An Open HouseArticle
María López-Fanjul y Díez del Corral, curator for outreach at the Bode Museum, Jochen Haug of the user department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, and Joachim Jäger, head of the Neuen Nationalgalerie, speak about inviting places, visitors’ wishes, and how museums and libraries need to change in order to remain socially relevant.
Blick von Nordosten auf den Haupteingang des zukünftigen Museums des 20. Jahrhunderts © Herzog & de Meuron
Let’s start with your very interesting job title, Mrs. López-Fanjul. You are a curator for outreach. What exactly does that mean?
María López-Fanjul: There is no fixed definition for outreach in a museum, so I can only explain what it means at the Bode Museum. A curator for outreach at the Bode Museum is an art historian who has broad, general knowledge about the entire collection and develops strategies to maintain the museum’s relevant position in society. To do this you have to build bridges: from museums to society, but also between the individual departments in a museum. It is important that I work together with the whole team: with other curators, the head of the museum, restorers, depot administrators, and of course the educators. We can only make the museum more open and more attractive by working together. Museums have existed for centuries; most of them in city centers. So you would think that they are part of society already.
Is that the case?
MLF: I work in the Bode Museum with old art – even if I don’t like to call it that since I believe that there is only one art. But in order to understand this art we need a couple of tools, as we would say today, and these have been lost or forgotten in recent years. Many people can no longer relate to old art. They don’t feel represented and don’t understand what old art has to do with their life today.
You’re talking about barriers, first of all, financial ones. You and lab.Bode have made it part of your job to remove the cultural ones. What is your approach?
MLF: lab.Bode is a joint project of the German federal government, the Bode Museum, and the Education and Outreach Department of the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). It employs four additional experts in the Bode Museum alone, who are creating new forms of education and mediation. They are working closely with nine partner schools from various parts of Berlin. We want to understand what is important for children and teens, and how they perceive museums. The goal is to strengthen education and mediation activity in museums throughout Germany. The results of four years of research will be available online in the future in a digital modular system. Beyond that, lab.Bode is supporting 23 traineeships in the field of education and outreach nationwide until 2020.
What do the needs and requirements of children and teens look like?
MLF: They need more explanations! In the Bode Museum we just remodeled the rooms with works by Donatello and from Florence. We are now offering four different ways of examining the art works there: introductory texts to the room, labels, QR codes that are directly connected to our database, and information sheets. Visitors are responding positively to them. They finally understand what they are looking at and don’t just wonder whether or not they like it. They can also decide for themselves how much information they want to have. The QR codes now make it possible for visitors to take the information home and rediscover the collections online. Visitors want to experience a museum as a place where they feel good, not where art is incomprehensible.
We are no longer just speaking about open places, but also about open data.
Mr. Haug, you work in a very impressive building, the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) on Potsdamer Straße, which was designed by Hans Scharoun. Are you also concerned about barriers or do you get more visitors than you can handle?
Jochen Haug: This wonderful building really provides optimal conditions. Since we are a scientific library, we serve a specific target group; and they come to us, too. Researchers look for and use our holdings – whether in print or electronically – and we make our holdings available to them. Our quality service creates excellent working conditions for researchers. For many decades we have considered ourselves an open facility and opening up is a process that is never completed. Today we speak not only about open places and buildings, but also about open data, publicly accessible digital texts and pictures – as far as copyrights allow – and open access publishing. Of course, libraries are going through a change in meaning because of the partial transfer from print to digital media. In the past, large libraries were purely seen as warehouses for books, but that has not been the case for quite some time. We still provide media, but now we are also a place of learning and scientific work, and at the same time a place of cultural encounters, and of cultural and scientific education and mediation.
MLF: I have to say that I have learned a lot from libraries – for example, how they work with digital media and see it as simply a tool. A lot of museums could take a page from that book!
Mr. Haug, you just spoke about the change in meaning when it comes to libraries and the need to open the Staatsbibliothek further. Can you give some examples?
JH: On the one hand, more and more of the library takes place online – as a database and of course what is also important, through our open-access digital collections and other digital programs such as the large online portals for Humboldt and E.T.A. Hoffmann. We also have a wide range of cultural programs and events and use them to communicate our topics: for example, readings by authors, Table Talks, and scientific podium discussions.
Doesn’t digitization pose a threat to the library as an institution, as a place for printed books?
JH: There are areas from which the printed word might disappear completely at some point. Unlike medieval manuscripts, trade journals don’t have an aura. They are much easier to use digitally when doing full text searches and downloading material. But I do not see the library as endangered since we also preserve our cultural legacy there: manuscripts, musical scores, historical printed materials, and maps, for example. Libraries will also continue to be places of learning and research. Take a peek in our reading room in the building on Unter den Linden for example: it’s basically full every day and demand is increasing.
Collections are changing drastically. This is why museum interiors must be flexible.
Mr. Jäger, you are planning the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (Museum of the 20th Century) right now. It will be a close neighbor to the Staatsbibliothek, Philharmonie, and Neue Nationalgalerie. What will be the new museum’s main function?
