A Fire Erupted at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, But Officials Say No Art Was Damaged

Firefighters were seen carrying out On Kawara date paintings.

The outside area of Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt where a fire broke out July 29. Photo: Andreas Arnold/picture alliance/Getty Images.

Just before noon on Monday, pedestrians watched in horror as smoke billowed out of the roof of the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt. Video footage from cell phones and media outlets show the smoke descending down on to the street, where traffic was blocked off to allow the 20 emergency vehicles carrying around 70 firefighters onto the scene.

According to media outlets, the fire started in an elevator control room and the museum, which has been undergoing renovations since June, was empty of visitors, with just a few members of staff on site. Members of the Frankfurt fire brigade wrote on social media that it was proving difficult to extinguish the fire because the museum’s copper roof can only be accessed by hand-opening the hatch. The fire was said to be under control by around 4:30 p.m.

Firefighters trying to access the roof of the Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK) to extinguish fire. Photo: Andreas Arnold/picture alliance/Getty Images.

Firefighters trying to access the roof of the Museum für Moderne Kunst to extinguish the fire. Photo: Andreas Arnold/picture alliance/Getty Images.

The cause of the fire and the extent of its damage to the building is still unknown. But museum director Susanne Pfeffer said “no people were injured, and no works of art were damaged.” She described the situation as “fortunate in our misfortune,” since most of the museum’s more than 5,000 objects had been put into storage for the renovations.

Despite the director’s statement that “pretty much no art” was on display at the time of the fire, a striking image captured at the scene and posted to social media shows firefighters carrying works from On Kawara’s “Today Series/Date Paintings” out of the building. The three canvases shown in the photo: Kawara’s NOV.23, 1977SEPT.18,1981; and JUNE28,1979 are all part of the Museum’s permanent collection.

A photo shared on social media appears to show firefighters carrying out works by On Kawara.

A spokesperson for the museum confirmed to artnet News that all of the art was “brought into safety and the exhibition space appears undamaged.” The museum staff is “grateful for all the sympathy we have received from all over the world today” and to the fire fighters, the spokesperson added. “The fire could be extinguished completely thanks to the intervention of the fire brigade.”

The museum, which opened in 1991, was designed by Viennese architect Hans Hollein in the shape of a triangular slice of cake, and the brunt of its vast holdings come from the private collections of German collector Karl Ströher and Cologne art dealer Rolf Ricke. The renovation had been planned for months, and the museum is set to remain closed until August 19, though it is unclear if its reopening will be delayed.

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