Tonight a guest post from Dr. Robert Winefield, responding to Daniel Libeskind's design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which was posted here by Den as his "most favourite." It seems however that Dr. Robert wasn't too impressed.
I hate Daniel Libeskind’s so-called museum. Esthetically it looks even worse than DenMT’s first entry, a building I compared unfavorably to a copper-clad rectangular turd. More to the point, it isn’t even a real museum – thus violating its brief -- rather it’s a monument to Libeskind’s own view of Jewish history.
It’s not a museum. Museums are archives; they store and exhibit historical artifacts, documents and such in a manner that allows the public to examine the real artifact (what historians term the primary source) directly. When you go to a museum, you are viewing history with your own eyes, free of much of the author’s bias and not limited by the photographer’s lens. The facts are there in front of you, undiluted, uncensored, and in 3-D ready for your cross-examination. In other words, the value of a well-curated museum, as opposed to a history book, is that the evidential basis for history is sitting right in front of you rather than simply being described to you, and the only bias you bring to your observations and deductions is your own.
If this is the purpose of a museum then the purpose of a museum-architect is to aid the punter to observe the artifact on display. His job is to give the punter enough light to observe the exhibit closely and enough space and tranquility to contemplate both the object’s meaning and the context in which it has been presented. People go to museums to become enlightened and they must be able to digest the exhibition at their own pace and in their own way, forming their own opinions independently of the curator and the crowd. Such are the key interior elements to be found in my favorite museums.
Now let us observe Libeskind's so-called architectural masterpiece. Observe how claustrophobic some of the halls are; how the odd shaped walls and low roof closes in on the observer in the picture he supplied. This punter in the photo supplied has been forced – deliberately - to examine the exhibit from one distance and at one angle. Why? Well because Libeskind has decided to set the mood for the museum. German-Jewish history according to Libeskind is an unrelenting tragedy and the exhibition requires his artistic skills to convey this. DenMT explains: “Libeskind, through form and programme, recreates the history of the Jewish people in Germany. The straight line, broken into fragments can be conceived as the Jewish presence in Berlin and Germany, punctuated by voids, absences, and silence.”
Make no mistake, the architect is unabashedly attempting to manipulate the punter’s interpretation of the exhibitions, forcing his opinions on the museum’s visitors. This is why some of this museum’s feature walls actually lean out towards the observer as if to physically assault him. This is the reason that the building has no street entrance, instead you must enter by first descending into the bowels of an adjacent German history museum and enter though a connecting tunnel containing a constricted walk-way on an iron gantry that echoes ominously with every foot-fall.
Is this a museum or a house of horrors? Is it a museum or a monument? Moreover, if it is a monument, then is it a monument to the holocaust or this architect’s ego? Excuse me for asking, but who the fuck is this jumped-up little twat and why should I care what he thinks of German-Jewish history? If I were interested in him and his, I’d be visiting an exhibition of his works not a museum of German-Jewish history in Berlin. It would be a different story were this a monument to the holocaust, but it isn’t. It is supposed to be a museum, a testament to the entire 1,700-year history of the Germany-Jewish people.
Now, the architect has a right to express himself artistically when designing the building, and I would argue that it is necessary that he do so. What I object to is when the artistry inhibits the function of the building. You see not only does Libeskind’s design interfere with the museum’s objectivity but it also pays no heed to the practical requirements of a museum.
For a start, the building has been purposely designed in a contorted, illogical, poorly lit, and constricted manner. I mean it doesn’t even have a front door for fuck’s sake! Imagine how uncomfortably crowded this building would be if a tour came through. The inside of this architectural dog-turd reminds me of a cave I once visited in Chattanooga TN.
Observe how much space there isn't for odd-shaped exhibits. It seems that only small freestanding objects and wall-mounted exhibits can be displayed here. How, for instance, could this museum do the sort of exhibitions that Auckland's War Museum or the Award-winning Army Museum at Waiouru put on? I went to the ‘Scars of the Heart Exhibition in Auckland and saw a full scale mock up of a WWI Trench system and a real Spitfire. At Waiouru, there are static displays that include an entire Infantry landing craft, artillery pieces, small arms, helicopters, entire armored vehicles as well as photographs, books, medals, uniforms and the like. The Army Museum at Waiouru and the War Museum in Auckland may not look like a hell of a lot from the outside. However, they remain true to their primary purpose: to be an objective forum for history, to be a repository for primary sources regardless of their type and size.
And not only that, well-designed museums -- places like FLW's Guggenheim for example – are set up so that the building doesn't inhibit the punter's ability to view the exhibits. Good museum architecture should allow the punter to examine an exhibit from as many angles and directions as possible: from above, below, from close in, to the middle distance, and beyond. Good museum architecture should allow the punter to flow against the tide of the crowd, to skip exhibits that he’s not interested in and reexamine others. It should also provide spaces where you can stop and contemplate what you have seen. Why? Because a museum is also a place for thought, for reflection, for comprehension and integration of the lesson that resides in the history being presented.
For these reasons ‘Between the Lines’ does not classify as good architecture. The architect has gone out of his way to make a disjointed, cramped, dingy, constricted building that unilaterally imposes ~his own~ post-modernist illogical and retarded version of German-Jewish history on everything that will be displayed in that museum.
There is one more ghastly effect of Libeskind’s that casts a further disgraceful pall over proceedings: The built-in affectations of this building are allowed to overshadow the real lesson of the holocaust.
In truth, the holocaust occurred because, in a moment of willful ignorance, the German people allowed a psychopath to become their master. As Edmund Burke put it, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Too many good Germans did nothing while a psychopath and his chums took over.
Had Libeskind been satisfied simply with allowing history do the talking, this is what would have been said. But then perhaps he wouldn’t have achieved the fame and fortune through this building that was clearly the real brief he gave himself: to get noticed.
Instead, what we have here is yet another post-modernist wank-session set in stone.
Alternatively, to use Libeskind’s own words "...two lines of thinking, organization, and relationship. One is a straight line, but broken into many fragments; the other is a tortuous line, but continuing indefinitely. These two lines develop architecturally and programmatically through a limited but definite dialogue. They also fall apart, become disengaged, and are seen as separated. In this way, they expose a void that runs through this museum and through architecture, a discontinuous void.”
What a worthless waste of space. If this is an architectural masterpiece then so is my arsehole. Unlike Libeskind’s museum it actually does the job it was designed for.
LINK: Den 5: Jewish Museum, Berlin - Daniel Libeskind
RELATED: Architecture, Art