JJ: It is being built because only parts of the 20th-century collection can be shown in the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) at one time. This is mainly because of the limitations of the Neue Nationalgalerie, which was designed by Mies van der Rohe. It was built in the late 1960s for the Nationalgalerie collection, which was still relatively small at that time. But the collection has grown so much since then as a result of reunification and merging the collections, in addition to other factors, that Hamburger Bahnhof had to accommodate a large number of works. It in turn can hardly do justice to its role as a contemporary museum of art any longer. Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol – two artists who are firmly embedded in the 20th century – are exhibited there. We want to relieve Hamburger Bahnhof and at the same time show more 20th-century art at the Kulturforum.
What is the vision for the new building?
JJ: The vision is one of “a different kind of museum.” The new building should not repeat what makes the Neue Nationalgalerie special. In the end, Mies’ building is a temple: its broad terrace and imposing roof are awe-inspiring. The new museum will be much more low-key, and its structure will be easily recognizable. We need a museum that maps the second half of the 20th century, one where performance art, installations, and large-scale works play a greater role. But it must be adapted to the needs of the 21st century, for example, in that it offers more space to work with groups. It will be a museum where something like lab.Bode is already part of the architecture. The building will also play an important role in the Kulturforum. In the evening thousands of visitors stream out of the Philharmonie and don’t know where to go. A large restaurant opens up the opportunity to create infrastructure that several buildings can use.
Will there be a major program of events?
JJ: We are planning an extensive event program. Our dream for this museum is that different generations, a very diverse public, come and enjoy being there. We are planning, for example, a multi-functional space that can be used in many different ways. In general, we wanted to have places in the building on different levels where groups can meet.
MLF: In the Bode Museum, lab.Bode created a “Space for Ideas,” which is open to all visitors, free of charge, with Wifi, a library, and a large mattress for lounging around on. It is really popular. The team at lab.Bode also designed spaces called “Platform” and “Free Space,” which were also integrated into the permanent exhibit. Many of the school workshops and presentations are held there, and they give visitors the opportunity to observe the programs’ projects.
To return to that horrible word "barrier" again: it is much higher for old art than hip contemporary art, even though the latter is often more difficult to understand.
MLF: That is because the Bode Museum collection is mainly considered to be religious art. But that is not true. We tell the story of Europe, and European history happens to have a lot to do with the Christian religion: many of our values are connected to it. However, many people say that they are not interested in religion, so this kind of art has nothing to do with them. Our challenge is to tell the story of our collection from different angles. On the one hand, we have to explain Christian and mythological iconography and on the other hand we need to explain the context of the works in order to show their common ground with the present. For example, I am working on projects that will provide insight into the role of women from the 4th to the 18th century. The Bode Museum collection is perfect for it.
I want museums to be places where we can understand where we come from and who we are.
We are talking about introducing, opening, and debating. But don’t museums need a certain barrier to help visitors experience the aspect of difference, since art is art and requires a special perception?
MLF: Of course, the experience of art as art must be preserved. I think it is very important to emphasize that all of the Bode Museum’s works are historically unique. It is simply a miracle that they have been preserved until today. But we must understand them too. For this reason, we are planning additional rooms in the Bode Museum in which art historical periods like the Renaissance or Late Gothic in various European countries will be explained. Beyond that, we want to highlight our best objects even more, like we recently did with the Pazzi Madonna by Donatello.
JJ: The Bode Museum is divided up into very different rooms and from my perspective, they stand for different forms of perception. There are corridors where you have the feeling that you are passing through, and then there are rooms that radiate calmness. The Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts in the Kulturforum will have areas that are ideal for performance or playful projects – maybe close to the street and almost within the public sphere. And there will be rooms like white cubes in which visitors are invited to look closer in order to focus more intensively. Architecture possesses excellent means for guiding where visitors walk and look: you can create zones where visitors are more apt to become engrossed in art, and ones where they can discuss art with others.
In recent years, more and more visitors have been using audio guides. This is convenient for visitors because they are guided to the most important works and have them explained.
JJ: Audio guides have advantages and disadvantages. They will always be around, but they also exclude acoustic experiences in museums. It was a conscious decision not to use audio guides in Hamburger Bahnhof since many of the works there need to be heard too. The advantage, of course, is that the explanations on audio guides keep visitors standing in front of individual objects longer. Many people like to be guided but don’t have time for a conventional tour. Groups can be invited to design their own tours, too. It is a very playful medium and we will certainly be using it too.
If you look into the future – will there be museums and libraries in 20 or 30 years or will they have merged into super-institutions of knowledge: universities, schools, museums, libraries, everything together?
JH: On the one hand, libraries will have become even more “dis-places” in their roles of providing and mediating content: they will be more visible on the Internet than they are today. On the other hand, as places in buildings, libraries will always be collections of physical media and objects – and they will increasingly become places of encountering and meeting, and forums for scientific and cultural exchange. Whatever its form, the library’s central function, namely acquiring, preserving, and mediating content and information, will not change.
JJ: It is difficult to predict, but I think that the constructed spaces, the architecture, will ensure a certain permanency. If they are successful and impressive, it will always be interesting to visit museums. But the collections will change a great deal. Things that we probably couldn’t even imagine now will become their focus. This is another reason why it is important to make museum interiors very flexible, so that objects can be placed in other contexts in the future.
MLF: I agree with Mr. Jäger completely. I want museums of the future to play a much larger role in people’s everyday lives. They should be places where we can understand where we come from and who we are.