by Thomas Wagner.
Florian Hufnagl was more than just a museum man, he was an institution unto himself. He played a decisive role in creating Die Neue Sammlung in Munich and turned it into one of the world’s primary design destinations – first as a curator from 1980 to 1990, then as the senior director of the collection until he retired in 2014.
Design as an intellectual discipline
He completed his study of fine art, classical archaeology and modern history in Munich in 1976 with a dissertation on the architect Gottfried von Neureuther before starting his first job at the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments. Thanks to his keen eye and discriminating mind, while working on Die Neue Sammlung, he succeeded in expanding the collection with equal amounts of persistence and skill, without bowing down to the wishes of manufacturers for museum consecrations that were often driven by the interests of marketing. In many of the hundred or so exhibitions he organised, including the democratisation of design at Ikea, design in the GDR, Moroccan carpets in the context of modern art, Donald Judd’s furniture, Japanese posters and the design of contemporary jewellery, he kept away from the usual classifications and broadened the view of design.
Hufnagl, who liked to describe himself as a “design freak”, wanted to do more than simply collect and research objects and present them in an attractive display. He was in no doubt that design is a spiritual discipline. Its power beats within the heart of society, it is a path for expressing ourselves, as well as often a symptom of errors made on a massive scale. Hufnagl’s perspective was baroque, never puritanical. His expertise and the approachable, humorous way in which he answered every delicate question about an object or a designer made him unique. He was horrified by false styling and objects of a purely fetish nature – he knew how to scrutinise them with relish. He felt the hierarchy established between art and design was outdated. It is also thanks to him that design is displayed on an equal footing with art in the Franconian branch of the Neue Sammlung in Nuremberg, which was established in 2000, and in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, which opened in 2002.
Just as Hufnagl did not believe museums to be an exile for things that had outlived their use, he did not limit his activities to managing what had been achieved. He was very active in the design scene of his time, visited almost every trade fair, participated in countless international juries, and maintained a dialogue with designers and manufacturers. He also kept an interested eye on upcoming talent, taught at the Institute of Art History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and as an honorary professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. Anyone who spoke to him at exhibitions or sought advice from him quickly understood that the man, who always wore his bow tie untied at the collar, knew everything and everyone in the world of design.
For him, design history was not an end in itself
Even in terms of presentation, Hufnagl understood design from the process. Anyone who dealt with him at the end of the 1990s, as he was setting up the collection rooms in the newly completed Neues Museum in Nuremberg, would know how important it was for him to show visitors the spiritual dimension and cultural roots of an object. He believed construction, form, technology and aesthetics worked as one. That is why he demonstrated the special features of a chair or travel typewriter by using several examples or a whole series to highlight different aspects of the design. For him, design history was not an end in itself. Even when it came to the classics, he was particularly interested in whether they still addressed current problems. How can interfaces be created between what an object can technically do and how it can be used? Does a thing explain itself to the person who uses it? Florian Hufnagl passed away in Munich on New Year’s Eve at the age of 71 after a long illness.
Article picture: Florian Hufnagl as laudator for Nils Holger Moormann (German Design Award Personality 2015). Picture: Lutz Sternstein – phocst.com