Heinrich Klotz (1935-1999) was the founder of Germany’s first museum to focus on architecture alone: the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (German Architecture Museum) DAM in Frankfurt, which opened in 1984.
The DAM is now hosting an exhibition revealing the treasure trove that Heinrich Klotz has left us. Because not only did he convince the city of Frankfurt of the necessity for such a museum, but he was also able to acquire early works from the likes of Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman, Aldo Rossi, and many others. Klotz always documented his visits to architects with photographs, recordings and notes in his diaries which, shown here, have proved to be a unique collection of observations and documents of a time when Postmodernism was in the ascendent. In this interview with uncube’s Florian Heilmeyer, DAM curator Oliver Elser explains why, in his opinion, Klotz is one of the three key protagonists of Postmodernism.
FH: Heinrich Klotz was an art historian. How did he come to found a museum dedicated solely to architecture?
OE: Klotz always went beyond the bounds of his profession. In addition to art history he studied philosophy and archaeology. He wrote for newspapers, and clearly had a knack for explaining things to a wide audience. Above all, he was a man of action who possessed charm and charisma. As a professor in Marburg he was a vocal advocate of the preservation of the old town, but not purely in terms of conservation. He invited contemporary architects like James Stirling, Charles Moore, and Oswald Mathias Ungers to draw up their visions for the city – none of it was ever realised, but these contacts and his talents made him an ideal museum founder.
He began the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt in 1979. It was the first institution in Germany dedicated exclusively to architecture and among the first of its kind in the world. What led him to do this?
Klotz said that in 1969 he wanted to interview Mies van der Rohe in Chicago, but only managed to see a few models at his office. Mies was already quite ill and died shortly thereafter. When Klotz returned to Mies’ office, the models were gone. For him, this was the moment at which it became clear that a place was needed to preserve the authentic evolution of the design process: an architecture museum.
As its “founding father” Klotz’s role is naturally central to the DAM. But what is the international significance of the collection and the observations made by Klotz in his records?
It is beyond doubt that Klotz, along with Charles Jencks and Paolo Portoghesi, was one of the most important protagonists of postmodernism. The exhibition focuses on three main aspects of Klotz’s tape recordings and the architectural works that he acquired for the DAM collection. Firstly, there’s the confrontation with postmodernism: it is amazing to discover in Klotz’s diaries the amount of contention there was at the time about it. Secondly, it is about how architects in the 1980s began to produce “art” as a strategy, in order to turn at least some sort of a profit. We present works by Koolhaas, Hadid, Eisenman, Ungers, Venturi, Rossi, Moore, Coop Himmelblau, Gehry, and Mies van der Rohe. We also look at the development of their prices. In 1989, an A5-sized sketch by Mies was worth $4,000 USD. Three years later, it was going for five times as much!
And thirdly, we ask: What is an architecture museum actually? That was a central question for Klotz as well. Despite the collection that he assembled, he remained sceptical of the museum approach. It should not be antiquated. He wanted to create a culture of debate, discourse, and knowledge through opposing positions.
Why was Klotz so interested in postmodernism? Was it his attempt to negotiate architecture in as contemporary a way as possible, so that it did not become “antiquated”, as you put it?
Klotz disagreed with Jencks and abhorred much of what he celebrated in his books. He also struggled at length with himself, as to whether or not he should use Jencks’ notion of postmodernism as applied to architecture. Yet ultimately, he did use it, for the first DAM show in 1984, titled “Revision of Modernity. Postmodern Architecture 1960-80”. It seems that everyone was unhappy with the term – basically no one wanted their buildings to be labelled as “postmodern”. Ungers also never wanted to be linked to postmodernism, and in fact vehemently rejected it.
I think that Klotz understood that the times were changing: the heroic spirit of early modernism had been exhausted by the 1960s or 1970s at the latest. He hated brutalism, for example, and described it‘s buildings as autistic concrete mountains. Klotz always sought a conciliatory, human, and popular architecture – and found it in the pop-hippie Charles Moore, in Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and in Frank Gehry’s own house.
What was the allure of postmodernism for him?
Klotz’s relationship to postmodernism was quite ambivalent, and he rejected much of it. But he also called it an architecture of “friendly protest against the seriousness and earnestness of the world”. I think that this sense of joy was more important than the stylistic citations, the historical references, and all those serious motives from around 1975, from which postmodernism had emerged as a form of protest.
And why do you feel that postmodernism is so important today?
For me, postmodernism is an era in which many taboos collapsed. Its architecture once again placed itself in a historical tradition that did not seek to break or exclude, but which was decidedly interested in history and context. It did not seek confrontation, but rather reconciliation with the existing city. Its only clear line of demarcation was with regard to modernism; like every notable era, it turned against its immediate predecessor.
Postmodernism spawned an architecture that was mocked for its citations, its little gables and pillars, and which today is practically shunned. Personally, this “ironic turn” inspires me. I find the attitude of protest in postmodernism, as well as its strong desire to build with popular appeal, as both highly interesting and topical. Historical distance helps us to appreciate and understand buildings, like James Stirling’s Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, no longer as intimidating, but rather as a quite remarkable contrast to everything else at the time. Or Hans Hollein’s Museum for Modern Art in Frankfurt: there you can feel how intensively the architect addressed its interior spaces. The surrealistic moments created by all of its citations and pathways are inspiring. These buildings announce: “I am different, read me. Grasp me, learn to understand me. Engage with me.” It can sometimes seem penetrating, strenuous, and didactic – but it can also be immensely stimulating.
Interview: Florian Heilmeyer
MISSION: POSTMODERN – Heinrich Klotz and the Wunderkammer DAM
60596 Frankfurt am Main
Until October 19, 2014
Arch+ has just released its 216th issue in cooperation with the DAM as the (almost) full documentation of the “Klotz Tapes”.
Julia Brandes devoted part of her diploma project at the HfG Karlsruhe to digitalizing the enormous image archive of Heinrich Klotz which is now publicly accessible here.