Exhibition // Ken Adam Returns Home with Retrospective at Deutsche Kinemathek

Article by Alison Hugill in Berlin; Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014

The location of the Deutsche Kinemathek is overwhelming during the holidays: it’s in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz, next to Lego Land and the crowded Kino Arsenal. But don’t let that deter you, because the latest two-floor exhibition of Ken Adam‘s film set design is well worth the visit.

Ken Adam was born in Berlin in 1921 as Klaus Hugo Adam. His father owned a sporting goods store on Leipziger Straße, just down the street from the Kinemathek. As a Jew, he was forced to flee with his family when the Nazis took power, to London, where he studied architecture and began his career as a film production designer. With this retrospective collection, donated by Sir Ken Adam to the Deutsche Kinemathek, his work returns home after a long and fraught personal history with the country.

A major highlight of the exhibition is the film-installation ‘Lines of Flow’ by Boris Hars-Tschachotin. The 3D film (4D if you include the smoke machine) offers a full-sensory experience of an otherwise banal occurrence: an elderly Ken Adam at his desk, talking about his design for the ‘War Room’ in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, smoking a cigar and sketching. The sketches appear around him as he draws, illustrating his spoken thoughts. Knowing very little about Adam before seeing the film, it gives a sense of the character and demeanour of this man, who was responsible for some of the most iconic movie sets of the 20th century.

The first floor exhibition rooms are packed with black & white Flo-Master felt-tip pen drawings in a classic mid-century modern style, detailed architectural models of Adam’s brilliant invented spaces, and props from the movies in which they featured. Adam was behind such definitive classics as Moonraker, Pennies from Heaven, Diamonds are Forever, and a host of other Bond movies. His sci-fi, utopian designs for conference rooms and living spaces have become unconscious symbols of the Space Age aesthetic, strewn with references to the Bauhaus movement and German Expressionism.

Adam’s work on more than 70 feature films, in some exotic locations, turned him and his wife Letizia into members of the global jet set. Ken Adam worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, where his house was frequented by movie celebrities. A comprehensive archive of his letters and travel photos shows just how close he was to some of the world’s most famous at the time.

Ken Adam was present at the opening of the exhibition in early December. The Adams now live in London again, where Ken Adam continued to work at his drawing table and preserved the collection of his designs until he entrusted them to the Deutsche Kinemathek. The Bigger Than Life exhibition is accompanied by an impressive catalogue which offers not only the compelling personal biography of Ken Adam, but also provides access to a comprehensive archive of drawings and images that piece together an incomparable visual language. The catalogue includes essays by the curators, and an introduction by renowned Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind.


Additional Information

“Bigger Than Life: Ken Adam’s Film Design” – KEN ADAM
Exhibition: Dec. 11, 2014 – May 17, 2015
Potsdamer Straße 2 (click here for map)


Alison Hugill has a Master’s in Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, University of London (2011). Her research focuses on marxist-feminist politics and aesthetic theories of community, communication and communism. Alison is an editor, writer and curator based in Berlin. www.alisonhugill.com

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