Reinventing a bourgeois gallery Line Daatland - Curator, Art Museums of Bergen
Bergen Art Museum is at present in the process of renewing the permanent displays of the Rasmus Meyer Collection, a clausuled and separately functioning part of the museum since 1916, displayed in its own building since 1924. The collection includes several of Edvard Munch's masterpieces and seminal works by painters of the Norwegian «Golden Age», as well as reconstructed Bergen interiors from the 17th through the 19th centuries. The ornate, neo-baroque building has a clear architectural identity and imbues a strong sense of place. The sense of place is also constituted by the collection as a body and by the persona that is Rasmus Meyer - patron, collector and philanthropist. The building was built on the combined model of a pre-modernist bourgeois gallery and a patron's villa. The collections fit perfectly into this frame, but the story that is told through the exhibitions is essentially that of a 1920's museum. Today, the nature this closed collection and its specially designed milieu seems strange and anachronistic. It contrasts in several ways with present-day museum strategies and exhibition modes, and presents some interesting curatorial challenges.
An art museum should be a place where complex stories can be told. It should also be aware of its position as an essentially political institution, and make its decisions and moves transparent for the public. A public much more diverse than it was in 1924. Is it possible to locate the significances of the art in this collection in a larger context of time and space without losing the identity of the place? And will it even be possible to do this in a way that emphasizes the genius loci? One possible strategy is to establish a narrative dynamic of closeness and distance within the exhibition format.
Over the years, several changes have been done in the presentation in the Rasmus Meyer Collection, which means that the present display of paintings is close to the modernist white cube, with one third of the originally displayed works now in storage. A main idea is to return to a Salon style presentation in the gallery. For today's visitors, this will probably feel strange. We expect that the reconstructed fullness of crowded gallery walls and opulence of the historical interiors will create a certain response in the public. This is of course a conscious act of seduction - a way of creating a sense of immediacy and closeness. At the same time we will be using physical spatial effects and digital technology to widen and reconstruct contexts of the artworks. In this way the reconstructed physical gallery spaces become visible as a historical object in itself, significant for the context of each of the displayed works. Technology also gives the public tools for viewing the artworks in different ways. This interactive element provides room for alternative stories - the distance that gives opportunity to learn and discuss.
The presentation will discuss this strategy in a wider theoretical context.