The Permanent Collection Blockbuster?
The way that's phrased however---"doing the best with what they already have"--- seems to imply that working from the permanent collection will automatically result in exhibitions that are somehow inferior to other shows. From what we saw in Berlin last week, though, I'd argue that all depends on who's doing the curating. While not entirely from its own collection, the "Die Kunst ist Super" exhibition (yes, it's a really bad title) at the Hamburger Bahnhof is predominantly the same sort of effort and it had us gasping at every turn.
Instead of the blockbuster, there seems to be a new brand of exhibition, which involves taking another look at the old works in the permanent collection. Indeed, [Thomas Campbell, the director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum] plans to get curators who previously worked on the special exhibitions plan to put a new spin on the Met’s permanent collection. While it’s not unusual for a freshly hired director to make his mark on a museum’s permanent collection, Häntzschel believes Campbell’s plan is part of a larger paradigm shift across the country.
“If one looks at the programs of American museum for the beginning season,” writes Häntzschel, “one finds different versions of the same exhibition everywhere: ‘Works from the Permanent Collection.’ The museums are doing the same as the American people: forgoing consumption. Instead of shopping, they are doing the best with what they already have.”
Die Kunst ist super ! (Art is super!) is the title under which the National Gallery at Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin is showing a new presentation of works from its collections. The exhibition uses thematic, monographic and motivic constellations, surprising dialogues and individual appearances rich in associations to cast works from the National Gallery, the Marx and Marzona Collections as well as the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection in Hamburger Bahnhof in a new light. At selected points the museum's collections are complemented by works loaned by artists, some specially created for the rooms at the museum, as well as by loans from the rich collections of Berlin's museum landscape.We did hear some criticism from a few Berliners that the exhibition was playing it safe with their tried-and-true crowd pleasers, but in the same way that the TV show Friends, which had been plummetting in the ratings, made a huge comeback after 9/11 (presumably because Americans were looking for something familiar and reassuring), every now and then an exhibition that confirms the quality of a collection, especially when there's so much uncertainty and anxiety elsewhere, can be exactly what that institution should provide to its audience. Of course, we had never visited the Hamburger Bahnhof before, so we didn't have other more adventurous exhibitions there to compare this one against. We did, however, have a wonderful time moving from gallery to gallery within the museum, each new room revealing a treasure that knocked our socks off. So, to my mind, the question isn't whether a museum can't afford a traditional style blockbuster (with loans from around the world)...but whether or not a home-grown blockbuster from their permanent collection is the right exhibition to offer now (and whether they have the curatorial talent to create one). The show in Berlin with the dumb name and truly spectacular art impressed me deeply.
*While you're over at Tyler's don't miss his interview with New Museum director Lisa Phillips today in which they discuss the museum's semi-permanent collection and other related issues.
Photo above: Bambino (as always, looking up to MAO ;-) ) at the Hamburger Bahnhof.