Pinakothek der Moderne

Munich opens one of the world’s greatest collections of 20th-century art

On a par with Tate Modern or the Centre Pompidou, the Pinakothek der Moderne is the largest new gallery for a generation

The new Pinakothek der Moderne has taken more than a decade to build, but it is perhaps no coincidence that it eventually opened on 16 September, just six days before Germany’s general election. Bavarian premier Dr Edmund Stoiber, whose State had put up most of the funding, interrupted his national campaign for the Chancellorship to return to Munich to cut the ribbon. Some accused the conservative Christian Democratic leader of using the gallery as just another electioneering platform, but it did demonstrate that art is now regarded as a vote-winner (although ultimately Gerhard Schröder just managed to defeat Mr Stoiber).

Politics aside, the new Pinakothek der Moderne is a triumph. Designed by Munich architect Stephan Braunfels, who normally works on office blocks rather than museums, it is Germany’s largest new gallery for a generation and houses one of the world’s greatest collections of modern art—on a par with Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou.

The Pinakothek’s exterior is an elegant design of white stone and glass, and although bulky, the building is set back from the street and does not overwhelm its surroundings. Inside, it is centred around an enormous rotunda, which is open to the public and serves as a walkway between Munich’s old town and the inner suburb of Schwabing.

The gallery’s most enticing feature is its use of light, particularly around the glass-roofed rotunda, which is supported by a dozen pillars (shown above). All painted surfaces in the building are white (which will require continual repainting), but light streaming in from above and the sides gives the walls and pillars a range of tones from a blinding white to subtle whitish-greys. The result is a dramatic architectural statement which tempts visitors into the art spaces.

What makes the Pinakothek der Moderne unusual is that, like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, it brings together four collections: fine art, graphic art, architecture and design. All have their own areas off the rotunda, but under the same roof, emphasising that there are no firm boundaries between different art forms. Each has its own director, under the overall control of Professor Reinhold Baumstark, who is also responsible for fine art. The others are Dr Michael Semff (graphic art), Professor Winfried Nerdinger (architecture) and Professor Florian Hufnagl (design).

Altogether Munich Pinakothek has 12,000 square metres of exhibition space.

The more recent works in the Bayerische Staatsgemälde-sammlungen (Bavarian State picture collection) take up nearly half of this using the entire upper floor. The walls are very high, giving the 350 paintings plenty of space, and carefully-controlled light (natural during the day) descends through a frosted glass ceiling.

The display is in 36 rooms, covering the early 20th century to the present. Although basically chronological, rooms are mostly devoted to a single major artist or small group, rather than presenting an encyclopaedic sequence.

Munich’s greatest strength are the German Expressionists, particularly Beckmann, Heckel, Kirchner, Müller, Nolde and Schmidt-Rottluff, along with the other artists of the Brücke and the Blaue Reiter. Adjacent rooms house the Cubists, Neue Sachlichkeit, Surrealists and a large group of Picassos.

The other half of the upper floor covers the post-war period, including rooms for Baselitz, Beuys, Flavin, Fontana and Rainer, along with good selections of works by Bacon, de Kooning, Judd, Nauman, Polke, Rainer, Richter, Twombly, Wall and Warhol. One room contains a group of 16 Judd sculptures on loan from an American owner and the Pinakothek is hoping to raise funds to acquire them. Beuys’s visionary piece, “The end of the 20th century”, gets its own space. The final room, and the largest, is devoted to the very latest works of the new century.

Third largest print room in Germany

The prints and drawings galleries are on the ground floor, off the rotunda in an appropriate area without natural daylight. The works on paper collection (Staatliche Graphische Sammlung) comprises 350,000 prints and 45,000 drawings, making it Germany’s third greatest print room after Berlin and Dresden. It covers the period from the Renaissance (including works by El Greco and Rembrandt), but the main concentration is on the 20th century. The opening display comprises masterworks (until 6 January 2003), which will be followed by one marking the centenary of the birth of Italian artist Antonio Calderara.

Special display space for architectural drawings

This architectural collection is owned by the Architecture Museum of the Technical University, dating back to 1868, and the new Pinakothek offers the first proper display space—in a long gallery adjacent to the graphic art area. The architectural collection comprises 350,000 drawings, 100,000 photographs and 500 models. The opening exhibition is on “Construction and space in 20th century architecture” (until 2 March 2003). This will be followed by a show on Hamburg-born Gottfried Semper, the forerunner of modern architecture, who died in Rome in 1879.

A gallery for design

The design collection (known as the Neue Sammlung) grew out of the Deutsche Werkbund, founded in Munich in 1907. Although a State museum since 1925, the collection (which now numbers 60,000 objects) has never had its own permanent exhibition space. In the Pinakothek, the design displays have almost half the basement, and are reached by a dramatic staircase below a huge atrium. Objects on show include vehicles, metalwork, glass, ceramics and furniture. An open storeroom and a contemporary jewellery room will be completed next year.

