Catching Up – Day 4, CIHA 2012

Thursday of the conference was slightly different for me: the section papers during the day weren’t so directly relevant to my own research, and there were lots of things to see in Nuremberg, but I also wanted to attend the postgraduate papers during the lunch break, and of course the keynote speech by Dr Ulrich Grossmann in the evening.  So, careful planning meant that first thing, I went by bus to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Documentation Centre.  An eery experience: the building itself looks like the Nazi salute. My first impressions were disappointing, as it was crammed full of noisy students.  I was unable to be given an audio guide as there were too many school groups there who were using them.  This was a shame, not least because the documentation was all in German, and it needed description to understand, but also many of the school children weren’t even using their guides and were messing about, and while I think it’s vital that they visit and learn about histories, the person on the welcome desk could have been a bit more welcoming and explained the situation or offered the option of buying the guidebook – especially since the audio guide is a key part of the exhibition as described on the website.

As it was, the space that I found most moving was the current temporary exhibition by artist Linda Ellia, Notre Combat on ‘Mein Kampf’.  Communities had been given pages from Hitler’s book to deface, add to, reflect on – and the resulting artworks were amazing – very powerful and interestingly curated and themed.  I had the whole red brick, dark space to myself.  The other temporary exhibition on the Art School’s responses to National Socialism was also fascinating (with interesting display techniques too).  The actual ‘Fascination and Terror’ starts with a strange film of two contemporary teenagers skate-boarding through the park, and peering into some of the Nazi Party spaces, with flashbacks to period films of the rallies.  And then the main exhibition takes you chronologically through this bleak period of history.

I then raced back to Messe for the postgraduate lunchtime papers: head full of history, and a bit out of conference mode…  I missed the first paper, but arrived to hear Julia Szekely’s interesting paper about Budapest’s socialist statues all having been moved to the ‘sculpture park’ there as a business venture for tourists, rather than as a historical memory.  She was followed by Julia Ariza from Argentina looking at visual representations of women in C20th Argentinian periodicals.  Corina Meyer was next with her paper on controversies around acceptance or rejection of Lippi’s conserved work in Frankfurt – she was an excellent story-teller.  Sarah Maupeu from Cologne then gave a fascinating and really relevant paper for my own interests – about ‘primitive art’ – or whether anthropology is/should be displayed aesthetically or contextually.  She compared the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris (aesthetic lighting, little context, information separate from aesthetics) with the Rauchenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne (one room displayed aesthetically, others contextual – also questions museum display in a self-reflexive way), and the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt (contemporary artists as ethnographers).  Her research is more broadly about the mystification of museum objects and so I am looking forward to further discussions about this.  Marie Yasunuga from the University of Tokyo gave a similarly fascinating paper on displaying non-western objects in art museums, focussing on the Folkwang Museum, Hagen 1902 by Karl Ernst Osthaus.  I wonder if she has visited the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich as this might be a useful comparison site.  The penultimate paper was by Stephanie Rozman from Minnesota, on Ananda Coomaraswamy as the most prolific historian of South Asian art in the early C20th.  Finally, John Tyson (whose poster was displayed next to mine – but I was never sure how we’d been displayed, and whether there were sub-themes?) – talked about Hans Haacke’s Ready-Mades and his invertion of Duchamp’s ready-mades into ready-mades.  I mentioned that Janet Marstine has done work that might be useful for him.

After this, I went back to the Germanisches National Museum for a proper look around, particularly spending time in the wonderful family gallery for the Durer exhibition – which had a real object and sensory focus, was a highly visual space that was not dumbed down in any way – very impressive, and reinforced the high opinion I formed of the education department the day before.  I got totally lost in this amazing museum, exploring Folk Art, Musical Instruments, Medieval Religious Sculpture and the Toy section – but also, could not find the C20th century collection (or understand it may have been closed).  I also revisited the Durer exhibition, looking closely at the beautiful cow’s nose.

The evening saw the wide-ranging keynote presentation, The Challenge of the Object from the conference convenor and General Director of the museum.  Dr Ulrich Grossmann started by exploring art historical definitions of ‘object’, only to discover that it’s a word not really defined in the discipline at all.  He explored several key ideas: that it could be the material object, or the object/subject of the discipline, and then cleverly wound his way through most of the section themes from the whole conference – looking at reproductions of objects, thinking about the need to constantly reevaluate the object using scientific techniques, thinking about religious objects, the differences between museum and university responses to the object, issues around restitution, authenticity, tourism and objects, nothingness of objects and issues of contemporary/performance art – where is the object?, global art history and internationalisation…

And then in a late night film showing ‘Der Hof’ by Viktoria Schmidt-Linsenhoff, I was absolutely enraptured by the story of Issa Samb: a post to follow eventually about the film.

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