For the fact that the room is so huge, the notice at the entrance was always surprisingly small. Until recently, “Schaudepot” was written in tiny capital letters next to an always locked door made of frosted glass. For all these years, visitors to the Neue Sammlung in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich could not see what was behind it. In fact, when the museum opened in 2002, a display depot was supposed to be on view in the second basement in the west wing. Various reasons delayed Florian Hufnagl’s plan, the then director of the Neue Sammlung, and at some point, at least for the public, the place was more myth than reality.
Almost twenty years later, the time has come: the tall frosted glass door will open. The show has now become an X-Depot. How important it is that something about the idea from the 1990s has changed will soon become apparent, but at first glance it is intoxicating. The seven-meter-high and 600-square-meter room is furnished with designer objects up to the ceiling. There are so many things on black industrial shelves – 600 in total – that the eye shoots back and forth like a pinball.
For example to the bright yellow inflatable plastic giraffe at the bottom left. Over to the sketchy, slim black carbon lounger in the middle and up to the trendy round toilet in moss green. On the top floor there are chairs made of elegantly curved bentwood, plastic, steel and wicker to discover. In between, futuristic bicycles, elegant folding boats, a portable bathtub and brightly colored petrol station logos. In short: the eye jumps around happily between all the objects, sizes and materials, makes references, compares, and is encouraged to make associations.
The deputy director and curator Josef Straßer calls this invitation to the eye the “attic effect”. It is the central attraction that all the viewing depots that have been created since the noughties. Because what was still visionary in the nineties – giving visitors a more or less unobstructed view of the depot – has found more and more imitators in recent years. The Museum of Design in Zurich, which opened its display depot in the Toni-Areal in 2014, and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, which followed two years later, are just two examples.
For Angelika Nollert, director of the design museum for seven years, this is a reason to further develop the concept of her predecessor. As a kind of “landscape view”, it describes what the X-Depot now offers. This fits because a slender white steel walkway leads deep into the two-story room and objects in the distance can also be studied from there. The smaller objects, on the other hand, are housed in elongated showcases on the footbridge itself.
“The term Schaudepot was too passive for us,” says Nollert. For the viewer, who only has the task of looking, but also for the curators. Unlike in the storage depots, where size and climate zones decide where and how an object is stored, in the X-Depot it is topics that arrange the exhibits vertically in the shelves. Whereby the coordinate system is rather loosely knitted. Sometimes it’s a material – such as carbon -, then a design category – like sport or gaming – then a style of the times, sometimes simply a color that connects the objects with one another. Above all there are chairs that no design museum in the world can do without.
It quickly becomes clear how the selection in the X-Depot differs from that in the type case in the entrance to the Design Museum, but also from that in the permanent collection and in temporary exhibitions: “There is no hierarchy, no best-of, no chronology and none geographical boundaries, “says Nollert. Even if designs by big names such as Konstantin Grcic (the carbon lounger), Luigi Colani (the moss-green toilet) or Hella Jongerius (an almost floor-to-ceiling tapestry) are represented, what can be seen here is what was previously in the depths of the 120,000 objects comprehensive collection has slumbered. It also fits that the way through the exhibition is free for the visitor. If you don’t want to start on the footbridge, you can start at the bottom, a staircase or an elevator will take you there. With its architecture, the Berlin office Kuehn Malvezzi has created a customarily slim, almost graphic solution that is sensitive to the construction of Stephan Braunfels, the Munich architect of the Pinakothek der Moderne.
In fact, the intervention is so simple that its strength only becomes clear over time: in the visitor’s free, associative gaze guidance, but also in the possibilities it offers for the future. Because a 200 square meter room has been created in front of the shelves, which is supposed to manage “the famous discourse”, as Nollert puts it. Workshops and symposia should take place here and school classes should have space to be introduced to design. That you can imagine this very well, even though the place is underground, because the quality of the space is so pleasant, is worth a lot.
Like all museums, the Neue Sammlung has to face the present. The demands on design exhibitions have grown. The plinth and display cabinet are fiercely contested. How do you present something that is actually intended for use? What do you exhibit? And by whom anyway? Design may not be as politically charged and historically contaminated as exhibits in an ethnological collection, but there are certainly neuralgic points: of the 600 selected pieces, for example, only ten come from the GDR. With the Höhne Collection, the Munich Design Museum owns the largest private collection of GDR design in Germany.
It looks better on the gender issue. The X-Depot was used “to make corrections,” said Nollert. When it comes to new acquisitions for the depot, the proportion of women is around 50 percent. 91 of the 600 objects are now designed by women. The relationship is different in the permanent exhibition. As in architecture, men also dominate the professional field in design when it comes to visibility, even though as many women as men have been studying design for a long time. “All in all, of course, the women came up short, but I can’t correct everything. When I get to Eileen Gray at the latest, I don’t have the money,” says the director of the world’s oldest design collection.
It is all the more important that the X-Depot breaks up hierarchies. In what it shows, but also in how accessible it is. Accessibility does not end here with the installation of an elevator. All texts are not only available in German and English, but also in easy language that can be read to you. In addition, the digital offer is convincing. In addition to classic items such as films, podcasts and online tours, there are also more experimental items such as a “digital soundboard”, where sounds from the past decades can be heard, from typing on a typewriter to the sound of a modem. Neither of these things that younger generations should be aware of. “This is not locked here,” says Angelika Nollert. So maybe the twenty year delay wasn’t all bad after all.