Munich as Kunststadt

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1. doug klahr Munich as Kunststadt, 1900–1937: Art, Architecture, and Civic Identity Douglas Klahr byguestonAugust5,2011oaj.oxfordjournals.orgDownloadedfrom 2.…
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  • 1. doug klahr Munich as Kunststadt, 1900–1937: Art, Architecture, and Civic Identity Douglas Klahr byguestonAugust5,2011oaj.oxfordjournals.orgDownloadedfrom
  • 2. byguestonAugust5,2011oaj.oxfordjournals.orgDownloadedfrom
  • 3. Munich as Kunststadt, 1900–1937: Art, Architecture, and Civic Identity Douglas Klahr Introduction On 1 December 2010, the international online edition of the German news magazine Der Spiegel published an article entitled ‘Taking on Berlin’s Art Dominance: Hamburg Struggles to get Its Groove Back’. The article chronicled how, since reunification of the nation in 1990, Hamburg and other formerly West German cities that had established themselves as centres of art and theatre during the Cold War were losing ground to Berlin. Although drawing historical parallels is always a risky business, portions of the article – with minor changes – could have been written a century ago, when unification of German states into a nation had occurred a scant generation earlier: In the good old days of pre-unification West Germany, where the focus was very much on federalism, including in relation to the arts, several cities were attractive as cultural centers. But now that phenomenon is gradually disappearing as Berlin increasingly becomes the focus of the country’s cultural life. . . . Every city in West Germany seemed to have its own special role: Cologne was the city of fine arts, Munich was the city of high culture, and West Berlin was for those who wanted to drop out. And then there was Hamburg, perhaps the wildest city of all. . . Cologne was the first city to lose its standing after German reunification. Art Cologne, once one of the world’s leading art fairs, dwindled into a minor event. The galleries left the city, as did the artists.1 One hundred years ago, although the cast of players was somewhat different than today, the issue was the same: the centripetal effect of concentrating art venues in Berlin following the processes of unification in 1871 and reunification in 1990. In fin-de-sie`cle Germany, Hamburg and Cologne were minor players in the art scene, whereas Dresden and Munich were historically the leading centres, both in terms of art education and the quality of their museum collections. This essay examines how in the decades after German unification, Munich, which was unquestionably the nation’s pre-eminent Kunststadt or art-city, began losing this crucial component of its civic identity to Berlin. It concludes with Adolf Hitler’s attempt to re-establish Munich’s status via decree. In essence, the presence of Berlin forced the citizens of Munich – and others as well – to reassess to what degree and in what manner the city embodied the notion of a Kunststadt. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, Berlin was the foil against which Munich identified itself, and without this tension, any examination of Munich’s identity during the period in question falls flat. Political and economic contexts framed the so-called Kunststadt Debatte of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries regarding whether Munich was still Germany’s foremost Kunststadt or had been eclipsed in rank by Berlin. The debate reached its height during the 1880s and 1890s but by 1901 it essentially was over, with Berlin firmly in the lead. 1. Philipp Oehmke and Martin Wolf, ‘Taking on Berlin’s Art Dominance: Hamburg Struggles to Get Its Groove Back’, trans. Paul Cohen, Spiegel Online International, ,http://www.spiegel.de/ international/germany/0,1518,731214,00. html.. # The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved OXFORD ART JOURNAL 34.2 2011 179–201 doi:10.1093/oxartj/kcr017 byguestonAugust5,2011oaj.oxfordjournals.orgDownloadedfrom
  • 4. The true time span of this shift, of course, spanned more than two decades, with Munich beginning to fret about Berlin’s explosive growth as early as the 1850s and the city attempting to stem its losses until the First World War. The period of the Kunstdebatte in Munich regarding art was paradoxical, for components that initially might appear to bolster the city’s Kunststadt status were also elements that contributed to its decline. The city ranked with Paris regarding the education of painters. In his foreword to the book Kandinsky in Munich, Carl Schorske notes that in addition to outstanding German artists of the 1870s and 1880s of historical, landscape, and portrait painting such as Franz Lenbach, Hans Makart, and Wilhelm Liebl, major American realists of the late nineteenth century such as William Merritt Chase, Frank Deveneck, and Toby Rosenthal also studied in Munich.2 Yet the great success of these painters spawned a far greater number of second-rank artists to study and work in Munich, creating in essence an industry of painters who by the early 1890s appeared