Those were the days. Extravagant „Malerfürsten“ (princes of art) were building their villae suburbanae on green grass. The dawn of an epicentre of modernism settled just outside the cities’ former boundaries. In front of the Propylaeum, Realist painter Franz von Lenbach erected his villa and studio in a Florentine Renaissance style by the seminal architect Gabriel von Seidl (1887 – 1891). Just a few years later, Munich Secessionist Franz von Stuck fullfilled his comprehensive masterpiece, the Villa Stuck, rive droite at Prinzregentenstraße, Bogenhausen, in 1898, back then still hinterland, the Schwabing bohème, the Räterepublik and the Beer Hall Putsch yet to come.
Today, both villas are being used as museums. The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau Munich is just coming out of four years overall refurbishment, including some serious architectural interventions by Foster + Partners. While some critics compare the extension with an oversized garage, others argue that the golden coloured corrugated sheeted facade matches the villa’s yellow paint coat. Embedded inside the urban landscape, the intervention investigates the space rather moderately, yet expressing progression. Hardly equipped with the attributes of a landmark building, it nicely docks at the exterior wall of the original villa suburbana. Like the Villa Stuck refurbishment by Kiessler + Partner, the entrance has been removed from its’ original position (passing the gates and the luscious garden) to the new body attached.
In alliance with the architectural manifestion, the museum has further underscored it’s bias, too. The extraordinary – and unforeseeable - donation by publisher Lothar Schirmer sets a new cornerstone for the Lenbachhaus: After the acquisition of the environment „Lager I“, the donation of sculptures by Joseph Beuys, which cover the artists’ entire statuary oeuvre, complement his presence in form and content. It also constitutes an apt quotation to its - now silent - Beuys portfolio and to the history of the institution.
When the former director Armin Zweite purchased the existential environment „show your wounds“ (1974/75; picture above) by Beuys in 1979, a public, at times nasty, debate around the value of modern art has evolved swiftly. On the one side, the acquisition was perceived as extremely provocative, on the other side, it irrevocably marked the departure towards a new dimension of the collection, leaving predominant norms and the almost neo-classical portrayal concept behind. In fact, Beuys renegotiated the tasks and goals of art, also in Munich.
At the same time, it was the premiere acquisition of an artist who has not lived or worked in Munich residence. In the posthum exhibition „Beuys zu Ehren“ (1986), Armin Zweite noted: „The Beuys legacy can only remain fruitful, if the metaphysical impulse beyond the materialistic bedrocks turns out to be productive.“ It sure seems like this has happened.
The new look still knows how to stage the undisputable backbone of the Lenbachhaus, the Blaue Reiter collection. „Ella“, the fancy café with a slick sun deck in front of the Propylaeum, pays tribute to Gabriele Münter, the artist and member of the Blaue Reiter Group, who donated an extensive collection of paintings in 1957, which formed the foundation of the iconic Blaue Reiter collection. In unforgettable loveletters, her boyfriend Wassily Kandinsky nicknamed her „Ella“.
Naturally, the author was tempted to underscore how much the Lenbachhaus became a DLD showroom: installations by DLDsters Olafur Eliasson and Thomas Demand are wrapped in a Sir Norman Foster packaging that arguably resembles a fancy version of the garage, the epitome of Silicon Valley innovation. However, he chose not to exploit this further but recommends to watch the „A Black Mountain College for the 21st century“ DLD09 session with Piero Golia, Carsten Höller, Rem Koolhaas, Thomas Demand, Maja Hoffmann, and Hans Ulrich Obrist.