www.wilkhahn.de, November 2005

Friedensreich Hundertwasser – a Sunday architect: Exhibition at the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt until 05.02.2006

Loved by his audience, despised by architects: Friedensreich Hundertwasser has polarized the world like no other architect. Five years after his death, Frankfurt Architecture Museum is now devoting an extensive exhibition to the work of the architect who was not an architect at all.

The German Architecture Museum is really sticking its neck out this time. Unger's neo-rationalist haven in the Museum district in Frankfurt is fouling its own nest. Hundertwasser, the prophet of the manifesto against a musty and lacklustre environment has been resurrected and, with his colourful dream visions and gold-adorned fantasies with a riot of colour, he haunts the sober exhibition rooms. Outgoing director Ingeborg Flagge has built a pretty showcase for him. They are all on show here as either models or photographs: the Vienna District Heating Station, the Uelzen Railway Station, the St. Barbara Church, the Ronald MacDonald House and many other of the master's projects form a defiant circle like Asterix' village. A bastion against the rule of architecture dominated by architects.

The DAM is crowded just like when bus loads of interested visitors once went in streams to see his buildings. This review of his work at the DAM seems destined to become a money-spinner just like many local politicians throughout the country got their shrewd calculations right when they built a Hundertwasser house to revive their town. After all the frustrating efforts to hawk her exhibitions, Ingeborg Flagge deserves this big hit. It is difficult to resist interpreting this last exhibition as a kind of special farewell gesture. A lot has been on show at the DAM, but the fact that the creator of many tourist attractions has been raised to the peerage posthumously means that is more than just another in-depth show of an oeuvre. It is an invitation to reflect on the phenomenon of Hundertwasser.

Hundertwasser was not an architect and yet he was the most famous one of all. The world of architects will never be able to come to terms with the irksome results of a survey when high school leavers in Germany were asked to name their favourite architect. Hundertwasser, the winner of this survey, cannot just be explained away; at most he could be ignored with the rash argument that there should not be a vote on the quality of cultural performance. Are established architects doing something wrong? Is whitewashing, sugar-coating and decorating and prettifying in the final analysis not more important than the cultivated approach to space, materials, the layout of walkways or traditions of a place?

The gateway to understanding can be found at the very heart of the exhibition. It is where the "Sunday architect" appears as a painter. What can be most easily appreciated is the painter's paintings. They are architectural fantasies – perhaps not so far from "alpine architecture" of Bruno Taut for example, who, with his choice of colours, appeared to be a popular house painter much earlier on. One can also appreciate the black and white photographs of anonymous, large-scale residential projects that Hundertwasser painted over as rebellion against industrially standardized housing. Hundertwasser created counter-images of a world that is not always beautiful and definitely not pretty. With his buildings he laid a loud, shrill and certainly kitschy claim to beauty.

Let's hope that the exhibition succeeds in breaking down the arrogance of many architects of no longer feeling the need to talk about the dream of a beautiful world and of wanting to refrain from producing pictures. The makers of the exhibition use a clever trick for this purpose: among the works that oscillate between being tragic and comical, which are consistently presented without any plan or sectional views, renowned architects speak to visitors via monitors. They writhe with trying to wrap their criticism in such a way that is appears irrefutable. There are however sometimes strains of recognition. You will be sure to leave the exhibition with a smile on your face; a smile at the unusual hustle and bustle at the DAM, about how the colourful buildings demonstrate a break in style, but above all with a smile at the establishment. And about how Ingeborg Flagge is sure to be smiling as she says farewell.

Jan Rinke

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