KUNSTHALLE AS A MODEL
Vanessa Joan Milller (VJM): The topic of "art gallery models" (Modell Kunsthalle) is a central aspect of the month-long program called "Under Construction.” The question for this evening could be formulated as follows: What are we actually talking about when we speak of a "Kunsthalle" (art gallery)? The name "European Kunsthalle" often causes confusion, which in any case generally has to do with the first part, the European dimension of the art gallery. In contrast, the art gallery terminology remains uninterrogated, although the term is in itself much more vague than one might think. The German dictionary defines "Kunsthalle" simply as a building in which art is exhibited. If one examines the institutional landscape, in fact there are many divergent models for the exhibition institution "art gallery”: local orientation is to be found alongside international alignment, association with the city contrasting with provincial rootedness. A few art galleries are purely buildings for temporary exhibitions, others have their own collections at their disposal. In addition to these varied alignments there is a general alteration or institutional profile: museums increasingly establish themselves not via their permanent collections, but rather by means of large-scale temporary exhibitions. Art Societies (Kunstvereine), on the other hand, present exhibitions which would have previously rather been at home in an art gallery. Where do the opportunities and outlook for the art gallery model thus lie? I am very glad that we were able to gather a high quality panel composed of the directors of different art galleries, which will certainly stimulate our reflections regarding a model for Cologne's future art institution. Dirk Luckow is Director of the Kunsthalle Kiel, one of the largest and oldest art galleries in the province of Schleswig-Holstein. The collection of the Kunsthalle Kiel includes works from six centuries, with an emphasis on the art of the nineteenth and twentieth century. in addition to which contemporary-oriented exhibitions are mounted· Max Hollein is Director of the Schirn Kunsthalle, and since the beginning of the year also directs the Städelsches Kunstinstitut and the Liebighaus Museum in Frankfurt am Main. The Schirn Kunsthalle, founded during the era of Himler Hoffman, has shown international temporary exhibitions since 1986, which it conceives itself or plans in cooperation with other internationally-renowned institutions. Ulrike Groos is the Director of the Kunsthalle Dilsseldorf, a location for temporary exhibitions with out its own collection, which has from the beginning presented viewpoints from within contemporary art as well as their historical and local points of reference. International movements and Dülsseldorf perspective also have equal impact on this art gallery today. Gerald Matt is Director of the Kunsthalle Wien, the exhibition institution for international contemporary art of the city of Vienna. At two locations within the city, on Karlsplatz and in the Museumsquartier (Museum Quarter), it has established itself as one of the most vital institutions for contemporary art in Vienna and understands itself as a workshop, laboratory, and location for interchange regarding contemporary aesthetic and societal viewpoints. I would like to begin with a question for Max Hollein: the Schirn is without doubt one of the most successful German art galleries. To what is this success due? Is it clever marketing combined with top-caliber exhibitions?
Max Hollein (MH): If you take a look at the workings of such art galleries, you will notice that of course there are on the one hand varied forms of art galleries, but also that on the other hand there is a mandate from the city or a community. In the case of the Schirn it was al together clear: the commission from the city was to be the most popular exhibition establishment in that whole region. That is the expectational framework of its financers. You can now deal with this by asking yourselves what kind of program you want to have for such an art gallery. In any case, we took the hard route - even if it is often not entirely acknowledged - because in an altogether self-aware fashion we decided against public-generating shows of a kind like "Toulouse-Lautrec: The Graphic Works" or "From Monet to Picasso: The So-and-so Collection." If you take this other road, and always open up new, altogether diverse subjects - such as exhibitions about Communism and the Nazarenes - then you have to do all you can to mediate these subjects to the community, if you still have the ongoing mandate to attract a mass public. The success of an exhibition hall like the Schirn thus defines itself for me not via the public attendance figures - I could make those increase without any problem, insofar as I would carry out another kind of program. In order to be able to do what I am now doing in Frankfurt, in any case I need a certain public resonance. With many of these programs - in the case of a Carsten Nicolai exhibition or such - this public resonance must first be generated via various forms of mediation. You do not have to do that, if it is not your defined task and it can be irrelevant how many visitors you have. But in the Schirn's case, at any rate, it is essential. On the other hand, our way has demonstrated itself to be more interesting, because I believe in the end it is this program we show which is responsible for this art gallery's wide-ranging impact.
VJM: The Kunsthalle Wien is in fact part of the Museums quartier. Is this concentration of institutions an advantage in the long run, or does it hinder the development of a very independent institutional profile?
