Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

November 2002

Prime-Time Viewing

Don't be put off by the crowds-visiting the Pinakothek der Moderne is a must

Munich's newest museum, the Pinakothek der Moderne is a major cultural landmark not just owing to its stunning architecture but because it may finally rid the city of its reputation for provincialism, an accusation that has been leveled at the city’s cultural sector for decades.

On display over the four floors of this magnificent museum is a vast collection of paintings, drawings, photographs, videos, sculptures, miniature models and items of everyday life. The basement floor is given over to design. The ground floor, designed to accommodate temporary exhibitions, currently features an exhibition on architecture. Paintings and prints are displayed on the first floor and sculpture on the second. The exhibition on design includes sections on design vision, transport design and computer culture as well as a collection of design articles from 1900 to 2002 and pieces by the furniture designer Michael Thonet. The exhibition on architecture examines construction methods, building systems and use of space. The exhibition of paintings and prints is divided into 35 sections, with pieces grouped together according to artist or under headings such as Expressionism, Early Abstract Art and Figurative Painting from the 1960s and 1970s, whereas the second floor consists of an enormous open space in which sculptures by Marino Marini, Henry Moore, Toni Stadler and others are displayed.

Computer culture on the basement level is located in a darkened room with colorful graphics projected onto the walls, giving the space an almost dreamlike quality. As the exhibition suggests the contrast between these futuristic designs and the surrounding darkness could be a metaphor for mankind’s rapid journey from the dark ages of the pretechnological era more than half a century ago to the slick, sexy and sophisticated technology of today. Alongside the world’s newest, lightest and most expensive laptops are cumbersome machines from the 1970s. Even Apple and Transcom computers from the mid-1980s are big and bulky. It is hard to believe that these clumsy machines preceded the modern-day laptop by less than two decades.

The idea that technology evolved almost overnight is reinforced by the 150-year-old pieces of Delph and furniture on display in an adjacent room. Jugs, cups, plates and silverware, dating from the 19th century to the late 20th century, fill the shelves of a well-lit glass cabinet in a bright, airy room. What strikes one is the lack of change or development that has occurred in these industries in more than 100 years. The plates are still round, the cups are still cylindrical and even the colors and styles of the 19th century seem indistinguishable from those found in an average kitchen today.The only items in this display that betray their age are electronic ones, including a telephone with a round dial and a “Bluebird” radio, both from the 1930s. While the technical industry has progressed with enormous speed, most other objects of daily use seem to have changed little. Or perhaps the emphasis in these two areas of our lives is entirely different. Whereas computer technicians concentrate primarily on improving the functional performance and practicality of their designs, carpenters and potters focus on creativity as well as function.

The centerpiece of the design exhibition can be seen from the upper levels of the museum. It is a set of two identical display cases about 18 feet high containing seven revolving shelves. They are filled with plastic chairs, mobile phones, bottles, skateboards, tires and basins. In a nearby exhibition entitled “Design Whispers,” visitors can watch 24 screens showing a montage of interviews and graphics.

In the section devoted to architecture the array of miniature models, sometimes accompanied by explanatory videos and architectural drawings, give us an overview of some of the grandest buildings in the world. Models of the famous Opera House in Sydney and the Centre Pompidou in Paris reveal their complex and intricate details. Such features can never be fully appreciated from ground level. Consider how many thousands pass through Munich's central train station every day without giving any thought to its overall structure and form, or the concept that served as the basis of its construction? A project called “The Spiral” features a model of an unusual and somewhat erratic-looking building with strips of concrete projecting from it haphazardly. Next to it is a lined page with a rough snake-like drawing. On a video, two hands twist and turn a single strip of card until it is shaped to look like the spiral building. This is a very effective way of conveying the simple but ingenious idea behind the complex structure.

The painting and sculpture collections, which feature many of the great artists of the past century, are displayed in the barest possible environment—white walls, bright lighting and with small plaques affixed to the walls directly below each exhibit. While this may render the art more accessible, the effect is so stark that pieces often seem harsh, almost overexposed, diminished rather than enhanced by their new surroundings. What would August Macke, Max Beckmann or Georges Braque have thought of this bright, sterile environment one feels inclined to ask? Nonetheless, the Pinakothek der Moderne is a stunning showcase of creativity in the 20th and 21st centuries—at every level.

tell a friend