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June 2000

Outdoor Sculpture in Munich

The stats on some of Munich's alfresco art

The summer months afford the perfect opportunity to take a leisurely stroll to study Munich’s contemporary public sculpture. That the city is rich in monumental sculpture of earlier centuries is well known. Almost every major Platz is marked by a reminder of the Bavarian capital’s glorious past, from commemorative sculptures of members of its royal family, the Wittelsbachers, who reigned here for nearly 800 years, to mythological and Christian sculptures. Not easily overlooked on Max-Joseph-Platz, for example, stands or, rather, sits a likeness of Bavaria’s first king, Max Joseph I. Depicted on a throne in the garb of a Roman emperor, he extends his arm in blessing his loyal subjects. Unveiled in 1835, the work commemorates the man who gave Bavaria a constitution, in 1818, the first in Germany. Another splendid example of Munich sculpture is the elaborate St. Mary’s Column located on Marienplatz. This representation of the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven, holding the Christ Child in one hand and a scepter in the other, was erected in 1638 by Elector Maximilian —one of Bavaria’s greatest rulers —as a reminder of Munich’s liberation from Swedish occupation (1632-35). These sculptures, together with many others, are inextricably linked with the city’s history.

What is surprising to discover, however, are the number of contemporary outdoor sculptures that shape Munich’s modern cityscape. Many of these works have much in common with their precursors, such as their monumental size, monochromatic patina and stunning locations, but they engage the viewer in a more immediate way because they reflect ideas and images of our lifetime.

One of the best examples is the towering sculpture Walking Man (1995), located outside the main entrance to the Münchener Rückversicherung building on Leopoldstrasse. Jokingly referred to as the “Eunuch of Munich” by tour guides of Mike’s Bike Tours in Munich, the figure does not possess attributes that identify him as a specific person and is devoid of any human facial features. In contrast to the glorified portraits of monarchs or deities found elsewhere in the city, he represents “everyman.” He wears no garb that might betray the sculpture’s age, yet it is precisely Borofsky’s minimalist approach, choice of materials (steel and plastic) and the pure white patina that firmly places this figure in the late 20th century. It is not graced with symbolic attributes, such as a crown or scepter, to indicate his role, yet, like the monarchs he rules owing to his sheer size. He projects a self-confident, urban image as he marches forward into the business world, leaving behind the security of a building that only increases his monumental appearance. The qualities he exudes — sure-footedness and a foward-looking attitude — make him an apt image to be associated with an insurance company.

Near Königsplatz another sculptural marker of our times can be admired. Here, artist Dan Flavin has installed seven column-like poles made of steel and fluorescent tubes of light. Often overlooked because they blend so well into their environment, these posts mark a path from the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus to the Kunstbau, the museum’s contemporary exhibition space located underground at the Königsplatz U-Bahn station. This “path of light” conjures up many associations with the artworks on display in the Lenbachhaus, namely the works of the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) artists’ group who, in 1911, paved the way to Abstract Expressionism. Like the column-lined Propylaeum nearby, or the St. Mary’s Column on Marienplatz, these columns of light command a larger space than they actually occupy and suggest motion in a certain direction.

Two very different types of sculpture embellish areas around the Gasteig Cultural Arts Center. Built in 1985 on the site where the old Salt Road once descended a steep incline, this orange-brick and tinted-glass structure was in need of something to soften its harsh, geometric appearance. Like the copper green, bulbous domes that soften and crown the austere Gothic towers of the Frauenkirche, so too does Ruprecht Geiger’s enormous circular blue sculpture, Rounded Blue (1987), lend dynamic force to the Center’s exterior. This work, visually linked with the Center in the mind of its regular visitors, features a cool blue, rounded form in melodic contrast with the warm orange, rectangular brick of the building — sounding a fitting visual “note” for the home of Munich’s philharmonic orchestra. Albert Hein’s untitled fountain sculpture (1989), located in the Center’s courtyard, is a more whimsical addition to the Gasteig. Resembling a French horn enlarged to Pop Art dimensions, the work recalls the craftsmanship and sculptural qualities of musical instruments. And, like a musical instrument, it makes a noise — that of rushing and falling water — suggesting the movement and energy of music.

Presenting both a humorous and terrifying twist to the shopping madness below, Man on Construction Beam often remains unnoticed by passersby. One of Germany’s leading contemporary sculptors, Stephan Balkenhol installed this sculpture in a place that increases the paradox of and disparity between his figure’s comfortable pose and his precarious state and surroundings.

Jakobsplatz, on account of its unattractive and architecturally incoherent surroundings, is often overlooked by Munich residents. The disparate styles and functions of the buildings that line the square lend the area an incomplete and confusing air. However, with the introduction of Stefan Eberstadt’s site-specific sculpture, Space Station (1999), the problems of this space as well as its potential suddenly become intriguing and dynamic. The structure’s rectangular form and materials — which could be viewed as neatly stacked “construction materials in waiting” — embody tension and harmony, and encourage further, thoughtful planning for the entire area.

Recommended reading: Helmut Friedel’s Wegweiser Kunst für München im öffentlichen Raum: 1972-1997. Munich, Hugendubel Verlag, 1997.

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