to many observers as practitioners of sentimental, cloying historicism. Scholar Maria Makela provides some context regarding the scope of this: Statistics, rough and scanty though they may be, nevertheless indicate the magnitude of this phenomenon. By 1895 around 1,180 painters and sculptors – over 13 percent of the total number in Germany – lived in Munich. That same year there were only 1,159 painters and sculptors working in Berlin, which was by then more than four times as populous as the Bavarian capital and was the only German city whose artist community approached the size of that in Munich. The next largest was that in Du¨sseldorf, where 335 painters and sculptors practiced their profession. Dresden followed, with 314 resident artists, and Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Hannover came next, with only 280, 142, and 88 painters and sculptors respectively.3 In 1892, Munich’s Secessionist movement erupted as a response by artists who were frustrated with the stagnation they felt had settled into the city. Massive production of art was matched by a well-oiled industry of art marketing in which Munich was a pioneer, and Secessionist members focused much of their discontent upon Munich’s Ku¨nstlergenossenschaft or Society of Artists, which was responsible for selecting the art that went into the city’s internationally renowned annual exhibitions. The jolt of energy and innovation that the Secession gave to Munich, however, was short lived, and the confrontational atmosphere both within the city and within the movement ultimately hastened Munich’s loss of status. Abandoning a career in law, Vasily Kandinksy arrived to study art in Munich in 1896, the same year that the journals Jugend and Simplicissimus were founded in the city. Avant-garde theatre was represented not only in the work of playwrights Frank Wedekind and Ludwig Thoma, but also within the venue of Elf Scharfrichter, the most famous cabaret of political satire in Germany. The Jugendstil movement flowered with its brightest intensity in Munich: Hermann Obrist, August Endell, Richard Riemerschmid, Bernhard Pankok, Bruno Paul, and Peter Behrens were its leaders before many of them left Munich as the city’s atmosphere began to change in the 1890s. The intense artistic, literary, and theatrical ferment produced a conservative political backlash, and by 1903 the Jugendstil movement was past its prime. Peter Jelavich’s comments about this are not only pertinent but also will serve as a segue to the architectural focus of this essay. He wrote: ‘The areas of bourgeois expansion in Munich around 1900 – Schwabing, the Prinzregentenstrasse and the land along and beyond the Isar river – all display striking examples of Jugendstil architecture, but the number of buildings designed in the older 2. Carl Schorske, foreword, Kandinsky in Munich, 1896–1914 (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: New York, 1982), p. 18. 3. Maria Makela, The Munich Secession: Art and Artists in Turn-of-the-Century Munich (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1990), pp. 14–15. 182 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 34.2 2011 Douglas Klahr byguestonAugust5,2011oaj.oxfordjournals.orgDownloadedfrom
  • 5. historical styles is still greater. . . . By 1903 many of Munich’s major Jugendstil artists – Peter Behrens, Bernard Pankok, Otto Eckmann, August Endell – had left the city to continue their careers in more promising and lucrative environments’. Jelavich continued, noting that by 1909 even Kandinksy complained that Munich had become a sort of Cockaigne, a medieval mythical land of plenty that resulted in a complacent and somnolent populace.4 With regard to this me´lange of artistic, economic, and political contexts, architecture offers an especially suitable entre´e for examining Munich’s decline as Kunststadt around the turn of the century and Adolf Hitler’s attempt to resurrect it several decades later. First, architecture is the ultimate collaborative artistic endeavour, for any initial creative vision on the part of an individual is sublimated to the complex reality of bringing a building to fruition. The process, therefore, is often as revealing as the finished object, especially with regard to political and economic contexts. Secondly, the permanent nature of architecture offers the historian a paradox not found to the same degree in other art forms: the collaborative nature of the endeavour is permanently and publicly frozen in stone – or whatever building material – ostensibly for a long period of time. Thus, the most collaborative and often confrontational process of artistic creation coalesces into an object that is not easily modified. It is this very real, inescapable tectonic rigidity that functions in this essay as the metaphorical counterpoint to the often ethereal claims that Munich’s residents – and others as well – put forth regarding the city’s Kunststadt status. In a 1930 letter from Kandinsky to Paul Westheim, the artist recounts an exchange between two people that exemplifies the spiritual side of this contrast: ‘What is Schwabing?’, a Berliner once asked in Munich. ‘It is the northern part of the city’, said a Mu¨nchner. ‘Not a bit’, said another, ‘it is a spiritual state.’ Which was more correct. Schwabing was a spiritual island in the great world, in Germany, mostly in Munich itself. There I lived for many years. There I painted the first abstract picture. There I concerned myself with thoughts about ‘pure’ painting, pure art.5 It is against this spirituality that architecture will serve as a foil in this essay. Two museums and a Kunsthalle, a building specifically designed for temporary art exhibitions, are analysed as urban markers of local, regional, and national identity: the Bavarian National Museum of 1900, the Schack-Galerie of 1909, and the House of German Art of 1937. While the architecture of these buildings comes into consideration, the programmes for their creation take centre stage, revealing not only the political agendas behind these structures, but also how these agendas were intertwined with Munich’s identity as a Kunststadt. In accordance with this Berlin–Munich competition vis-a`-vis Kunststadt status, Munich’s famous Glyptothek, Alte Pinakothek, and Neue Pinakothek are not examined, since their construction occurred before Berlin began to seriously challenge Munich in the 1870s. Munich as a Kunststadt In 1907 E. W. Bredt published a slim book entitled Mu¨nchen als Kunststadt. Bredt made several important observations about Munich, one of them being that in comparison with other German cities that had substantial heavy industry components, Munich’s manufacture of crafts and furniture did not distort the physiognomy of the city.6 In other words, the pre-Industrial Revolution urban fabric of Munich remained largely intact, since such industries could 4. Peter Jelavich, ‘Munich as Cultural Center: Politics and the Arts’, in Kandinsky in Munich, p. 23. 5. Kandinsky in Munich, p. 27. 6. E. W. Bredt, Mu¨nchen als Kunststadt (Marquardt & Co.: Berlin, 1907), p. 4. OXFORD ART JOURNAL 34.2 2011 183 Munich as Kunststadt, 1900–1937: Art, Architecture, and Civic Identity byguestonAugust5,2011oaj.oxfordjournals.orgDownloadedfrom
  • 6. be accommodated in existing buildings. The connection between the city’s architecture and the art world was twofold: an urban landscape largely unmarred by large factories not only continued to serve as visual inspiration for the artists who worked in Munich, but also permitted civic boosters to feel justified in claiming that their city truly was a Gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art. Bredt was cognisant of the potential pitfall that resided in such a claim; the logical inference that such a perfectly preserved city might be little more than a museum and therefore unable to innovate in the fine arts. He attempted to pre-empt such criticism by declaring that Munich’s residents had a kinship to the earth that precluded them from producing either art or architecture that was based on empty academism. He noted that residents regarded a judgment of bodensta¨ndig or earthiness as the highest of praise regarding their Baroque architecture.7 In her 1994 study, Mu¨nchen als Kunststadt, an encyclopaedic compilation of sources about the topic ranging from 1781 to 1945, Kirsten Gabriele Schrick documents how poets and writers disseminated Munich’s reputation of artists enjoying widespread societal support by frequently attributing this situation to a special connection between the citizenry and the countryside. She then notes how this relationship was often counterpoised against the industrial growth – and its oft-cited evils – of other cities, especially Berlin. She writes: ‘The charisma of a fairytale city was tightly connected with the picture of countryside origins’.8 Schrick’s linkage between a fairytale city and the countryside was apparently crucial in differentiating Munich not only from industrial powerhouses, but also from cities that resembled precious museum pieces, such as Dresden. Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German museum director Alfred Lichtwark, whose career was based in Hamburg, commented upon this in his 1898 book Deutsche Ko¨nigssta¨dte: ‘The word “Berlin” affects the nerves like the blast of a trumpet and “Dresden” calls forth fairytale visions, but eyes light up when the name of the Bavarian capital is mentioned’.9 It was clear that within the familiar categorisation of Munich as ‘heart’ and Berlin as ‘head’ or ‘brain’, Lichtwark felt that Munich had received the more favourable appellation while avoiding the fate of Dresden as a city-as-museum. E. W. Bredt stated that it was the integration of the artist within Munich’s society that made the city unique. He wrote: ‘In no other city in the world is the artist so connected with all circles of society or is art so unpretentiously, unobtrusively or quietly involved in general economic activity as Munich. One perhaps likes to discover an equal number of artists within Berlin’s address book, but they are lost within the city face of Berlin. Here [in Munich] the artist often is well-nigh the foil to society; everywhere else it is understandably vice-versa’.10 Makela provides an indication of the societal integration about which Bredt wrote. She quotes from the memoirs of art and theatre critic Theodor Goering, who relocated from Berlin to Munich and compared the high status of painters in Munich with that enjoyed by the officer class in Berlin. Goering noted that a composer or musician was not accorded the same status: ‘regardless if he is the most gifted virtuoso, his talent is not nearly as highly regarded as the painter’s’. He then proceeded to describe how such status integrated the painter into a wide swathe of Munich’s society. Goering wrote: 7. Bredt, Mu¨nchen als Kunststadt, p. 19. 