Tomorrow’s Museum, Today

A new exhibition wants to convince the citizens of Malmö to support the decision to build a new Malmö Art Museum.

Lisa Tan, The Waves (still), 2014–15.

The Malmö Art Council recently agreed that new facilities are needed for Malmö Art Museum, which for many years has been housed in Malmö Castle. The decision follows a report citing five possible new locations for the museum. Next the city council will decide if there will be a new museum and, if so, where in Malmö it will be placed. 

A timely exhibition at Malmö Art Museum, Show and Tell, seeks to develop this discussion, which has been going on for years. Director Cecilia Widenheim and artist Matts Leiderstam have selected 300 works from the collection that together explore what a museum of the future could look like. They have carefully selected works that feel relevant today, from Sophie Tottie’s video The Terrorist from the 1990s, to Sven Erixson’s large painting that shows how the museum actually functioned as a refugee camp at the end of the Second World War. 

Malmö Art Museum’s collection consists of over 40 000 works in total, making it one of the world’s largest collections of Nordic contemporary art. According to estimates, a satisfactory exposition of the collection would require a climate-controlled space of at least 8 000 square meters, four times the Museum’s present size. The aim of the new exhibition is to show the collection in a way that convinces the citizens of Malmö of the importance of building a new museum. 

Danilo Stankovic, Mörk gryning (“Dark Dawn”), 2013.

First of all, congratulations on the art councils decision to support a new museum in Malmö. The final decision is now in the hands of the city council. What to you expect will happen next, Cecilia?

I would like to see the idea of a new home for the museum integrated into the planning of the future Malmö, where arts and culture must be an organic part of city planning. We are now hoping for a renewed mission to keep delving into this question from various perspectives. In what way can the museum be developed? What international museum models can we learn from?

Matts and Cecilia, together you have curated Show and Tell starting from the report about new facilities for the museum from earlier this year. In what way does the current exhibition intervene in ongoing discussions about the future of the museum? 

Our conversation began a year ago with a course that Matts initiated at the Art Academy. Together with the masters students we looked more closely at the museum’s history, its ideological background as well as the museum as a framework for artistic intervention. We also made the exhibition Museet /The Museum/المتحف, which took place in several of the museum’s galleries. At the same time, Cecilia was working on the report “On functional spaces for the organization and collection of the museum”. Why not continue the discussion in the form of an exhibition? This is reason for Show and Tell. In what way can different artworks and practices be activated by being placed next to each other? What would be urgent to show in a future museum? We asked these questions to ten artists participating in Show and Tell, and their answers became part of the exhibition as well, through the lovely interview films made by Sofia Landström. 

Sahar al-Khateeb, حياد, 2017. Photo: Jenny Ekholm.

You will also show a number of works that deal specifically with the question of what an art museum is or should be. Could you say something about the different perspectives of the exhibition?

The exhibition is divided into eleven parts that in different ways reflect on and skew the nordic profile of the collection, offer new and alternative readings of the material and interrogate the present. One of the perspectives we have developed is the ways in which a museum of images can be thought in a more globalized and digitalized world. Lisa Tan’s video installation The Waves (2014–15) is a work that helps us address these questions, in dialogue with a salon-style hanging from the late 19th century, confusingly similar to a google image search. There is also an historical perspective illuminating the history of the museum itself from the end of the war in 1945, and a hint at Christian Boltanski’s fantastic project Museum Södra Förstadsgatan, which was exhibited at Malmö Konsthall in 1994. 

John Bauer, Ännu sitter Tuvstarr kvar och ser ner i vattnet, 1913.

Show and Tell is characterized by the mix of styles, times, techniques and nationalities. Our approach has been affected by the fact that most of the collection – except for Carl Fredrik Hill and the Russian collection – is more or less unresearched and mostly in storage waiting for its audience. We’re exhibiting over 300 works by 130 artists in 19 galleries of different sizes. We have no ready answers but hope that Show and Tell will raise questions about our present and how we can understand the world through art. In this way we want to convince the people of Malmö to build themselves a new art museum. 

Another objective is to present artistic practices and works from that collection that feel particularly urgent in the present. Can you mention a few works that have been important to exhibit?

Sophie Tottie’s video The Terrorist from the early 1990s, and Sven Erixson’s painting from 1945 when the art museum housed refugees, Ann-Sofi Sidén’s roadmovie by horse, My Land (Somewhere in Sweden), Ellen Trotzig’s suggestive landscapes in black ink, Kajsa Dahlberg’s installation of postcards from the holy land before and after the state of Israel, Hanni Kamaly’s monumental celebration of people who have been subjected to police violence, Elis Eriksson’s reckoning with the privatization of elderly care, Gilbert & George’s Dirty Words series, Luca Frei’s textile sculpture Musica Viva Spreads about the aesthetics and ideology of modernism, Lotte Laserstein’s portraits of people in exile, and artist Sahar Al-Khateeb who we have invited to make a new work in the show, to mention a few. 

Luca Frei, Musica Viva Spreads, 2016. Photo: Jenny Ekholm.

As you mention, Malmö Art Museum was actually used as a refugee camp in 1945, which raises questions about the art institutionsresponsibility and potential in a time of crisis. What is your take on this in the present political situation? 

We advocate a museum that views itself as part of society. It is not always possible to demand that all institutions take a stance in every current social debate. However, the Malmö example from 1945 shows us that a museum might have to cease being a museum for a while, to assume its human responsibility. It is worth thinking about. 

In the exhibition pamphlet, Cecilia writes about the mixed feelings of euphoria and responsibility that come with having access to a collection like the one in Malmö. Have there been times of euphoria, unexpected discoveries or moments of personal pleasure that you have wanted to maintain and show in this exhibition?

Wow, it is probably all the unexpected encounters with never seen or forgotten works that happen when you walk into a storage or search the archives. At the same time, completely different and unexpected things happen between works encountering each other in the space. The craft of installing and finding the right relations through distance, height and angles gives us a kind of pleasure!

Installation view Show and Tell, Malmö Konstmuseum. Photo: Jenny Ekholm.