Sprengel Museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with the exhibition "Elementarteile" [Engl. "Elementary parts"]...
Actually there are two anniversaries: "50 years Sprengel donation" and "40 years Museum". The Sprengels wanted to share their passion for the arts with the entire population with their donation. We have therefore tried to realize an exhibition concept that is as barrier-free as possible. So with questions that maybe everyone has who comes to the museum and is confronted with art, but does not dare to ask. "What is art?", "What is art made of?" and "Which reality does art refer to?" - so quite fundamental questions. Room by room, we set up the themes and then added pieces from our collection, from 1900 to now, and all the media from drawing, photography, painting to video, to show a spectrum of possibilities, how art can act.
You should not be afraid to not understand something. This is an experience we constantly make - in the museum you can make them exemplary.
Is more explanation needed today because fewer people understand art?
I think art has never been understood one hundred percent. Today as well as back in the days, and I do not think that's bad. On the contrary: In the museum we are actually trying to establish a tolerance for non-understanding. I also do not understand everything that the artists give us here. But it's about stumbling over something. What we try to do is create an atmosphere and a context, so that you don't immediately reject the strange, but that you look at it first and get involved in it to a certain extent. You should not be afraid to not understand something. This is an experience we constantly make - in the museum you can make them exemplary, maybe even in a playful manner. We are constantly confronted with new things in the digital world that we do not understand. We are confronted with people who come from cultures that we do not understand or that we hardly know. We should not just reject everything right away.
In its current exhibition Sprengel Museum also exhibits works by Emil Nolde, a self-confessed National Socialist. The Chancellor's office recently removed a Nolde picture because of the painter's Nazi background. Why does Sprengel Museum still exhibit Nolde?
First of all, a museum is an institution that displays culture as evidence, that at other times society was shaped by different values. If I start to measure works from the 1900s or 1500s by today's standards and then think that I am not allowed to exhibit them now, because perhaps the gender relation is different today, then that would be completely absurd. We go to the museum to see that it was different in the past and to learn that the way we look at things today or which values we have is relative. Of course, we are sensitive to problematic forms of history such as National Socialism. Of course we also comment on Nolde. But it is also a difference whether I furnish the office of the chancellery or enter a museum. In a museum, the context is always relativized. Here we can show evidence from the time of National Socialism. We actually have to, if we want to learn from history. We also have two Arno Breker sculptures at Maschsee lake and a torchbearer, and we do not want to tear them off either. But there must be a sign that explains the context.
Is art the right platform for political discussions?
Yes, definitely. In art, we have the opportunity to negotiate political and social issues without having the political consequences. It's a protected platform, which is the reason why we need art. Because you can be radical, because you do not have to be correct and can represent things so exaggerated that they are even recognizable. But we do not formulate laws in the museum. This is done in Parliament. Art, at least when it's good, actually negotiates existential layers of the human psyche, of human existence. And that's always political too. I mean, what are we doing in politics? Actually, we are negotiating the question, "How do we want to live together as humans?" And this question is actually being decided anew every generation, every year and with every condition that changes.