When the new became the modern …

Self portrait by Max Beckmann, beside his sculpture "Mann im Dunkel" (1934)

Self portrait by Max Beckmann, beside his sculpture “Mann im Dunkel” (1934)

Munich’s Kunstareal  (“Art District”), located on a few acres in the Maxforstadt city quarter just north-west of the centre, is like a Tardis of culture: small(ish) on the outside, vast on the inside. Within just one tram stop it is possible to encounter representative works from nearly every major chapter in the centuries-long story of art, from the pharaohs to postmodernism. A dozen or so museums, galleries and exhibition spaces are centred on three grand Pinakotheken, each a huge museum dedicated to a particular period: the “Old”, covering Medieval and Renaissance; the “New”, from the late 18th to early 20th century; and the “Modern”, dealing with everything since.

The Pinakothek der Moderne is closed for renovations until September, and in the meantime, parts of its permanent exhibition have been distributed around some of the other museums. This means that visitors to the Neue Pinakothek this summer have a rare, indeed a unique and unlikely to be repeated, opportunity to see some of the most striking works from both museums on display together.

The museum administrators have seized upon the opportunity afforded by the temporary closure of the Moderne to create a stunning “best of” compilation of the highlights of European art during one of its most revolutionary and energetic periods, from the 19th century to the years following the First World War. Visitors pass from room to room, from one immersion experience in the recent history of western culture to another. They’re all there: David, Turner, Delacroix, Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Picasso, Klimt, Kandinsky and more.

Caspar David Friedrich and Paul Klee both paint the same thing - the inside of their head
Caspar David Friedrich and Paul Klee both paint the same thing – the inside of their head

Exhibited under the heading, Blickwechsel (“Changes in Perspective”), the works are displayed in a thematic structure that intends to be as educational as entertaining, showing how the experimental new trends of the 19th century such as Impressionism led to the revolutionary breakthroughs of modern art in the 20th. Works that would not normally be thought of as related, such as the 19th century Romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich and the abstract Modernist pieces of Paul Klee, are grouped together to show how deeply influential the one was on the other.

The final rooms exhibit works that respond to the tragedy of the First World War – Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s sculpture, “The Fallen,” from 1916 is particularly arresting – and in this sense the exhibition anticipates the major commemorations planned for next year’s centenary of 1914.

Definitely worth a visit. And, if nothing else, you get to see Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, a painting with more energy than a nuclear reactor and which everyone should see once in their life.

Neue Pinakothek                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Tram 27 from Karlsplatz, or Bus 100 from Hauptbahnhof. Stop: Pinakotheken

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