My Eagerness is Much Greater


reading time: approx.  min

An entire building in Berlin-Mitte, designed by David Chipperfield. This is what the Bastian family gifted the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. In this interview, gallery owner Aeneas Bastian, son of Heiner and Céline Bastian, talks about the importance of museums’ mandate to educate, his relationship to Berlin’s Museumsinsel, and why giving is easy.

The key to Haus Bastian was turned over to SPK in early March. Do you have any regrets about giving the building away?

Aeneas Bastian: I am sad because we are saying goodbye to it but my eagerness to see what will happen here in the future is much greater. We know that the building will be used for a crucial purpose in the future, so there is no parting sorrow.

Aeneas Bastian im Haus Bastian
Aeneas Bastian im Haus Bastian © SPK / Friederike Schmidt

The building will be used for cultural education in the future – why is this so important?

I envision the museums of the future as buildings in which cultural education no longer plays a secondary role. Exhibiting the permanent collection and rotating exhibitions should be on the same level as education. For that reason, it makes sense to dedicate a building to that purpose in a special location, right across from Museumsinsel (Museum Island).

In the speech you made when the key was presented, you mentioned a special responsibility towards young people. What exactly did you mean?

Along with seeing the youngest visitors as the visitors of the future, I see reducing the barriers to a museum visit today as one of our key duties.

The very important mandate to educate goes hand in hand with the responsibility that Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) has because of its particularly significant collection. The public still expects the main duties of museums to be preserving collections and curating new exhibitions. But I think that our main occupation should be introducing museums to children and teens so that they come to our buildings with a different point of view in the future. Without any concerns or prejudice.

Do you think is there an architectural relationship between Haus Bastian and Museumsinsel? Does it fit in well?

Haus Bastian’s proximity to Museumsinsel is reflected in its architecture. But at the same time, it is a contemporary building whose form expresses much respect for Museumsinsel as a World Cultural Heritage site. Haus Bastian and Museuminsel are in dialog, but of course it cannot be at eye level with the cultural heritage of Museuminsel! But it is an important supplement to this overall topography.

The keys to Haus Bastian were handed over

Is Haus Bastian an additional capstone that fits into the landscape of Museumsinsel?

In any case, Haus Bastian makes a substantial contribution to it and is perhaps a symbolic expansion as well. As a new counterpart, it makes the island seem larger.

Do you have a personal relationship to Museumsinsel?

I discovered Museumsinsel later because I grew up in West Berlin. But growing up, I was well aware that although the Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum) and other institutions were located in my city, they were unfortunately in a different “country” and very difficult to reach. To me, it also involves my indescribable happiness about the city being united and the fact that we could make this unique museum accessible not just to the residents of Berlin but to the whole world. From that point of view, there is a very personal relationship.

Do you have concrete wishes and ideas for Haus Bastian and its future?

Of course, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) should develop the program completely independently of our wishes as donors. But I still have two ideas. The first is that I hope a way can be found to make the exciting, very dramatic history of Museumsinsel from the beginning until today come alive for children and teens. And the other is that until now we have used Haus Bastian mainly as a gallery for 20th-century and contemporary art. I wish that a balance of the various options for use – from exhibitions and events to workshops – can be found. I think that presenting these formats in an interdisciplinary way would be the ideal use and the right educational mandate in the spirit of Humboldt.

Are versatility and flexibility more important today than they were ten or twenty years ago?

Yes, because the challenges of digitalization are much more recognizable now than they were then. Given this situation, one of museums’ main duties is to present the special atmosphere and almost inexplicable nature of original works of art. I can imagine an interplay in which originals could be viewed and experienced on Museumsinsel, perhaps committed to memory, and Haus Bastian would host a space in which people could discuss what they had seen. Digital technology is an aid that would certainly be put to use here. But when using media and digital technology, it is important not to forget that the originals in the collections of Museumsinsel are irreplaceable.

One last question: What is the next step; will there be a Galerie Bastian in another place?

Yes. We have already opened another gallery in London, where we have a program of exhibitions open to the public and we also have plans for a new gallery in Berlin. Things will definitely continue: both in Berlin and in London.