Augsburg/Germany – “Europe is more than the European Song Contest,” says Karl Borromäus Murr, director of the Staatliches Textil- und Industriemuseum tim, in his welcoming speech at the international EMEE kick-off event he hosted. The abbreviation stands for “EuroVision. Museums Exhibiting Europe,” a large-scale project supported by the EU with 2 million euros. Professor Susanne Popp (Chair of History Didactics) is the coordinator of the project. The most prominent speaker at the kick-off was Hans-Martin Hinz, president of the International Council of Museums ICOM. We did the following interview with him.
Is the planned period of four years enough for the EU project about Europeanisation of national and regional museums?
Hinz: All in all, it is a process which certainly will not end after four years and which does not completely start from scratch. What is new is that universities and museums work hand in hand to join efforts in order to strengthen the understanding of history and culture in an international context. The kick-off in Augsburg is focusing on a very specific interpretation programme.
France witnesses the 30th anniversary of the Regional Contemporary Art Funds (Frac). They provoke a decentralisation away from the Paris monopoly with lots of new museums, most recently the “Frac Provence” in Marseille. Along the lines of that and the new branches of London’s Tate in Liverpool, the Louvre of Paris in Lens and the Centre Pompidou in Metz, does the intended Europeanisation have to be as well a decentralisation?
Hinz: Other than the traditionally rather centralised France, Germany and other countries have a history of decentralism and federalism; accordingly, cultural institutions are distributed more evenly. At this point, the aim is to strengthen the awareness that, besides local, regional and national identities, there is an additional, European identity.
All over the world there is a boom of museums with new buildings that are as ambitious as possible. They are understood as the Formula One of architecture and are often more popular than the exhibits they were built for. What do you think of that?
Hinz: In China alone, 500 new museums are established and the most famous architects are invited for that purpose. There is a similar situation on the Arabian Peninsula. If money is available, it is invested in architecture. However, many of these new countries show deficits in dealing professionally with the things that happen in museums. Exactly these countries are the ones that readily engage in an international dialogue offered by ICOM. Accordingly, the number of members of the worldwide organisation has been rising.
The big museums set new records, the Louvre, as the most frequented museum, had ten million visits last year. In contrast, for example, municipal museums in Augsburg get less than 300,000 visitors. How can anything be changed about that if only the big ones can finance the so-called blockbuster exhibitions?
Hinz: I am a bit sceptical that there is such a focus on blockbuster exhibitions. It is for sure a trend of our time that especially sponsors bring forward the argument that successful museum work is expressed in high numbers of visitors. But this can only be one aspect. The size of the city, its catchment area and so on, has to be considered as well. There can be many variants in which 300,000 visitors can be a fantastic number. All in all, the aim is to address those groups who usually do not go to museums.
Okwui Enwezor, the new director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, compares blockbuster exhibitions to a safari: everybody looks at the Big Five of the large animals and forget about the smaller ones that are often more interesting.
Hinz: That is right. Pergamon, Priamos, Nofretete – they attract visitors. But of course, culture means more than that.
We are at the tim, one of Bavaria’s most innovative museum projects at an authentic place. It is a testimony of Augsburg as a former major centre of textile industry with ties to European networks, just as art and craft of the Free Imperial City had been linked Europe-wide. The museums of Augsburg prove that. The EU project therefore seems obvious.
Hinz: Yes, that is it. The era of national states in the 19th and 20th century made us forget that the European networks were a lot stronger than in our perception it even in our generation. In many collections, the European aspect is obvious. The EU project follows the aim to identify these European aspects and to present different ways of looking at the objects.
Augsburger Newspaper Nr. 2, Friday, 25. January 2013
The interview conducted Hans Krebs.