Art history to go!

25 Sept 2023

The interactive MunichArtToGo app from the Central Institute of Art History invites you to learn about Munich. Professor Christian Fuhrmeister and LMU students played a major role in shaping the app.

Art history students Antonia Bartl (left) and Eva Blüml both write articles for the MunichArtToGo app.

The steps leading up from the atrium to the first upper floor are strewn with rubble. Doryphoros’ pedestal is laid waste. Part of the façade on the main building is missing.

“When you walk through the corridors today, you can’t begin to imagine the way things looked back then,” says Eva Blüml, who, accompanied by fellow student Antonia Bartl, is flicking through old photos of LMU from after the Second World War on her smartphone display.

The two students are standing right on the spot where the photographer must have stood to take this particular picture about 78 years ago, giving them a direct ‘then and now’ comparison. It almost feels like a short journey back in time – thanks to the free app MunichArtToGo.

A short journey back in time

The principle behind the app is simple: Download the app to your phone or tablet and an interactive map shows you exactly where in the city you are. It then shows you the nearest place that gives an informative and exciting glimpse of history. Brief texts supply users with background information linked to historical photographs of each spot.

Ludwig Maximilian University, after July 1944. The scorch marks around the windows on the second floor of the north wing bear impressive witness to the conflagration caused by the air raid. Source: Central Institute for Art History, Photothek/Archive, Th216688 Text & photo: MunichArtToGo app

Glyptothek, Bacchic Hall, 1939. After the pediment figures of the Aphaia Temple on Aegina, which Eschenlohr does not seem to have photographed, the Barberine Faun was considered the second major work of the Glyptothek and was given a correspondingly splendidly decorated room: "... the effect which the Bacchic Hall has made has been so powerful that more fame and reputation has accrued to Your Majesty and to art in Munich from it than from all the works begun". (L. v. Klenze to Ludwig I on 25 July 1827). Source: Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Photothek/Archiv, o. Inv.-Nr. Prepared by: Joseph Eschenlohr. Text & Photo: MunichArtToGo-App

The Duke Max Palace, around 1900 The palace-like palace was built between 1828 and 1931 according to designs by Leo von Klenze. It consisted of a three-storey main building and two rear side wings. Source: Central Institute for Art History, Photothek/Archive, 411730 Text & photo: MunichArtToGo-App

The majority of the photos come from the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte (Central Institute of Art History), whose picture library contains around 900,000 old photographs showing a Munich many people have never known. Alongside pictures of LMU, there are also rare color slides of the Glyptothek (Munich’s museum of ancient sculptures) in its earlier splendor, for example – not to mention photos of the former Herzog Max Palais in Ludwigstrasse, where Austrian Empress Sissy was born and grew up. The Palais was torn down in 1937.

Topics of interest to the public at large

Prof. Christian Fuhrmeister in the Photothek of the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte with a design for the fountain at Geschwister-Scholl-Platz.

“It is this treasure trove that we wanted to make accessible to the public,” says LMU Professor Christian Fuhrmeister, who was instrumental in developing the idea for the app.

For him and the other experts at the Central Institute of Art History, it was important to communicate more than just knowledge that is seen to be of interest from a research perspective: “Just because we are interested, that doesn’t mean that the people out there are interested,” the professor laughs.

With this in mind, it did not take long to come up with the idea of a more interactive format in which locals with an affinity for art history could take part and make their own personal contributions. “Some of the local populace know anecdotes about places that we art historians know nothing about. But precisely this kind of obscure detail – the stuff you don’t find in books – is really exciting,” Fuhrmeister insists. The Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts was equally convinced of the project and has funded it since 2021.

Editorial experience for students

The initial texts for the app were produced at a seminar to which Fuhrmeister invited students for the first time in the winter 2021 semester. Eva Blüml was one of the students who took part. She enjoyed writing for the app so much that she has since published seven articles for MunichArtToGo. On top of the texts she has written about LMU, she has also penned articles on the open spaces around Munich’s Pinakotheken (art galleries) and the checkered history of the Lindwurmhof – both topics chosen by Blüml herself purely out of personal interest.

Blüml welcomes the different style of writing required for the app, as opposed to writing for academic papers: “Some heavy editing was needed at the start,” she laughs. But she feels she has now got the hang of it. This ‘different’ way of writing is something that Fuhrmeister, too, sees as important: “The students gain initial editorial experience, and find themselves making small contributions to their CV in a very natural way. That will be helpful when they apply for internships, for example. A referenced link is something completely different to a term paper lying around in a drawer somewhere.”

3,200 people using the app

For Blüml, however, the project is about more than just showcasing samples of her work: “What I like best of all is that the app brings art history and related content to people who otherwise might not have much to do with the subject.” The app targets tourists, but also locals who have an interest in art history and are keen to go on a journey of discovery in their home city. And it seems to be going down well: Some 3,200 people are already actively using the app.

One of them is art history student Antonia Bartl, who followed the emergence of the app from the beginning on Instagram and, last winter, also attended Christian Fuhrmeister’s seminar. “In my studies I am often preoccupied with topics that are a long way away geographically or way back in the distant past. So I was keen to do something a bit more up to date, a bit more hands-on. I also think it is great to learn something about the city I live in!”

“Culture is collective identity”

Eighty stories and six tours are already online in MunichArtToGo, with new ones being added all the time. Bartl is currently working on an article about the Restitution Policy art exhibition held in 2004 on the subject of provenance research at the underground Kunstbau space in the Lenbachhaus gallery. The 26-year-old wants her app entry to be interactive, “so that people can perhaps not research, but at least dig around a bit into the history of the works on display at the gallery.”

Fuhrmeister especially appreciates how the app facilitates the development of new ideas and perspectives. “In the shape of the app, we wanted to get away from the traditional and rather antiquated image of our science. Art history can certainly be approached more openly and aggressively than is done within our technical discipline itself.” The professor has no doubts: “Culture is about how we see ourselves, our collective identity and memory.”

The MunichArtToGo app is available for Android and Apple devices and via the online browser in German language.

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