providing inspiration for the modern era. The permanent inclusion of the Christoph Heilmann Foundation in the holdings of the Lenbachhaus has placed new and crucial emphasis on this genre. The numerous associations between these two collections can contribute to a deeper understanding of this form of art, which played a fundamental role in the history of art in nineteenth-century Munich. More than three decades ago, the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus dedicated an extensive exhibition, Münchner Landschaftsmalerei, 1800–1850(Landscape Painting in Munich, 1800–1850), to this far-reaching phenomenon. The show explored not only the specific character of the museum’s early paintings but also how internationally influential the genre had already become in the nineteenth century. The local bourgeoisie participated with exhibitions at the Münchner Kunstverein, which was founded in 1823 and showed primarily landscapes and genre paintings. When the Lenbachhaus opened in 1929, initially it concentrated on this more private form of bourgeois art. By doing so, the gallery was staking out its own position and thus distinguishing itself from the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, which had been created from the holdings of the House of Wittelsbach and the activities of the academy of art. The Christoph Heilmann Foundation in combination with the Lenbachhaus enables us to follow the early evolution of nineteenth-century landscape painting, with some truly outstanding examples of the genre. Alongside the Munich School, the Christoph Heilmann Foundation also includes characteristic individual examples of Dresden Romanticism, the Berlin and Düsseldorf Schools, and the Barbizon School, thus permitting an exciting overview of this artistic exchange.

Munich was still an attractive city for artists in the late nineteenth century, with its own academy of the arts staffed by skilled painters. As a result, a number of artists, including Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej Jawlensky, and Marianne von Werefkin, decided to come from Russia in order to study painting. In 1909 they founded the Neue K ünstlervereinigung München (NKVM) in conjunction with Gabriele Münter and a number of other artists. In many ways this could be seen as a precursor of the ‘Blue Rider’. After a rift within the NKVM at the end of 1911, the ‘Blue Rider’ circle formed with Kandinsky, Münter, Franz Marc, August Macke, Alfred Kubin, and Paul Klee at its heart. In the winter of the same year they staged a seminal exhibition at Galerie Thannhauser.

Thanks to his close personal ties with Gabriele Münter, which ended abruptly at the outbreak of World War I, a significant portion of Kandinsky’s work from his period in Munich and Murnau remained in her possession. When Münter turned eighty in , she donated all these works to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, as well as her own paintings and others by artist friends from the ‘Blue Rider’ group. Shortly thereafter, in 1965, Elly Koehler and Bernhard Koehler, Jr, donated a series of some of the finest paintings by Franz Marc and August Macke. Suddenly, the Lenbachhaus was elevated from being a museum with close Munich connections to an internationally noteworthy institution.

The 1979 installation of an environment by Joseph Beuys, zeige deine Wunde (show your wound, 1974/75) in the rooms of Franz von Lenbach’s former studio was understood as a provocation but also as a fundamental shift into new dimensions of collecting. For the first time, the museum was acquiring a major, great work of art that had no direct connection to Munich. Together with the installation vor dem Aufbruch aus Lager I (before departing from camp I, 1970/80), purchased from Lothar Schirmer’s collection in 2012, the position of Joseph Beuys’ work in the Lenbach - haus has been strengthened considerably. The theme of vor dem Aufbruch aus Lager I is the process of artistic creativity, while zeige deine Wunde addresses the vulnerability and finiteness of life. In addition to these two large sculptural works owned by the Lenbachhaus, Lothar Schirmer’s donation of more than a dozen early Beuys sculptures (1948 onwards) has created another special focus. Moreover, these outstanding works of art have filled a gap in our collection: the long period between the art of the ‘Blue Rider’ and international contemporary art.

Cycles of works by internationally renowned artists have since been added, and these are shown in the new building of the Lenbachhaus on the same floor as Beuys. They include groups of works, some of them quite extensive, by Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Anselm Kiefer, Öyvind Fahlström, Hanne Darboven, Günter Fruhtrunk, Rupprecht Geiger, Arnulf Rainer, Maria Lassnig, Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly, Sean Scully, On Kawara, Isa Genzken, Thomas Demand, and Olafur Eliasson.

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May 13, 2013

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