Why the delay?

It has been a long struggle to create the Pinakothek der Moderne and Professor Baumstark has likened the process to staging a play. “You should build in some drama, and it is better to have the drama in the middle and then a glorious finale.” The story is long, and Munich took many decades to recover from the war.

The city has two other Pinakotheks, which were both bombed during World War II—although their collections had largely been removed to safety. The Alte Pinakothek (Old Masters) was very badly damaged and its building did not reopen until 1957; the rebuilding proved unsatisfactory and it had to be totally renovated, with a further closure in 1994-98. The Neue Pinakothek (late 18th- and 19th-century pictures) was totally destroyed by bombing and its replacement did not open until 1981. For many years the highlights of the two collections were temporarily displayed in the Haus der Kunst, the gallery built by Hitler in 1937 to display Nazi art.

Although Munich was one of the great German art cities of the interwar years, it emerged from the Nazi period with virtually no modern art. In 1945 the Bavarian State collection owned precisely six modern paintings—by Matisse, Marc, Corinth and Kokoschka. Gradually, however, the collection was developed and pictures which Hitler had once despised went on display in the Haus der Kunst. Many of these acquisitions came from private donors, such as Markus and Martha Kruss (Brücke artists), Günther Franke (Max Beckmann), Theodor and Woty Werner (Classical Modernism) and the Theo Wormland Foundation (Surrealists).

There was a growing need for a new gallery for modern art and by the 1970s it was regarded as an increasingly urgent priority. In 1990 an initial decision was made to proceed, but a few years later Bavarian prime minister Dr Stoiber said that the state would only fund the new Pinakothek if private donors put up 10% of the DM 200 million cost. Raising the private money went ahead quickly, but selecting an architect and getting the final go-ahead proved more difficult, with construction not starting until 1996. Costs later rose to DM 236 million (E121 million) and in 1996 the State intervened and halted work for much of the year. After several postponements, the gallery was only completed last month. Despite the long wait, Munich is fortunate in that the Bavarian state pays for all running costs for the three Pinakotheks.

The Pinakothek der Moderne expects to get over one million visitors a year, a large number for a gallery outside a capital. The Alte and Neue Pinakotheks are just next door and there are three other collections within a few minutes walk: the Glyptothek (classical sculpture), the Antikensammlungen (Greco-Roman antiquities) and the Lenbachhaus (early 20th-century German art). Meanwhile the Haus der Kunst is to be turned over entirely to major temporary exhibitions. All this should provide a great attraction for visitors. Munich prides itself as the home of the great beer fair, Oktoberfest, but it has now regained its position as Germany’s city of art.

o Pinakothek der Moderne, Barer Strasse 40 % +49 (0)89 238 050

“Why we must remember the Entartete Kunst episode”

“We in Munich have an obligation to keep memories alive to remind future generations what happened here,” says Professor Baumstark. “Munich was the city of art, but it was here that the “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) exhibition began and the Nazis glorified their hideous art in the Haus der Deutsche Kunst.”

Professor Baumstark was talking to The Art Newspaper in the Pinakothek der Moderne’s gallery 1, which he describes as a “prologue” to the entire picture display. Redolent with symbolism, the room contains the highlights of the Fohn Donation—Expressionist pictures saved in 1939 by a couple living in Rome. Austrian artist Emanuel Fohn and his wife Sofie had collected 18th- and 19th-century German Romantic art, but when they heard that Hitler was selling off Entartete Kunst from German museums, they immediately made a brave decision.

The Fohns journeyed to Berlin, and negotiated an arrangement with the Propagandaministerium to exchange their entire collection of much loved Romantics for the rejected Expressionists. It was not that the couple particularly liked these works, but they were disgusted by the Nazi policy and were determined to save the condemned art.

After the war, the Fohns considered returning their pictures to the individual German museums, but quickly decided to keep the collection together as a reminder of what had occurred. Their paintings were eventually donated to Munich in 1964. Beckmann’s “Large still-life with telescope” (ex-Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig), Macke’s “Girls under the trees” (ex-Nationalgalerie, Berlin) and Marc’s “The mandrill” (ex-Kunsthalle, Hamburg) hang with other works by Adler, Hofer, Jawlensky and Kokoschka in the new Pinakothek. They stand as a testimony to what happened in Munich—and have a much greater impact than the individual works would have in their pre-war museum homes.

“The Nazis slammed their fist in the face of art,” explained Professor Baumstark. Ernst Buchner, the pre-war and wartime director of the Bavarian State Collection, was a Nazi “fellow-traveller” and, astonishingly, he managed to keep his post until 1957.

But since then there has been a determined effort to make up for the lost collecting years. Munich now has the world’s finest collection of Beckmanns, and Professor Baumstark points with pride to the triptych of the “Temptation of St Anthony”, which was exhibited in London just before the outbreak of war in an attempt to point to the folly of the Nazi regime.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 129 October 2002