Interview with Dr. Malsch Friedemann, Director of the Liechtenstein National Gallery
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Dr. Malsch Friedemann, Director of the Liechtenstein
National Gallery Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein

Maria A. Burganova: Dr. Malsch, the question of a new format for museums has constantly been raised since the mid-20th century. We see that museums are moving forward with new content due to the construction of new buildings, which in itself is very important. Today museums are developing not only as an institution for preserving the heritage. What are the new goals and objectives of a new museum institution?

Malsch Friedemann: For a newly built/established (publicly financed) museum, there is a range of primary goals to give answers to. Which task is given by the owners (state, city etc.), i. e. collection, education, representational aspects? To what extent do the museum’s topics correspond to which segments of the public? To what extent does the museum has to finance itself? The answers to those questions define the framework of possibilities the new museum can act in and develop its programs. Today a new museum has to develop a sharp profile in order to be able to address any kind of public, since it usually has to compete with already well-established museums of the same “genre”. The times that museums might be encyclopedic within their content fields are gone; there is a highly developed competition, if not to say: concurrence, in order to attract public attention (which is not equal to the amount of entries!).

Maria A. Burganova: To what extent does a museum define contemporary cultural space?

Malsch Friedemann: I am not sure if I understand this question well. Seen from a museum of modern and contemporary art contemporaneity comes somehow by its nature. The question may concern more the educational activities, which always must go along with the specificities of the philosophy of each single museum.

Maria A. Burganova: What is the new image of a museum: is it a safe with treasures, an educational class or is it a place for rest and entertainment?

Malsch Friedemann: Something of all these aspects, depending on the mix of percentages of each of them. I would also add a very old-fashioned function, which today sees a slight renaissance: the museum is also a place of research and reflection. Reconstructing the famous Worker’s Club of Alexander Rodchenko within the museum space we did not intend to create another museum remake of this exhibit of the Paris 1925 L’exposition internationale des Arts Décoratifs et industriels modernes (The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts). Our intention was to bring to life Rodchenko’s idea of a universal space for different types of activity, create a space for meetings for the local community and museum visitors.

Maria A. Burganova: In Europe, migration processes are strong. People with their own cultural platforms arrive. To what extent is a museum a space without borders, and how does this affect modern museum policy?

Malsch Friedemann: Again, I only can answer from the point of view of a museum of modern and contemporary art. In this perspective, the museum reflects always also the realities of the society the museum is part of. Therefore, it must be aware of the social complexity and reflect on this in a constructive way. I am convinced that a museum for modern and contemporary art has to be a platform for all parties within a society, but a platform which gives freedom of expression according to the Code of Ethics by ICOM.

Maria A. Burganova: What responsibility do the state and society bear for a museum? To what extent is a museum responsible to society and the state?

Malsch Friedemann: State and society have the responsibility to guarantee the freedom of the museum within its competence, i. e. content, reflection and research. Therefore, they have to guarantee also the financial possibilities for the fulfillment of the museum’s tasks. The museum on its side has the responsibility to respond to the intellectual needs of the society and to offer innovative thinking and experimental practices in order to contribute to a good further development of both, state and society.

Maria A. Burganova: The dialogue between the viewer and the work of art is taken to a new level. It is facilitated not only by captions for exhibits but also by informative publications. You are actively working in this field. What is the role of publications in modern museum activities? Who are they for and who are their readers?

Malsch Friedemann: In today’s reality, a lot of publications are means to (re-)finance the museum’s activities. Many of them are purely commercial and address the broader public. This is not a bad thing per se, but the museums should not stop here. If we still understand the museum as a place of social experimentation and, at the same time a place of reflection and research, publications should also be done in these fields. Those publications address specific and specialized subsets of the publics. It is a good idea to dedicate publications specially to single masterpieces or some culturally important objects. Some of our special publications dedicated to works of the Russian avant-garde have the unified serial layout which helps to form a kind of a library. Concentration on one masterpiece helps to show the wide cultural context on one side and deep involvement into the intentions of the artist on the other. That was the reason for the museum to publish and promote the research of Irina Vakar, an art historian from the Tretyakov Gallery on the “Black Square” by Kazimir Malevich.

Maria A. Burganova: Your Russian projects produce a huge impression. Could you say what the impetus for their appearance was, and what the possibilities for their development are?

Malsch Friedemann: With the end of the Cold War, Europe got a new geographical and geopolitical shape. The Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein as a new museum for modern and contemporary art opted from its beginnings to have the  whole of Europe in view. It was somehow logical to approach Russia as South-East Europe in order to establish in the museum the possibility to get the full picture of what Europe actually is and has been in the early 20th Century. Exhibitions involving Russian material, carefully curated, helped to demonstrate universal topics of art history of the 20s century: origin of the artistic tendencies, visual creative principles, international interrelations.

© Maria Burganova
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