A Letter from Munich
by Jan Brown Checco June 4 – 9, 2013

In the first week of June, a gaggle of travelers from the Cincinnati Park Board and Cincinnati Parks Foundation flew to Munich for a special event that neatly closed a circle – a promise made six years ago, 20 feet up in the air in Mt. Airy Forest. As an artist who has coordinated exchanges and supported parks projects for the past 15 years, I happily accompanied them.

The promise fell within a continuum of fifteen years of comings and goings for project design teams and artists between our cities. This particular “going” from Cincinnati celebrated the dedication of the “cousin” to our Everybody’s Treehouse in Mt. Airy Forest – the new Baumhaus in Munich’s Neuhofener Berg. The project was inspired by Cincinnati’s accessible design realized in 2006, and is a result of a competition that was led, by pure coincidence, by Professor Linn Song, who previously taught at DAAP UC but currently teaches architecture at the Academy of Rosenheim. Two students collaborated on the winning design – Elisabeth Laschet and Sigrid Simmerstatter – and their sleek, modern forms are rendered in shining steel doubled with painted wooden posts. This completely accessible treehouse stands in lyrical contrast to ours here in Cincinnati.

Baumhaus 2013 Munich

Though this cheerful main event on June 7 was the reason for travel, our German friends are not inclined to let us idle. By their typical detailed attention, a small bus hosted by city garden and design staff shuttled us around and out of town. Under crisp blue Alpine skies, two elephantine Clydesdales pulled our group’s huge carriage up a mountain path to Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein where the tours run like trains through the castle, allowing you only a fleeting impression of this glorious dream (the king himself only lived in this Wagnerian theatrical setting for 172 days.)

Next we were off to the Wieskirche, a miracle of a rococo church in the middle of a meadow in the middle of nowhere where a costumed Bavarian art historian helped us to understand a confectioned universe of symbolism and how a creative process led by two of Germany’s most skilled craftsmen – the Zimmerman Brothers – could achieve this great masterpiece in just 9 years with a band of five mural and plaster masters, supported by a brace of devoted and deft farmers.

Then on to the charming Munter House in Murnau, where Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriel Munter lived and worked together with their artist friends while establishing the Blue Rider association. The handpainted furniture and staircase, and charmingly florid kitchen garden made Munter’s melancholy story a bit easier to hear.
(See photo album B for snapshots from this fantasy daytrip).

Organizer-in-chief of our visit, Wolfgang Friedl sacrificed one of his precious weekend family mornings to show me the newly renovated Lenbachhaus and just-opened Brandhorst Museum. The Lenbachaus began as a villa for painter Franz von Lenbach, and this third renovation and expansion has maintained the core structures, benefitting the more intimate scale of the German paintings that stretch back to the mid 18th century. You are walked through successive chambers with significant images, spirited forward to the 21st century, where towering new galleries nicely accommodate works of contemporary artists. Enlarge all the walls you like, the reigning presence will always be the lyrical inventions of the Blue Riders and wrenching observations of the New Objectivity.

The Brandhorst Collection includes more than 1000 works by seminal 20th and 21st century artists, notably Damien Hirst, Mike Kelley, Bruce Nauman, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Beuys and Picasso but with a crowning presence is clearly manifest by 170 works of Cy Twombly and over 100 works by Andy Warhol. Everyone in town is content to simply talk about the exterior of the new building, exceptional by its articulated planes skinned over by long, ceramic covered batons. But the temporary exhibition by Gilliam Wearing stole our attention from all the rest by its enigmatic preponderance of uncomfortable messages layered with gender confusion and domestic violence.

While walking from one new gallery to the other in Munich’s famous museum neighborhood, we passed yet one more huge box of a structure, rising from behind hording walls that are covered with information about the 2014 opening of the “NS Dokumentationszentrum Munchen.”

Sited in Briennerstrasse, exact location of Hitler’s headquarters in Munich, this library promises to be a sobering destination for those seeking to understand exactly how the National Socialists pulled off their rise to power in the 1930’s, and then crashed to an end in 1945, taking down this city we now love and admire, not to mention much of the rest of Germany and millions of innocents. A supporting project, memoryloops.net, can be visited online. http://www.memoryloops.net/de#!/start/
Here I listened to an audio story of two terrorist events that occurred on Preysingstrasse where today my Munich “kunstswester” Angelika Stiegler lives.

Our last stop was to OBACHT!, a neighborhood festival of 32 artists and craftspersons in Haidhausen and centered on Preysingstrasse, conceived of and directed for these past 5 years by Eva Sperner. In 2002, Eva came to Cincinnati to collaborate with 7 other master ceramists who created a project I designed and directed, Clay, Color, and Fire. The 20,000 handmade tiles we fabricated together in our month-long workshop at DAAP UC can be found on the architectural columns of the Friendship Pavilion of TM Berry International Friendship Park in Cincinnati. Thoughtful upon her return to Munich after that workshop, Eva wrote me a memo about how to improve such a community-based effort. Thanking her for her insight, I suggested that her ideas be applied to an initiative of her own creation, right there in Munich. She took me up on it, and we laugh today about that important “diplomatic exchange”, and what we’ve both discovered while smoothing wrinkles in the workings of our respective communities.

Glaskunst in München Haidhausen


Background and Interesting Links

Relationships between the working artist and parks communities of Cincinnati and Munich began for me in 1998 while convening a cultural delegation to represent Cincinnati at the 2000 Heim und Handwerk expo. This was presented at the Messegeland in Riem, a gargantuan convention center that serves Munich and Bavaria. We exhibited and demonstrated our ways of working for 2 weeks within a visiting team of 7 artists, the Cincinnati Park Board, the Cincinnati Horticultural Society, the National Underground Freedom Center and 4 porcine sculptures from the Big Pig Gig. The Munich press and radio broadcast an invitation to Munich’s working arts community to come meet us, to discuss what they’d like to do in cooperation with Cincinnati artists. We watched as a new cooperation among painters – Michael Manning, Eckhard Zylla and Reiner Graumlich was born on the spot – “Grazyman.”

Travel simultaneously prompts discovery and reminiscence, so we revisited the formative and precious relationships forged with our gifted and generous Munich partners. Here are a few addresses where you can learn more about one Sister City pathway beautified by art and gardens:

Munich’s Convention Center, the Messegeland in Riem. Quite a place…

Some artist relationships founded in 2000 that really took hold:

Angelika Stiegler/ceramist

Willi Holderied/sculptor and painter

The Cincinnati Park Board with the Gartenbau and Baureferat of Munich

Other fruitful projects have budded off of these sturdy Sister City “family tree” branches, including the drawing exchange process I developed with Gabi Stolz and Traude Linhardt for “A Change of Perspective” (2005) and “Triangular Drawings.” The process was awarded a prize for Innovation by Sister Cities International in 2009. This year the process was utilized again by a group of artists from Cincinnati and Baracoa, Cuba, and a tribute to Traude, who passed away suddenly in November 2012, was included in our exhibition at Clifton Cultural Arts Center

Snapshots from the Exchange

Snapshots from the Exchange



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