Munich’s museums in top gear


“Munich is called Athens on the river Isar,” our tour guide told us, although she didn’t say by whom. We were in Konigsplatz, facing a Doric-columned gateway built in 1846, a replica of the entry portal to the Acropolis. On either side of us were Grecian temples also dating from the 1800s, each a museum. To the north side of the square stood the Gypothek, with an impressive assemblage of Greek and Roman sculptures; to the south side of the square stood the building of the State Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, housing an outstanding collection of Greek ceramics and a welter of other treasures.

The Greek-style ensemble was the brainchild of King Ludwig the First, who kicked off the enterprise in 1816.  The square was only completed in 1862, 14 years after Ludwig abdicated. Later, Konigsplatz literally became Hitler’s stomping grounds, the lawn replaced by granite slabs to make a parade ground for his troops.

The only other Grecian aspect I noted in Munich was that the city’s prestigious art galleries were called  Pinakotheks, after “the pinakotheke” picture gallery in a wing of the Acropolis.
There are  three Pinakotheks in Munich: the Pinakotech der Moderne , the world-famous Alte Pinakothek and the Neue Pinakothek.  Together they  cover the history of art from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 21st century.

The light, rational building of the Pinakothek der Moderne, designed by Stephan Braunfels, covers 12,000 square metres of exhibition space putting it on a scale with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London. Though the 20th century came to an end not long ago, the visual arts of the period can already be  seen as having a unique shape and recognisable characteristics at the Pinakothek der Moderne. The museum houses four major 20th century collections  –  art, graphics, architecture and design – in an interconnected complex. It makes it as easy to perceive the 20th century as a cultural entity as if it were a precious stone held in your hand.

The art collection of the Pinakothek der Moderne focuses on key works of classical modernists, with  Picasso’s 1903 portrait of Madame Sorel looking as serene and sure as an Old Master. Subsequent generations of artists are well represented with works by Bacon, de Kooning, Warhol and others up to and including Pipilotti Rist’s video installations and Jeff Wall’s illuminated photographs.The graphics museum highlights works of major figures from modernism to the present, drawing from a rich and extensive archive.

The museum’s architecture collection presents a virtual promenade through the built icons of the 20th century through models and photographs.

For the first time in its 80 year history, Die Neue Sammlung – the world’s oldest design museum –  exhibits a significant number of its 60,000 objects in a coherent setting. A  rollicking series of displays from Art Deco prototype furniture to running shoes and mobile phones, to a faithful reconstruction of a 1960s living room, made the design history of the 20th century seem surprisingly uplifting.

Pinakothek der Moderne, Barer Strasse 40. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10am to 5pm; open Thursday and Friday from 10am to 8pm. Closed on Monday.

Bavarian beauties

One of the most popular exhibitions in Die Neue Sammlung is dedicated to the engineering and body sculpture of automotive design. If this takes your fancy, you can expand on the theme at the futuristic looking Bavarian Motor Works museum. A quarter of a million visitors yearly visit what looks like a flying saucer moored next to the BMW head office.

Before BMW came to mean cars, it meant airplane engines – hence the propeller logo in the blue and white flag of Bavaria. Later, BMW meant motorcycles. Today, BMW is the only European manufacturer of airplane engines, motorcycles and motor cars. In the museum, you’ll follow BMW’s development through exhibits ranging from the 1898 Warburg motor car to the cockpit of the car of the future, with excursions into airplanes and motorcycles. And it’s an easy path to follow: the museum is designed as a spiral ramp.

If you’d like to tour the adjacent BMW factory where computers and robots build cars for people, you must book several months in advance. Last minute visitors are rarely accommodated, but you could try your luck at the museum’s reception desk.

BMW Museum, Petuelring 130. Telephone +49 893 822 3306.
Open daily, including Sunday, from 9am to 5pm.
Last admission at 4pm.


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