Gerald Matt (GM): The museums in the Museumsquartier are in fact very differently structured, and have differing assignments. There for the museum Leopold, which is responsible for the early twentieth century, with an emphasis on Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, and Austrian Modernism. Then there is the Museum für Moderne Kunst (Museum of Modern Art), and there are also an Architekturzentrum (Architecture Center), a Kindertheater (Childrens' Theatre), and a Theaterhalle (Theatre Auditorium). All of these institutions are very differently organized. It is, so to speak, not a system of central direction and artistic uniformity, but rather a system of pluralism, of juxtaposition, and often also of working against each other. I do not find that bad at all, because competition raises the quality level. In the Museumsquartier, it has more to do with complementing, since the individual institutions' assignments are delimited. That we have moved in there as an art gallery has pros and cons. Political expectations have, in any case, not entered in. Especially that beloved buzzword "synergy" -that is, the belief that if the Museum Leopold is a neighbor, then its visitors would also come into the Kunsthalle or the Architekturzentrum -fails to recognize that the public is ever more heterogenous and that there are very diverse market segments, which simply do to not overlap. If there are synergies at all, then they lead from the special and the difficult to the better-known and traditional contents -that means that the Museum Leopold hands over fewer people percentage-wise to the Architekturzentrum or the Kunsthalle than if it were the reverse. Opinion polls show that the visitors for contemporary art possess a high level of education, and their interest is also directed as much towards traditional art as it is towards the avant-garde. The bus tourist, who has just gone into the Museum Leopold and is already shocked when he sees a nude by Schiele, wants to have their entry fee back when they see Wim Delvoyes' shitting-machine "Cloaca" at our place. As important as mediation also is, and as much as we at the Kunsthalle value it, nonetheless there are specific limitations here - we cannot make up for faulty educational policies. I also take the question as to a cultural assignment, which Max Hollein addressed, to be of utmost importance. Institutions render public cultural services - a supporting contribution to the community which would not be possible via the private economy. As a nonprofit organization, we receive subventions in order to cover a particular segment of the public, within the framework of the city's socio-cultural offerings overall. In this case, the cultural-political assignment is to be defined and agreed upon with the public source of funding - otherwise the danger of parallel artistic activity threatens, bound up with a tendency in the direction of artistic populism. Thus we have the problem in Vienna at the moment that many institutions only pay attention to their visitor -figures quota, and so then there are suddenly four Rubens exhibitions in one city. That is complete nonsense, because it then means that there are not three important exhibitions. I therefore regard the formulation of cultural tasks for the institutions in a city to be altogether essential. Only in that fashion can the artistic and cultural pluralism, and the presence of contemporary art, be provided for.
VJM: The Kunsthalle Dusseldorf is an institution which explicitly adopts the tradition of including the local productively into its program. With such a program, is it internationally competitive, or do such considerations per se only play a secondary role? To take up Gerald Matt's argument once more: what does success essentially mean? And how does one deal with political pressure?
Ulrike Groos (UG): It is true that the local is emphasized in our program at the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf. In any case, now it sounds as if local means the same thing as provincial, and is unable to attract international recognition -but it is not like that at all. In the Cologne-Dusseldorf region, we have prominent artists who have been living and working here for a long time. What does it actually mean to show local art? For us, these are topics which are almost to be found at our front door and are also internationally relevant. An example of our exhibition activity would be the show "Ready to Shoot: Gerry Schum's Television Gallery" (Fernseh Galerie Gerry Schum /videogalerie schum), which we showed with the help of his wife Ursula Wevers. taking into consideration the Gerry Schum archive, which up until then had not been processed in its entirety. In the sixties and seventies, Gerry Schum was very closely connected with Dusseldorf. This exhibition subsequently traveled to five more European venues and had a very large resonance, precisely because the topic -the democratization of art -was surprisingly current. But subjects close at hand are only one emphasis among others at the Kunsthalle. We try to take up the excluded, what has been little researched. We had, for example, a comprehensive exhibition about the history of thumb-puppet theatre, its intersection with artists’ books and the beginning of film, which encountered a great deal of interest -a surprise success. It was the first time this topic was exhibited in this form and scientifically researched, which I view as an essential part of our work.
VJM: Now we come to a slightly different model: the Kunsthalle zu Kiel has a collection. How does that work at all -or does the Kunsthalle function more like a museum that creates a situation in which its own collection participates in a dialogue with contemporary themes?
Dirk Luckow (DL): Working with the permanent collection is in fact the most important aspect of my activities at the Kunsthalle in Kiel. But one should mention that this 150-year-old institution is as much a museum as it is an art gallery, an institute of the university, and beyond that it is the Schleswig-Holstein Kunstverein (Art Society) with 1,000 members. That makes for a very flexible structure, which can encompass five-hundred-year-old works as much as it does the engagement with altogether current themes. When I came to Kiel, it was said to me that the Kiel residents did not know where their Kunsthalle was located, and it was also clear to me that Kiel is not any kind of cultural center; thus I placed the mediation of art in the center of my activities. I wanted to bring art closer to our public from various perspectives. Hence I exhibit the collection as informed by a different concept each year. The best-known of these was "The Democratic View," where I offered my co-workers - including the cleaning woman and the concierge - the possibility of creating their own room, thereby casting an entirely new gaze - one much more unorthodox and emotional - on this collection. This yearly changing presentation of the permanent collection permitted a fragmentary view, but at the same time also a current timebound access to the collection. because I see it as an opportunity for nonexperts (who are in the majority in Kiel) to come to terms with art. This year is the third time that the collection as an exhibition project has taken place, with the motto "SEE History." Seventeen collectors have taken their private look at the Kunsthalle Kiel, worked with our holdings and again lent them an al together new face.
