Trophäen ihrer Exzellenz

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In Trophäen ihrer Exzellenz, photographic objects speak to the complicity between architecture and changing power relations. The exhibition examines the transformation of Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt from a castle-like citizens’ university of the German Empire to a modernist mass university which housed the Frankfurt School, to neoliberal “Clusters of Excellence” within the University. Based on the collaborative research with urban sociologist Klaus Ronneberger, architectural fragments and appropriations of meaning operate as trophies that mark the path to excellence. Trophies here are not only objects, but also images of the architectural and urban processes of appropriation, as well as agents for changing interests and power relations.

The Foot
One of the first architectural measures taken by the architect Ferdinand Kramer when he accepted the position of the head of building authority of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt in 1952 at the invitation of Rector Max Horkheimer was the expansion of the portal of the 1914 university building Jügelhaus. Kramer cut a new entrance in this castle-like building removed the neo-baroque figures of the portal.
This intervention into the feudal architecture of the university raised outraged public debates in the newspapers: Kramer sent to one of the people outraged a piece of a statuette, which fell victim to the new entrance area. The object, housed in the Kramer private archive, is a severed foot fragment of the neo-baroque figure of the Jügelhaus portal. (The tag reads: “Despite of your outrage! From the barbarian. It took a load off my mind on May 17th, 1953 at 5pm”)

The Tower
The AfE-tower of the Department of Education (1972, by architecture firm Philipp Holzmann AG) is an architectural landmark of the University of Bockenheim’s phase Fordist mass university phase. This 116-meter hightower represented the post-war modern era and showcased its brutalistic reinforced concrete skeleton; after the educational sciences were relocated to the new Campus Westend, the tower was erased from the cityscape of Bockenheim in 2014 in a spectacular live broadcast.
Similar to the demolition of Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis, which marked the end of social housing as a modernist project in the United States, the dematerialisation of the AfE Tower marked the death of the Bockenheim Campus. At the site of tower, where seminars for social and educational sciences that sparked strikes and occupations throughout the university for decades, there is now a fallow urban space opened up for new real estate speculations. Now the excellence cluster of Campus Westend is the sole presence of the university in the city.

The Street
The district parliament has decided that, in 2014 (the year of the university’s 100th anniversary) a street on Campus Westend will be named after Max Horkheimer, the co-founder of the Institute for Social Research and representative of critical theory and rector of the university in the early 1950s. Today, the central square on the campus is named after philosopher and social critic Theodor W. Adorno.
As street and place names, the two authors of the Dialectic of the Enlightenment and representatives of the Frankfurt School are significantly integrated into the new campus. However, as students note, their values are no longer to be found on the neoliberal campus, that “adorns itself with borrowed plumes” in relation to the controversial Bologna Reform.

The monument
In 2016, the Adorno monument erected in 2003 by artist Vadim Zakharov, was relocated from the inner city of Bockenheim to the Campus Westend. The ensemble of desk, chair, lamp, metronome and manuscript pages is now on display at the new Adorno Square, exhibited access- and vandal-proof under a glass cube.
If the square and the memorial in Bockenheim remind the urban public of the socially critical agenda of the Frankfurt School, the new placement on the campus subtly undermines the demand of the 1970s to “Get out of the ivory tower university” and counterproductively constricts it.

The Font
As part of the modernization of the entrance portal of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Jügelhaus by Ferdinand Kramer in 1953, the type font Futura was selected for the lettering on the façade of the new progressive University.
With the departure of the university and the move in of the Senckenberg Society for Natural Science, the modernist portal of the building, which represented democratization and public university access, will be preserved. The take-over of the building by the research society, which was founded by Frankfurt´s bourgeoisie in 1870, is encoded with Futura on the same spot of the facade.