The fundamental hypothesis upon which my curatorial work is based is that sculptures, photographs, films or design objects should not be viewed in isolation and from a purely aesthetic perspective but instead within the context of their time and specific traditions of writing and visual representation, in other words – after Aby Warburg – they are psychohistorical symptoms that contain the basic principles of human existence in a condensed form. For this reason, defining a theme and curating an exhibition on this subject requires not only the precise observation of what can be determined at a particular point of time in artistic production, but also an awareness of its respective background, which draws on history, traditions and distinctive social, geographical and cultural features.
For me it is necessary for the curatorial working process to show firm resistance to reductive systems of analysis – whether they be formal, conceptual or cognitive – as well as to hegemonial attributions and definitions. As far as current statements as concerned, this means continually renegotiating what art can be. Displacement und concentration are methods that can be applied here, as is the critical analysis of economic conditions, social contexts and systems of presentation – such as event formats or creative staging.
I regard my task as supporting art and artists to the effect that they have the freedom to adopt or maintain a critical-reflexive stance towards present-day phenomena. It is, therefore, a matter of providing the general conditions that allow an individual or a group of people to create a sensually perceptible space for reflection (Denkraum) – because this is what distinguishes an ‘art space’ – that is removed from the pragmatic circumstances and constraints of everyday life, a Denkraum that ideally contains a utopian element.
As the director of a museum of applied art I feel it is necessary to move on from collection and classification criteria that were developed in the 19th century and still constitute the traditional approach. Instead of considering the objects in the museum’s collection purely in terms of their history, the focus must be on discussing and negotiating current concerns and untimely observations. The issues this raises can be addressed in thematic exhibitions. It is a matter of regarding the museum as a site of possibility where relationships can be established between what was, what is and what will be. Only in this way can new intellectual approaches and new perspectives on presentation concepts be generated – perspectives that must be shaped by thematic relations and by the necessary reflexivity of exhibiting. For a museum with “applied art” in its name, this means helping our visitors to develop their generative skills of comprehending and evaluating, giving them the opportunity to gather experience of encountering new and changing constellations of objects and works with diverse applications, and in this way begin to think differently about them.
Matthias Wagner K (2014)