VJM: So we have indirectly discovered a great deal about cities. The next question in the sequence therefore runs: to what extent is an art gallery, which always takes on a relatively prominent role in the cultural fabric of a city, also part of a marketing strategy? To what extent do politicians try to advertise the city's profile externally with "their" art gallery. as it can very quickly become, and how do you deal with that?
MH: When that has taken place, you have already won! I would not see that as being in any way negative. When a mayor goes internationally peddling his art gallery, then you can be sure that a certain political purpose is behind it. That is not the worst thing, for it in fact means that they have achieved a certain understanding of your program. We would only promote that at the Schirn. I also believe that the large differences between art galleries - that is, what program they in fact illustrate - are founded in a content-related ambition and how far they see their field of activity extending. There are of course art galleries which are very contemporarily oriented, but also art galleries - in this case, the Schirn is one of the last dinosaurs - that attempt to work with classical Modernism and as far back as the nineteenth century, without having a permanent collection in the background. Seen completely practically, it is then unbelievably more difficult to realize an exhibition alone. for the major deficiency of an art gallery without a collection is that they cannot offer the Centre Pompidou or the Museum of Modern Art a Picasso or something like that in exchange for loans. An art gallery that is striving to have a certain breadth in its program naturally wants to show now and again something from classical Modernism, because from this proceeds a greater acceptance on the public's part and a higher standing in the city in turn. This is in any case a difficult path. GM: If one wants to distinguish the typical ideal museum from the art gallery, the permanent collection is of course a particular criterion. What Max Hollein described as a deficiency I see, in any case, as an opportunity. If one wants to work with classical Modernism or even with postwar Modernism itself, of course the absence of a collection also means a lack of exchange goods within loan traffic. The privation becomes a virtue, in that one can seek out a collection of new trends without obligations. one can work together with artists in developing projects; that is, can focus on the production and exhibition of contemporary art. In so doing, the question naturally presents itself: is one occupying lost posts when it has to do with the "pride of the city fathers." thus legitimation via quantity and number of visitors? Even when it is very difficult. we have always attempted to demonstrate in Vienna that one can also win people over with contemporary art, and that even in Vienna - a place that counts as city of theatre and tradition - one can awaken an interest in contemporary art. We have above all tried to do that with themes. Here the different qualities of a museum and an art gallery become evident: if the museum's emphasis lies in collecting and preservation, and it is definitively the collection (from surveillance and security to the exhibition program) which largely determines the thinking and transactions of the museum, then in contrast the art gallery does not have the burdens of these tradition instilled artifacts and this answerability to the past. therefore the institution's capacities are also entirely differently assigned. Thus an art gallery - and I would ask that this be viewed tendentially, exceptions as always confirm the rule - in contrast to a museum, is in the best sense not an instance of management and preservation of holdings, nor an archive. It is not so much beholden to the past, but rather much more to the present. whatever that may be. The question is only how it can succeed, as much at motivating people in favor of contemporary art as it does at winning international interest and renown, so that the mayor can be proud of his art gallery. We have attempted to define the art gallery as a place - perhaps even as a cultural subject or a social entity -which via its topics is bound up with the city. and with the world and lifestyles of its people. I see the art gallery as a place where not only the artifact or the auraticized artistic object stands in the foreground, but rather as a place where possible lifestyles are communicated via objects - and that takes place precisely by means of topics. It is only via topics - for example war, or the electric guitar as a symbol for youthful revolt and fundamental change - that it is possible to motivate people to take a look at contemporary art and artists, whose names they do not recognize, nor are they able to immediately get the content of their work. That is also mediation. The second substantial criterion is, naturally, marketing. If we want to legitimate ourselves as an art gallery without a permanent collection, and want to receive resources for our concerns, we cannot act only for the interested who share our preferences , but instead must fight for the limited attention-capital within a city in the context of a mediatized world. and also make a bit of loud noise. But just for attracting people into the building it is too little; for when the people are at first there, then you must also speak to them clearly and intelligibly, and explain to them what they are being served up. There marketing and mediation belong indivisibly together.
