Downtown Munich has its own special rhythm. With much of the area closed to traffic, people ride their bikes or walk about, strolling through the streets and across squares. It's so relaxed, you almost feel like you're retired.
Summer photo fest
This summer several galleries in the Gärtnerplatz area have put on a kind of special photo fair (to July 31). The area is located behind the large city market, Viktualienmarkt, and aromas of herbs and spices waft through the air. Here you will find a mixture of little shops, traces of a gay scene, and also art. It's very likable.
At Rupert Walser's small gallery (Frauenhoferstr. 19), are four photographs by the monochrome painter Inge Dick, part of a series she calls "Boston Size." In the spring of 1999 the artist visited Boston to use the world's largest Polaroid camera. In a studio she photographed small monochrome color samples and enlarged them to a whopping 244 by 113 cm. Combining scientific precision with a poetic vision, Inge Dick raises the same questions articulated in her monochrome work: What is the essence of color? How is it affected by light? What process leads to change? Can we equate this process with our idea of time? Douglas
In Karin Sachs' gallery (Buttermelcherstr. 16) are the staged photographs of the young Swiss artist Chantal Michel. Using an old brewery as her set, she posed for self-portraits in uncomfortable, irresolvable situations. One picture shows the artist dressed in her Sunday best, hanging from the ceiling in a small, filthy, square space. In a surrounding where she does not fit, Michel is forced to adjust to an absurd position. It's a particularly nice feminist allegory, I think.
Galerie Pfefferle (Rumfordstr. 29) is showing the work of another photo-narrator of everyday life, the legendary William Eggleston. On view in the gallery are works from his "Graceland" portfolio of the 1970s. The coloring and detail of Eggleston's dye-transfer images of suburban Memphis and the Mississippi Delta are simply stunning. He creates an America that straddles reality and myth.
Dany Keller (Buttermelcherstr. 11) is exhibiting the photos of the African Malick Sidibé, whose work has recently received attention in the West. Until 1976 Sidebé ran a portrait studio in Bamako, the capital of Mali. This group of pictures focuses largely on nightclub scenes and parties in Mali in the 1960s, and demonstrate how clearly the urban culture of Africa adopted Western models. Like Seydou Keita, Sidebé has had celebrity status in his own country for years. But it wasn't until recently, some 30 years later, that the West caught a glimpse of his dancers doing the Mali twist.
Helmut Klewan's gallery (Klenzestr. 23) will only be open until the end of July. The Viennese dealer first came to Munich -- "the rural suburb of Vienna" -- in 1977, and has now been at the 500-square-meter, expensive, rented space on Klenzestrasse for more than 20 years. The artists he shows have all become classics: Austrians such as Arnulf Rainer and Maria Lassnig, and international figures like Jean Dubuffet and André Masson. But this alone is no longer enough to attract customers. Today social contacts are much more important, and standing around with a glass of champagne in hand at all the right society events does not appeal to Klewan. Hence he will be closing the gallery and dedicating himself entirely to his own collection.
Klewan's final gallery exhibition features Franz Hubmann's portraits of artists. The Vienna-based Magnum photographer turns 85 this year. He has taken photos of all those artists who mean so much to Klewan, from Giacometti to Braque.
Among the other photo shows are Helmut Newton at the Wittenbrink Gallery (Jahnstrasse 18), and a group show (works by Ellen Auerbach, Benjamein Katz, Marie-Jo Lafontaine, Magdalena Jetelova) at Walter Storm (Ismanninger Str. 51), whose gallery is not in the Gärtnerplatz area.
Hodler at the Hypobank
On the other side of the Munich Market is the more elegant part of the downtown pedestrian area with its wealth of shops -- Prada, Escada and so on. Amid the shops is an exhibition hall with a café. And who shows art at this exquisite meeting point? A bank. It is the exhibition hall of the Hypokulturstiftung (the Hypobank Cultural Foundation).
A retrospective of the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) is on view there through Oct. 10, and includes 140 paintings, works on paper and photographs. Long something of a Swiss national monument, Hodler made both allegorical figure paintings and landscapes that have become local icons. One example is Der Mäher (The Mower) of 1910, the image chosen for the 50 Franc note, which became, like the mountainous countryside, a visual symbol for Switzerland.
Also on view are monumental works commissioned by German cities. Einmütigkeit (Consensus) was done for the City Hall in Hanover, and measures 475 x 1,517 cm. The mural Der Auszug deutscher Studenten in den Freiheitskireg von 1813 (The Departure of German Students to Fight in the 1813 War of Independence) was completed in 1907 for the University of Jena. Drawings and oil studies accompany both of these works.
Hodler was "a painter able to express the soul through the body." His images of naked people are "symbols of the heightened human soul itself," as Paul Klee expressed it, and his landscapes an expression of an emphatic veneration of Nature. This inclination culminated in symbolist compositions such as Der Auserwählte (The Chosen) and Der Blick ins Unendliche (The View to Eternity), a work that is hung at the beginning of the exhibition.
Later works that mark Hodler's greatness are mostly smaller formats: impressive examples of his skeptical self-portraits, his confrontations with death, his documentation of the dying of his beloved Valentine Godé-Darel and his post-1905 landscapes. The colors of his mountain ranges and lakes became stronger and clearer as his style evolved, stripping away the pathos and approaching abstraction.
The three-month project "Dream City" (March 25-June 6), which involved 27 artists, was also suited to the Munich rhythm of walking. The title is an ironic quotation of a local tourist guidebook, but the show had an ambitious goal -- the installation of public works that deal critically with various aspects of the city.
In center of the Hofgarten, a symmetrical court garden in the middle of the city, was a painted version of Polyclitus' Javelin Thrower, courtesy of the Düsseldorf Postmodernist Hans-Peter Feldmann. An irreverent parody of the German cult of classical beauty, the Javelin Thrower faced the garden, turning his back on the colossal Bavarian State building at the edge of the park. This sculpture had its fans; a group of old ladies standing at a fair distance was spellbound. They must have been very near-sighted, since they seemed to think it was a live nude and kept waiting for it to move.
For her contribution to "Dream City," the Munich artist Pia Lanzinger organized a traditional, sight-seeing bus tour through the city, but it visited only gender-specific sites. Perhaps you can't quite imagine what a gender-specific site is? What Pia means, for example, is a place where women typically work in poorly paid shifts with few chances of promotion, such as the municipal authorities' switchboard.
These two examples should suffice to give you an idea of the scope of the "Dream City" project. Where underlying structures were explicable, as in Pia's bus tour, they became apparent to the public. But the majority of objects left the average Munich pedestrian at a loss. In some cases works were swallowed up by the forces they were meant to criticize, and made no impression at all. Such was the unfortunate case with Gülsün Karamustafa's Traffic Signs, for instance, which were indistinguishable from the ordinary.
As is often the case in public projects of this sort, political controversy enlivened the show. Berlin artists Annette Weisser and Ingo Vetter had incorporated furniture from the former Siemens headquarters in Berlin with the intention of reminding the public that the company had used forced labor during the Second World War. After complicated negotiations, the artists withdrew their work lest it endanger funding for the show itself -- contributed in large part by Siemens.
SUSANNE NUSSER is an art historian who lives and works in Munich.