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Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum in Munich

All it took was a new copper-clad addition, the installation of a geo-thermal heating and cooling system, and some LED lighting to transform an elegant yet out-of-date 19th century building in Munich. When architect Ulrich Hamann of the London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners undertook a four-year $79 million dollar renovation of the Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum in Munich, Germany, the results were both beautiful and smart.
The first thing visitors see when approaching the Lenbachhaus is the letter sculpture designed by Munich-born artist Thomas Demand. The artist, whose works have been shown at London's Tate Modern, the Guggenheim in New York, and the Stadel in Frankfurt has created a contrasting statement to the brass facade. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

The original buildings, a 19th century neoclassical Tuscan style studio and villa, were built by artist Franz von Lembach. In 1920, his family donated the property to the city of Munich with the stipulation that it be used as a museum. 

It was a daunting task, as the Lenbacchaus is the grand dame of museums in Munich. The centerpiece of what is known as Munich’s Art Quarter reigns over fourteen museums; Pinakothek der Moderne, Paleontology Museum, Museum Brandhorst, and the new Museum of Egyptian Art, to name a few.

When the Lenbachhaus re-opens on May 8, 2013, visitors will be seeing, for the first time, a significant chunk of art from its avant-garde collection of over 30,000 artifacts. On display will be works by such artists as Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Ellsworth Kelly, and Dan Flavin.

The entire third floor of the new addition, the Stadtische Gallery, is given over to the abstract art of Wassily Kandinsky. (In 1957, Gabriele Munter, Kandinsky’s former mistress, donated her collection of 1,000 pieces of Kandinsky’s work.)

The museum is also home to the world’s largest collection of art by members of the Blue Rider. This circle of painters was formed by Kandinsky in 1911 and lasted until 1914, when Kandinsky was forced to return to Russia with the start of World War I. The group was made up of Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, and August Macke, who created what would become some of the most important artworks in the world. Separate galleries within the Stadtische will house art devoted to works by Blue Rider artists.

Architect Ulrich Hamann's rendering of the new addition to the Lenbachhaus Museum and Gallery; the Stadtische Galerie Im Lenbachhaus. Image courtesy of Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum.

Ulrich Hamann designed the outside of the Stadtische in the shape of a shoebox, wrapping it in sheaths of copper to reflect the 19th century saffron-colored studio and villa behind it. Wanting visitors to experience a work of art immediately upon entering, Hamann commissioned internationally renowned artist Olafur Eliasson to create an eye catching “bauble” for the front atrium. Suspended from the ceiling is Eliasson’s twenty-six foot long conical shaped work, Wirbelwirk, made of polished steel and 450 panes of colored glass that reflect light and shapes.

Meanwhile, some sixty percent of the expenses for the renovation went into things that can’t be seen. A state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system now pumps cool and warm water through the walls, keeping them an even temperature for the art on them.

Gone are the old flickering florescent lights, replaced by a new LED system that is a work of art. For each gallery, lighting artist Dietmar Tanteri designed LED lamps and light installations in the ceilings that use light emitting diodes that, when lit, resemble daylight. They’re controlled by a push of a few buttons.

Over the years, Lenbachhaus has had several renovations. Structural damage from bombings during World War II was never repaired properly until now. Ulrich Hamann’s stunning new addition and the advanced technology added throughout the museum has brought Lenbachhaus Gallery and Museum into the 21st century.

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