UG: An art gallery's standing within its own city is of course an important topic. Certainly it is an advantage, when one is the "pride of the city fathers." It makes many things easier, including representing oneself externally. But it is precisely art galleries that run a more experimental program which are not unquestionably the "pride of the city fathers." In Dusseldorf we have the situation that all of the political parties are represented on our Board of Trustees, and for the most part they find our program very good. Because we as an art gallery are incorporated. and have company members and a Board of Trustees, the occasional criticism from the city's side fortunately affects us relatively little. As a result of this structure, our exhibitions cannot simply be forbidden or even undermined. I find it problematic when I read or hear about what actually takes place in other locations, for we are doing the exhibitions not for the city fathers, but rather for a public and for the artists. If one is commissioned to direct an art gallery. and finds success and recognition with their program, then off-and-on one should be able to live with not being the greatest pride of the city's fathers. Also with respect to the loan traffic, I have had other experiences: many institutions are very open as to what affects that. For our exhibition "Tauchfahrten. Zeichnung als Reportage" (Diving Trips: Drawing as Reportage ), we got works by J ohn Singer Sargent from the Imperial War Museum in London which had never been leant to a museum outside of England before. One can - precisely as a small institution without its own collection - obtain good loans with convincing, content-related arguments.
DL: I find it important for an art gallery to be valued and well-known. In Kiel, the female mayor very gladly presents us. She does not, in any case, have to finance us, because we are a university institute of the province of SchleswigHolstein. Thus, it is more important that Peter Harry Carstensen (prime minister of SchleswigHolstein) stands behind us. But he in turn primarily patronizes the Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf (Gottorf Palace Provincial Museum ) of Schleswig -Holstein. We belong to the Christian - Albrechts-Universitat, but as a museum we do not constitute their main business. The Kunsthalle Kiel thus finds its elf in a kind of niche from which it must emerge. We can only achieve this via freefall in the direction of the public, in the direction of Kiel's citizens; among other things, by means of contemporary art projects which possess an offensiveness, in relation to which each person actually must position themselves. Feridun Zaimoglu - who is from Kiel and whose book “Abschaum” (Scum) I had in my suitcase when I went to Keil - for example, turned our entire façade into a sea of Turkish flags - after this action, the Kunsthalle Kiel was known all over the place. In my view, it is absolutely possible to also be perceived by a broad public with contemporary art. Another, altogether essential factor for art gallery is to be interesting to other institutions, for one of the major possibilities with respect to sponsoring, cross-financing, is cooperation with other institutions, and one cooperates gladly with those whose programs one values. Thus one must wait with a program until it awakens outside interest, but also is suitable in relation to regional demands. The project with Feridun Zaimoglu was one possibility. Another possibility is certainly the upcoming exhibition “Ballermann” (Shooter Man). We all know that the soccer International World Cup is coming, and in Kiel there is also a kind of “Oktoberfest,” the “Kieler Wochen” (Kiel Weeks). We will therefore once more be engaged with the topic of mass public taste with the next exhibition, in that we are showing for the first time the collection of Jürgen Dress (German poster), as well as films that people have made of themselves in Mallorca, alongside renowned stances within contemporary art. That is an example of my conception of art-mediation: when one sets the various levels of art - such as the average cast of Jürgen Drews and artistic interpretations of popular culture - in confrontation with each other in an exhibition. Thus, via the comparison, I bring our unfamiliar public to understand something about art.
GM: After I saw the project by Feridun Zaimoglu, I also invited him to Vienna, because I found his project very interesting and good; but it was also clear to me that it would prompt entirely different reactions than in Kiel, because with us the political situation is altogether different. Shortly after its realization, I was on vacation in Argentina and had to back, as things had come to such a head politically. The prompting of a broad political and mediation discourse lay in the project’s visibility - the Kunsthalle’s having become a tent of Turkish flags - and the project’s symbolic dimension, an explicit focus on the Turkish minority - I am citing the yellow press - “in the heart of the Christian city” The moment that one leaves the ivory tower of the museum with political art, where moreover one is clapped on the shoulder in agreement by those who are initiated and approving, art becomes exciting and explosive. In Vienna, it proceeded up to the point where my resignation was demanded by the radical right - with us they are called the “Independent Party” - in the city parliament. But I am convinced that it is one of art’s tasks to thematize this kind of essential, also political questions and - once more - not in small quiet chambers, please. It does not have any impact there.
On Jürgen Drews, in contrast, the following question presented itself to me: for what purpose am I motivating people to occupy themselves with existential, political, social, and economic questions via art, then that is wonderful; but I see our proper assignment to be transporting art itself. We do not receive our public funding so that we can conceive popular programs, but rather to make programs popular. That is a big difference. If I show the Dress collection, I cannot imagine the any kind of cognitive gain - aside from that Drews perhaps has a lot of fun collecting - is bound up with it. I do not thereby bring people to art. The questions are, however: how do I stimulate an interest in art, how do I popularize the unpopular or the Difficult?