Eindhoven’s Van Abbemuseum re-thinks the past, introduces the future
May 31, 2010 Leave a Comment
In this context the museum itself resembles a time machine travelling through time by way of its collection or exhibitions.
Time machines is divided into three sections, one of which is entitled Museum Modules. Located on the top floor of the museum, it focuses on innovative developments in modern art exhibitions and presents four museum projects from the past: Raum der Gegenwart (Room of the Now), Museum of Modern Art New York (MoMA), Museu de Arte de São Paulo and Musée Imaginaire.
Each one of these projects has a different origin: some were just concepts, while others marked the history of museum exhibitions. Museum Modules aims to present these projects as interpretations rather than exact reconstructions.
Steven ten Thije, who helped curate Museum Modules, explains that when conceiving the exhibition, he and his colleagues at the museum (co-curator Diana Franssen, Christiane Berndes, Charles Esche, Annie Fletcher), tried to select examples or modules of museum spaces, which struck them as being inspirational until today and whose history still marks the present.
Steven ten Thije, co-curator of Museum Modules
Although each module departed from a different origin, Steven ten Thije finds that all modules share three central concepts: a technologically produced image, referring to the content of the exhibition (photography, film); a body, referring to the visitor; and a story telling aspect within the museum sphere, referring to the narrative of an exhibition.
Reproductions as exhibitions
Almost no artworks are exhibited in Museum Modules. Instead, the modules themselves function as artworks. “We decided to present these modules not simply by exhibiting documents or archive material. We invited artists and designers to help make the display”, says Ten Thije.
Raum der Gegenwart (Room of the Now), designed by Alexander Dorner and Lászlò Moholy Nagy, interpreted by Kai-Uwe Hemken and Jakob Gebert
Reproductions are used in a different way in each module. In Room of the now for example, photographs, design objects, slides and films evoke achievements and visual experiments of the early 1930s. The room was originally conceived in 1930 by Alexander Dorner, the director of the Provinzialmuseum in Hannover, and Bauhaus artist Lászlò Moholy Nagy. It is intriguing to see that the objective of the room was to mark the transition from the museum back into society, which also reflects today’s desire for museums to be part of social changes, rather than just a space to document them.
Musée Imaginaire deals with documents in a more abstract way. Musée Imaginaire is the title of the first chapter of André Malraux’s book Les Voix du Silence (1953), in which reproductions of artworks play a predominant role. “Musée Imaginaire was interesting to curators because this concept is one of the earliest examples of what would happen if artworks would start to exist more in books than in spaces and within buildings,” says Ten Thije. Florian Schneider, film maker and advising researcher at Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, used Malraux’s vision of the Musée Imaginaire to look at the way museums process ‘images’ and noticed that there are proper images that are recognized as works and preserved in the depot”, explains Ten Thije.
The visitor as a body
The most obvious example of a museum module that re-thinks the role of the visitor is the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, which was originally designed by architect Lina Bo Bardi in 1968.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, designed by Lina Bo Bardi, 1968, interpreted by Wendelien van Oldenborgh
Lina Bo Bardi’s thoughts and practice are highlighted through selected documents and artworks from the Van Abbe collection. The installation makes use of glass panels, evoking Bo Bardi’s original design, where the artwork is placed on one side, and documents on the other. All panels are spread across the room, forcing the visitor to walk through them. Bo Bardi’s intention was to create new relations between the artworks and the audience.
Museum of Modern Art New York (MoMA), 1929, curated by Alfred H. Barr Jr., interpreted by Museum of American Art Berlin
While Bo Bardi’s concept deals with a physical visitor in a museum space, in the interpretation of MoMA by the Museum of American Art in Berlin, visitors became a part of the documentation about the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art held at MoMA in1936. The exhibited paintings were made after photographs of the exhibition showing visitors standing in front of artworks. Therefore, viewers are not only looking at original artworks represented as reproductions, but they also become part of these reproductions.
A troubling history
Museum Modules comes with an Information room on the history of innovative modern art exhibitions in the 20th century. Visitors can find documents on two exhibitions – the Great German art exhibition (Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung) and the Degenerate art exhibition (Entartete Kunstausstellung), both organised in 1937 as a result of the National Socialist cultural policy and its perception of “German art.”
The first exhibition aimed to show and celebrate “German art” that was suitable for Nazi propaganda purposes. The second was labeled as degenerative because it included protagonists from art movements such as dada, expressionism, cubism etc and therefore didn’t comply with Nazi ideology.
The curators of the Van Abbemuseum wanted to show these “important” documents because they cast a rather grim shadow on the formation period of modern exhibition practices. “It is very easy when looking at this kind of history to be euphoric about the experimental and creative energy that was present in these practices, and there is a tendency to find them ethically good because they are beautiful exhibitions. Of course we think that the Great German art exhibition and the Degenerate art exhibition were horrible and ethically wrong, but we wanted to present them in their complexity as also being quite revolutionary and innovative and quite precise in their use of certain technologies of mediation”, explains Ten Thije.
Museum Modules is running until 5 September 2010 at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven.
Text and photos by Irena Boric
Irena Boric is a Croatian student at the master programme Arts and Heritage: Policy, Management and Education at Maastricht University. Irena is currently doing an internship at project space Onomatopee in Eindhoven.