By Daniel Birnbaum and Ann-Sofi Noring
Published in Moderna Museets Vänners Bulletinen Nr1, 2013
Moderna Museet Commentary 2
An open, dynamic museum must be a laboratory, according to Daniel Birnbaum and Ann-Sofi Noring. Over the past two years, Moderna Museet has looked at every possible angle of how a collection can be presented. Unexpected excerpts and interventions in the collection give us new perspectives on the works and the museum.
A large art collection is a perfect starting point for visual and intellectual experiments. Over the past two years, Moderna Museet has challenged the standard historiography of modernism by radically rearranging the way in which it is displayed. It all started with Another Story, where we let photographic images gradually fill all the exhibition rooms. Our collection of photography, from 1840 to today, is one of the finest in Europe. Practically all the great names in photographic history are represented – from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron and Man Ray to Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman.
Another Story, Moderna Museet 2011. Photo: Åsa Lundén/Moderna Museet
The object is to show the museum from a different point of view, but also to tell another story, one that is not necessarily more true, but which gives new perspectives and enriches our understanding of the development of art. Many of our visitors were obviously interested in seeing more of our enormous collection of photography, and Another Story was the largest photographic exhibition at a Swedish museum ever, and by far the most popular one.
The photography exhibition was followed by a similar presentation of moving images, featuring key works from the museum’s collection of films and videos, from Dziga Vertov, Maya Deren and Andy Warhol to video pioneers such as Dara Birnbaum, Gary Hill and Pipilotti Rist. At the centre of this activity was our exhibition of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, one of the most important artists today, who explores the boundary between art and film. Before and After Cinema was an exciting collaboration with Bonniers Konsthall, which involved us in an examination of what moving images can be today and where it is taking us in our brave new media world.
An art museum usually displays objects for people to look at. The entire focus is on the eye. For 48 hours, we transformed Moderna Museet into a museum for the ear, presenting only audio art and concerts: freq_out was an audio installation consisting of twelve individual audio works, each utilising a specific frequency and together forming an audio landscape. The initiator of freq_out was Carl Michael von Hausswolff, who describes the project thus: “Sound has been a consistent part of contemporary visual art for the past century. The audio installation freq_out, which is now being constructed at Moderna Museet, is possibly the largest complex audio work ever to have been built in an art museum – 48 hours x 4,250 cubic metres. Twelve smaller works in different frequency fields have been combined into one unit. The sounds have neither beginning nor end but are in a constant flow and act in sculptural ways.”
During a few baffling months, Sturtevant presented her replicas of famous works by Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp and other male giants associated with the history of Moderna Museet.
Following these fairly extreme transformations of the museum’s exhibition halls, we have gradually installed a new chronological version of our collection which includes all the disciplines and attempts to encourage new dialogues between Swedish and international art. Moderna Museet is now a museum with two locations, and major exhibitions based on the collection are shown every year in Malmö, the most recent being Supersurrealism. A permanent presentation of art history is no longer on the agenda in either Stockholm or Malmö; on the contrary, our collection is a dynamic, flexible resource that continues to grow – new artists and new works are added continuously.
Moderna Museet has a collection of international standing, but our way of working with it will remain experimental. In this way, we hope to combine weight with lightness. Small art galleries and biennials are expected to have an experimental approach, but a large museum with the ambition to maintain its openness and vibrancy must continue to be a laboratory. Gertrude Stein is reputed to have said that you can be a museum or modern, but you can’t be both at the same time. Let us strive to prove she was wrong. We will remain a paradox – a modern museum, Moderna Museet.