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Museums of Architecture, DAM, Frankfurt

Museums of Architecture as Virtual Spaces (Part 1): Germany

Deutsches Architekturmuseum
Our first stop is the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt, which is directed by Peter Cachola Schmal. The show Die neue Heimat (1950-1982) had been open only for five days when the shutdown came. The exhibition Bohm 100: the Concrete Cathedral of Neviges had to close as well. The museum subsequently offered virtual visits in the form of films and livestreams.

However, the DAM director does not foresee any lasting place for these formats in the future: “Fundamentally, I don’t believe the virtual museum visit will represent an alternative. It costs money without generating any income.” According to Schmal, only larger museums such as the Tate Modern in London or the Met in New York could earn money this way. He can imagine that at those venues, interested visitors would be willing to pay for deeper immersion into the exhibition process. But this wouldn’t work for the DAM.

Nevertheless, the DAM is a municipal institution and is not doing too badly - better than many private galleries. For instance, the museum can afford to offer webinars. These arose from the jury sessions for this year’s DAM Preis award, which took place online. Weekly webinars with the finalists eventually turned into biweekly lectures by all those on the shortlist. However, Schmal’s optimism is cautious: “A streamed event has to be engaging and of top quality, which leads to higher costs for the technology. With no income, we have to think very carefully about when we want to, or have to, make this investment.” His concern about heavy financial losses remains: it is absurd that these have increased after the reopening of the museum, for expenses are based on normal operations, while the income is much less than before. “Cultured people still don’t have much trust in the interior spaces – we have around 500 visitors a week, about a third of what we had before the coronavirus.”

The museum is attempting to strike an analog-digital balance for the conferral of the City of Frankfurt’s International Highrise Award. In the worthy setting of St. Paul’s Church, a small number of participants will attend in person in order to provide a more human ambience for those who will be able to take part only via livestream.

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