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17 Aug 2009, Posted by Eric Karstens in Off topic: Art, etc., 0 Comments

Uninspired Le Corbusier and Bauhaus exhibitions at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin


Two exhibitions at the Martin-Gropius-Bau gallery building in Berlin provide examples of how not to arrange shows about art, architecture, or design. Both exhibitions, one called Le Corbusier – Art and Architecture, the other, Bauhaus Model, have an abundance of art works, photographies, and other documents at their disposal. Both are also scientifically sound and well-intentioned.

However, both exhibitions fail to serve their topics well. Their presentation is cluttered and crowded, and they only barely manage to show a continuous or systematic thread. To start with the Bauhaus exhibition: Arranged in chronological order, the exhibits are crammed into a flight of narrow rooms. Rather than using the actual walls to mount picture frames, the exhibition architects put up vertical stands to hold the drawings, prints, and photos, thus making the spaces even more crowded and harder to walk through.

The visitor becomes easily overwhelmed and frustrated by this department store arrangement, which does not do much to lead the way through the show or to highlight the most important exhibits. This is a pity, because the exhibition is extremely rich in objects and documents, and probably delivers one of the few opportunities to peruse all of them together in one place. Ironically, the best space in the Martin-Gropius-Bau, the grand atrium, is reserved for a few contemporary artworks dealing with the Bauhaus, but not for the Bauhaus itself. And all that in a building that was designed by a great-uncle of Bauhaus master Walter Gropius.

But at least Bauhaus is in many parts about the design of relatively small items and concepts (particularly furniture, everyday objects, and graphic design), which lend themselves to being presented in a museum.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Le Corbusier exhibition. Inside a similar layout of rooms, just one floor higher than Bauhaus, the exhibition confusingly mixes thematic with temporal approaches. Therefore, the lines of development in Le Corbusier’s career do not always become easily visible. And much of his work is, obviously, about architecture, which is always challenging to present in a museum or gallery.

Again, there is a wealth of exhibits, but their presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Shelf-like tablets carry small-print introductory texts which are frequently hard to read because of reflections from the ceiling-mounted lighting. Short pieces of film and video, which are most illustrative of the kind of impact created by Le Corbusier’s brilliant buildings, tend to be projected high on the wall so that visitors risk to leave the show stiff-necked.

Although the show features some very special displays, such as the original model kitchen of the Marseille Unité d’Habitation, or a show case illustrating Le Corbusier’s visionary – if not hybrid and cruel – plans to redesign an entire quarter in the heart of Paris with high-rise apartment buildings, the exhibitions leaves the overall impression that it does not do the artist’s oeuvre justice. It nearly skids over masterpieces such as the Couvent de la Tourette close to Lyon by documenting them with a few small pictures in a corner and not putting them into much context.

But visitors of the exhibition are also in for a bit of a revelation – the Philips Pavilion for the 1958 Brussels Expo, created by composer-cum-architect Iannis Xenakis in Le Corbusier’s office. Upon seeing that, it becomes immediately clear where famed contemporary architects such as Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid found inspiration for their swooping, ultra-modern design vocabulary.