27 December 2009

Day 11: Munich

As I mentioned yesterday, Munich offers a great deal on its museums on Sunday: entrance for 1 Euro. I could have seen quite a few museums on that price in a short time (and most of the museums are in the same district, centered around the Propyläen Gate off of Königsplatz), but the whole family had a late start . . . again, the consequences of traveling with so many people, some with special needs. Our groups diverged at Hauptbahnhof, Munich Central Station, and I headed north on the U-bahn toward the museums.

I only managed to go to two, but they’re such enormous exhibits that it took most of five hours to go through them. The first museum, Glyptothek, is the oldest museum in Berlin; the second, Pinakothek der Moderne, is one of Munich’s newest and most contemporary museums.

Glyptothek is housed in a classical-style building resembleming the front of the Parthenon, opened in 1930 to house King Ludwig’s collection of art from ancient Greece and Rome. It’s one of the most famous in Europe, and more than once I found myself looking into a stone work familiar to me from many art and history books. Many of the works in the early rooms are the Greek originals, while the later rooms usually feature Roman copies of the Greeks. The most elaborate display is a recontruction of friezes from the Temple of Aegina, using as much of the sculpture that survives to establish what the setting of warriors around Athena in scenes from the Trojan War would have looked like.
The room that most impressed me houses Roman portraiture, with each bust or face standing on a stone post. The large room is like a forest maze of amazing sculpture portraits, moving through the history of the Empire from one end of the room to the other. It was fascinating watching the style of portrait change from realistic and unflattering to the stolid and idealized.

Out from the ancient and into the glistening and ultra-modern . . . Pinakothek der Moderne is the third of the Pinakothek’s, following upon the Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek. It opened in 2002, and houses three separate exhibitis: Architecture/Graphics, Modern Art (20th–21st centuries), and Design. The building itself is a magnificent postmodernist white rotunda reminiscent of the Guggenheim in New York. The modern art galleries contain works from legendary artists, with a significant number of Pablo Picassos—although none of his most famous works. There are also paintings by Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, and Max Ernst. The Ernst paintings take up an entire room, and impressed me the most of all the artwork housed in the museum. This is one of the Ernst paintings on exhibit, “Birds Fish Snake”:
But it was the Design exhibit, housed in the museum’s basement, that really captured my attention. Here I found strange radios, chairs, desks, typewriters, coffe percalators, and other interior design artifacts from the turn of the century through the 1960s. A few protoype cars of bizarre design sit alongside the most beautiful but uncomfortable chairs you could imagine. One room houses old computers . . . including three that I once owned: an early Macintosh, an Apple //c, and a Macintosh LC. It makes me feel weird to see my old computers housed in a museum in Munich.

So closes my last full day here in Germany. I’m flying out tomorrow evening. I’ve had a pleasant time on this trip, being with the family and seeing my nephew, but I am quite prepared to returned to the warmth and familiarity of Los Angeles.