Munich's Lenbachhaus has drawn art lovers with works by Kandinsky and Marc. Now, after a world-class renovation, modern architecture, high-tech and contemporary artworks are on the menu.
Next to the monumental Königsplatz in Munich stands a new building, a kind of golden scintillating Kabbalah, which is soon to lure devotees of art.
This new extension of the Lenbachhaus museum was built by the architect bureau Foster and Partners, known for buildings such as the London Gherkin, the new World Trade Center in New York, and the rebuilding of the Reichstag in Berlin.
While many Munich residents, not known to be great adherents of modern architecture, may be in aesthetic despair over the new addition to their city, others will delight in the novelties to be discovered both outside and inside the museum.
Art in a new light
Besides the reconstruction of main building and some other restorations, the Lenbachhaus will be the first museum in Germany to use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) so extensively.
This innovation will shed new light on the world's biggest collection of paintings from the expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). The paintings of Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Gabriele Münter, and others are finally back on their native walls after touring the world during the last four years of renovation.
Works by the Blue Rider group put the Lenbachhaus on the map (museum pictured here prior to addition)
"This mixture of five different LED lights is more energy efficient, combinable with day light if necessary, and delivers an outstanding color rendering," said Christian Bölling from Osram, the company responsible for the new museum lighting.
The LED light, which can be adjusted via a tablet PC, is not only less harmful to the paintings than natural light, it can also flexibly enhance the light effects used in the artwork.
"With this technology you can subtly change the light irradiation whenever you want," added Bölling. "For instance, if the artist painted the painting in lamplight, we can imitate that. If the curator decides to show it in a different light the next day, we can change at the push of a button."
Osram and the artist Dietmar Tanterl had Wassily Kandinsky's words in their mind while they were developing this approach: "When I paint a piece of art in the morning, I have to look at it at noon again in order to see how the colors appear in midday light."
Revolutionary approach to art
Now one of Germany's leading art houses, the Lenbachhaus, former residence of the renowned portrait artist Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904), had ordinary beginnings, according to Christian Fuhrmeister from Munich's Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte (Central Institute for Art History).
"Irrespective of the historical building and being a real artist house, it was the gift of the Blue Rider paintings by Gabriele Münter in 1957 that catapulted the Lenbachhaus out of nowhere into an entirely different league," he commented.
The Blue Rider was an important avant-garde movement and next to Die Brücke (The Bridge) the most eminent group of expressionistic art. Later they would be significant for the development of abstract art, Fuhrmeister explains.
"For them colors and lines were free and not bound to represent an object accurately," he pointed out. "This radical implementation of colors and lines against the photographic emulation of the external world was a drastic step against the dominating art of that time."
Moreover, Kandinsky, Klee, and the others believed that their art did not merely revolve around the plain surface, but around the soul and the subconscious.
Expect to see Beuys and Richter
The Blue Rider's thinking and artwork appealed neither to the people nor to the dominating conception of art of their time. Later, their paintings were even denounced by the National Socialists as "degenerate art."
The Lenbachhaus attempts to erect at least one other main pillar next to their Blue Rider flagship. After the acquisition of Joseph Beuys' "Zeige deine Wunden" (Show Your Wounds) in 1979, the museum recently received several of Beuys' sculptures and purchased another of his installations, "Vor dem Aufbruch aus Lager I" (Before the Departure from Camp One).
"Therefore, another focus of the collection has been created," said Claudia Weber, head of communications at the Lenbachhaus. "Further, our collection of artists after 1945 has been extended significantly."
Additional exhibitions, including Gerhard Richter's complete "ATLAS," are also in the works.
It seems that everything is new at the Lenbachhaus - even the director, Matthias Mühling, who will take office in 2014. Even if the new golden cube and its modern light scheme are not able to attract visitors, the expansion of its contemporary art collection is reason enough for a pilgrimage to the Lenbachhaus, Munich's little Mecca of art.