8. Kirsten Gabriele Schrick, Mu¨nchen als Kunststadt. Dokumentationen einer kulturhistorischen Debatte von 1781 bis 1945 (Verlag Holzhausen: Vienna, 1994), pp. 67–8. 9. Alfred Lichtwark, quoted in Ulrich Bischoff and Anna Greve, ‘The Rome of the North – Athens on the Spree – Florence on the Elbe: Munich, Berlin and Dresden as Centres of European Painting in the Nineteenth Century’, in Views on Europe: Europe and German Painting in the Nineteenth Century, eds. Nina Schlief and Karin Beth (Hatje Cantz Verlag; Ostfildern, Germany, 2007), p. 67. 10. Bredt, Mu¨nchen als Kunststadt, pp. 13–14. In contemporary German, the word ‘Folie’ is used solely in a technical sense to describe a film, foil, membrane, or laminate. Bredt, however, used the word in an older sense, as described in a 1903 dictionary: ‘to serve as a foil to (or as a pretext for) a thing’. H. Baumann, Muret-Sanders Encyclopa¨disches englisch-deutches und deutsch-englisches Wo¨rterbuch, Hand- und Schulausgabe, Zweiter Teil: Deutsch-englisch (Langenscheidtsche Verlagsbuchhandlung: Berlin, 1903), p. 276. 184 OXFORD ART JOURNAL 34.2 2011 Douglas Klahr byguestonAugust5,2011oaj.oxfordjournals.orgDownloadedfrom
  • 7. The latter [the painter] is invited to the summer villas of the aristocracy, where he is regarded as a companion, a chum, as it were. Here he makes sketches, which is almost as respectable an occupation as the hunting or racing of the cavaliers with whom he shares the same social status. . . . The Kunstverein, where the newest works of many artists are shown in weekly exhibitions, is regularly visited by all classes of the populace. Everyone takes a lively interest in the more important manifestations of this genre; art criticism (or more correctly, art reportage) has with the theater and music reviews a regular column in the daily press, much more so than in other cities.11 Munich’s height of fame as a Kunststadt in the second half of the nineteenth century had a crucial yet sharply ironic subtext directly connected with architecture: so many of its artists were able to be financially successful because Munich was an early pioneer in how it marketed its painters’ canvases. The opening of the Art Exhibition Building or Kunstausstellungsgeba¨ude in 1845 provided an exhibition space for industrial and artistic products, an unprecedented endeavour in Europe that occurred six years before London’s Crystal Palace. In 1854, Munich’s Glass Palace or Glaspalast opened, an iron and glass structure that took its cues from the London pavilion, and yearly art exhibitions on a truly massive scale once again led the way in terms of business practices (Fig.1). Scholars of the early twentieth century acknowledged that this utilitarian aspect was a factor in the city’s success as a Kunststadt. In the 1912 second edition of Deutsche Ko¨nigssta¨dte, Lichtwark recounted this history, noting that ‘with the opening of the modern essence of exhibitions with the first international exhibition in 1851, Munich found itself amongst all large German cities in a fortuitous position to have an existing exhibition palace’.12 Lichtwark notes that Berlin and Dresden did not have such essential venues until their exhibition halls opened in 1886 and 1898, respectively. The Glaspalast, with its capacity for massive art exhibitions, was symbiotically intertwined with Munich’s physiognomy and reverence for painters in securing the city’s identity as a Kunststadt. Lichtwark Fig. 1. Glaspalast, Munich, ca. 1860 (Wikipedia Commons). 11. Theodor Goering, Dreissig Jahre Mu¨nchen. Kultur- und kunstgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (C. H. Beck’sche Verlag: Munich, 1904), pp. 112, 57. Quoted in Makela, The Munich Secession, p. 16. 12. Alfred Lichtwark, Deutsche Ko¨nigssta¨dte, 2nd edn (Bruno Cassirer: Berlin, 1912), p. 114. When Lichtwark wrote this in 1912, he had been the director of Hamburg’s Kunsthalle since 1886, singlehandedly building its collection. It was with some sadness that he then placed Hamburg within the context of Munich’s leadership regarding art exhibitions held in massive halls suitable also for industrial wares, writing: ‘Hamburg, which needs a Glaspalast as much as all other cities excepting Munich and Berlin, today still has not come as far as Munich was fifty years ago’ (p. 114). OXFO
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