Moderna Museet

Ann-Sofi Noring

head of exhibitions and collection

Moderna Museet

Box 16382, SE 103 27 Stockholm, Sweden

www.modernamuseet.se

Moderna Museet, exile and home-coming

Moderna Museet in Stockholm has a history stretching back for almost fifty years. The museum opened in 1958 and even then housed one of the most remarkable collections in the world; a collection that has been enriched by donations and purchases so that it now comprises some 5 000 paintings, sculptures and installations, some 25 000 watercolours, drawings and art prints and about 100 000 photographs. For a small country on the outskirts of Europe this has,naturally,been a matter of travelling, meeting people and "being there".
The legendary museum director and connoisseur Pontus Hulteacute;n was one of the first people to head Moderna Museet. It was thanks to his work that a very unprepossessing drill hall became not merely a vital setting for Sweden''s contem-porary art but one of the leading "art sites" of the world. As early as the 1960s pioneers like Marcel Duchamp, Jean Tin-guely, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were presented while a unique government grant made it possible to acquire seminal works by Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico and Salvador Dali.
The growth of the collection was the primary reason why Moderna Museet grew out of its original premises. A new mu-seum, designed by the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, was opened in 1998. Three years later, at the end of 2001 when I had very recently joined the staff of Moderna Museet, I took part in the decision to close the building. By that time Lars Nittve, formerly director of Tate Modern, had assumed the post of director. Why, you ask, did we close a building that had been designed entirely in accordance with the demands of a museum today? Climatic problems had accelerated. Both the condition of works of art and the health of the staff (if not the visitors) were threatened. The decision was inevita-ble. Every effort would be made to restore the building to perfect condition. But what were we to do while we waited? (We were finally not able to return until February 2004.)
We could have sat back and just waited but, instead, we worked on a completely new concept; a concept which won us the Museum of the Year 2003 Award from the Association of Swedish Museums. A museum is so much more than its buildings.This fact has seldom been as apparent as during the two years of our exile; a fact that was recognized in the citation accompanying the award: "Moderna Museet has seen the opportunities in a seemingly hopeless situation.With a rediscovered eagerness to experiment and using daring new ideas, during its exile the museum has brightened up people''s lives in temporary venues: a church, the railway sta-tion, galleries and on TV. With its brilliant c/o concept and by constantly seeking new ways of communicating with the public, the museum has shown that it takes its brief - as the national museum with responsibility for contemporary art - very seriously."
That we received the award depended to an extent on our difficult situation, that we were no longer a major institution but had lost the imposing building that often appears to be a museum''s principal feature. But our rapidly developed c/o concept was also important in this context.
A base camp was set up in an empty postmodernist office block next to the main station. All the staff were gathered here in an efficient office landscape and it was here that we organized a busy programme of seminars, evening events and a series of exhibitions under the heading "Odd Weeks". Every second week, on an odd-dated Monday, we opened a new exhibition featuring an artist who, helped by our technicians, had less than 24 hours to stage an exhibition in the 70m2 available. Old and young, Swedish and foreign artists, some known, others new to the large and very mixed public. There were no exclusive openings for the chosen few but all were welcome - and people seem to have felt welcome.We started to practice what we have now embraced in our proper premises: free admission.
Our temporary premises - next to the station and also showing new acquisitions - became the hub of our widely spread activities.The c/o project saw us visiting other museums, galleries, municipalities and other institutions with events and exhibitions.We made our dependence on the world around us very evident by having to rely on the goodwill of others.They not only gave us space but also curated exhibitions of our works. In this way we were enabled to see ourselves with new eyes; a very valuable experience which we are still benefiting from. During the first year of exile in 2002 we were principally active in the Stockholm area with major video shows in public places, site-specific works in new areas or, as here (see picture): Henrik H_kansson produced an exhibition for the House of the Nobility which then became more accessible to the public.
During 2003 we expanded our activities to cover the whole of Sweden - from Ume_ in the north to Malmouml; in the extreme south.With Riksutstauml;llningar we converted a bus into a travelling exhibition featuring the American artist Andrea Zittel and in this way we reached a public the museum seldom comes into contact with otherwise: younger teenagers.
Following the period of exile we have opened our doors again in the renovated museum. It is not only the climate that has been improved but the premises have been made more welcoming with an approach on our side that has developed from our experience of the c/o project. We know that the building is not the same thing as the activities that go on inside it and we are continuing, on a lesser scale,with our c/o project.
Admission is now free making the collections accessible to all.There are museum "guides" whose job is to welcome visitors and help them to get the most out of their visit.While there has traditionally been an activity room for small children there is now a special room for teenagers'' artistic activities as well. There are major, carefully planned exhibitions as formerly but we also have a new series based on our "odd weeks" experience:we open a new project on the first of each month, free to all.
Our vision clarified during our exile.A modern museum is, fundamentally, a paradox. It is both history and collections as well as "now" and contemporary experiments. A museum is a meeting place, a meeting of the work of art, the artist and the beholder. A modern art museum is constantly getting to grips with the widening field of art - both the expanding concept of art and a wider world in which Western criteria no longer reign unchallenged.
What difficulties did we meet? Was anything easy? How would we do things next time? These are some of the questions raised by Best Heritage for comment at the conference in Dubrovnik. I would claim that the easy things and the difficult ones go hand in hand. The important thing is to have a policy and a terminology that are well defined and transparent.Words are important. For us the concept of c/o was decisive.We sincerely hope that there will not be a next time for Moderna Museet. In spite of everything, the museum building is the best tool we have. If I were to dare to give advise to someone faced with a similar situation I would say: don''t just do what you have always done but on a smaller scale. Think and rethink and act at the same time - for the unique opportunity will give you valuable experience for the future.