To what extent have Dutch museums woken up? Andreas Blühm of the Groninger Museum watches an uncomfortable documentary about the art world
The documentary White Balls on the Walls tells how the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (with a board full of old whites) is trying to branch out. The result is fascinating and uncomfortable. That’s why we asked “our” museum director, Andreas Blühm, to watch the film. “We can talk about ‘woke’ and political correctness.”
In the documentary White balls on the walls The director of the Rein Wolfs museum of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam receives a visit from the local alderman for culture, Touria Meliani. She wants all structurally subsidized cultural institutions in Amsterdam to connect with all the city’s inhabitants. The Stedelijk Museum also needs to work more on diversity and inclusion.
This seems like a “task” for an institute that only has 4% female artwork in its collection, not to mention the amount of Western European and North American artwork. But Wolfs, who leads a team where the majority of the workforce is white and male, likes a challenge.
Fight for institutions and companies
He strikes up a series of conversations, weighs words, drafts policy plans, and appoints visual artist Charl Landvreugd to lead research and curatorial practice – a man of color. The next hour of the film depicts a struggle that many Dutch institutions and companies often worry about – including this newspaper.
How do you accompany the evolution of society, how do you respond to the call from the outside?
In the film by documentary filmmaker Sarah Vos, we see the entry of a new curator of photography, also of color. We experience buying non-Western art. In the basement of the museum, we follow the path that the staff must take if they want to pray. We receive criticism on the exhibition Kirchner and Nolde: Expressionism. Colonialism . We see a new exhibition emerging with non-Western art.
At the end of White balls on the walls ask director Wolfs to remove the letters “Meet the Icons of Modern Art”. A new era seems to be dawning at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
“Contemporary Abject Iconoclasm”
Not everyone is happy with that. The words “awake” and “cancel” have now been used. Art collector Jan Christiaan Braun speaks of ‘contemporary abject iconoclasm’ and, as a financier, no longer wants to contribute to what he calls ‘the further demolition of this institution into a small-town anthropological museum’. “. Artist Jan Dibbets warns that “the delirium of the day forces us to adjust our own criteria to abolish them”.
In response, art critic Hans den Hartog Jager argues that such changes are not necessarily bad. ,,The Braunens and the Dibbets do not seem to see that they are prey to the same mechanism that made them great. They, too, were once young and promising, completely “cancelling”: people with ideas you don’t like, bouncing off speech and attention. It was then called ‘the vanguard’.
How the Groninger Museum deals with inclusion and diversity
Northern Journal asked director Andreas Blühm of the Groninger Museum White balls on the walls to see, also to tell how his museum deals with inclusion and diversity.
Initially, Blühm was skeptical: “Museum documentaries in which meetings are filmed are usually only appreciated by museum people”. But after seeing it, he says: ,,The beginning was a little hard, but in the end I found it fascinating. Also because the people in the film are vulnerable.
“There’s always someone who doesn’t like it”
The Stedelijk Museum is hardly comparable to the Groninger Museum. “Colleague Wolfs’ job is one of the toughest in this country,” says Blühm. “No matter what you do, there’s always someone who doesn’t like it. But: in terms of diversity, his museum is more advanced than most other museums. Museums in England and the United States are even more advanced.
In the Netherlands, changes can be initiated by politicians. Museums often don’t need this, says Blühm, who is also a special appointed professor of art, museum and social history at the University of Groningen. “Even regardless of the composition of the city council or parliament, museums are thinking about diversity and inclusion.”
A bittersweet legacy as the first step
The Groninger Museum was the initiator of Bitterzoet Erfgoed, a cultural event last year focusing on colonialism and its impact. This gave rise not only to an exhibition, but also to a collection research on objects with a slavery past. With Bitterzoet Erfgoed, the museum has taken a step forward to make partners, audience, program and staff more diverse and inclusive.
“What is striking is that there is still a lot to be done in this area. We are not yet where we want to be. But we are further than before,” stresses Blühm. “One of the things we come across is that Groningen is not Rotterdam South. We have to be more active in linking people to us. Also because we are now lacking talent that we don’t know.
Ethical criteria rather than aesthetic criteria
In White balls on the walls says the director of the Stedelijk in Amsterdam that ethical criteria can sometimes be more important than aesthetic criteria when compiling exhibits. “The difficulty is to determine what quality is,” replies Blühm. ,, Thinking of the modern art canon, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock are synonymous with quality. I think you have to start from what you want to tell and represent. What do you want to achieve with your art and your heritage? »
Blühm talks about the difficulty he has as director of the Groninger Museum with the current museum standard. “Some museums, for example, find David LaChapelle too commercial. We believe that LaChapelle makes art that tells a story and elicits public opinion. I think museums do their job well when the exhibitions are a reflection of today’s society and living environment. Sometimes the quality is formal, sometimes ethical, sometimes sensitizing.
When creating an exhibition, look first at the subject and the art, and only then at the quotas, advises Blühm. “You have to see if what you show is representative. You can exaggerate. We can speak of ‘woke up’ and political correctness. What I like is that museums take their social role seriously and do more than show the great masters. You should do Vermeer once in a while. But you shouldn’t just do Vermeer.
‘White Balls on Walls’ by director Sarah Vos can be viewed online at Picture and will be broadcast on television around May (date not yet known). Also see noise.com
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