Thank God it’s Friday

Posted on July 31, 2015

From Richard Wagner to Björk: Let's do something for the kids!

“Kids, do something new! New! And once more new! If you stick to the old, the devil of emptiness takes hold, and you are the most miserable of artists!” wrote famous German composer Richard Wagner in a letter from September 1852 to his composer-colleague Franz Liszt. “Kids, do something new!" ("Kinder, macht Neues!") became a household phrase, particularly in German-speaking countries, countless times quoted and adapted.

Richard Wagner’s Villa Wahnfried (from the archive of The Library of Congress onm flickr.com)Richard Wagner’s Villa Wahnfried (from the archive of The Library of Congress onm flickr.com)

We at SC Exhibitions are based in Bayreuth, where Richard Wagner lived for a while. Our city is the undisputed Mecca for Wagner fans: His own majestic opera house, where each year the Bayreuth Festival celebrates Wagner’s operas, overlooks our cosy town. Slight associations with the haunted Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining are allowed when the Wagner dynasty (who still run the Bayreuth Festival business), the provincial government, sponsors and influential art critics fight in public about a scandalous new staging or the latest dissension between family members. Then Bayreuth becomes Dallas. Despite this, the opera house is a magical place, open for just four weeks each summer to celebrate Wagner’s works.

This week’s column is illustrated with a beautiful early colour photograph of the Villa Wahnfried, Wagner’s private home and the centrepiece of a museum complex since the 1970s. After many years of renovation and rebuilding, the new Richard Wagner Museum (www.wagnermuseum.de) opened here just a few days ago. We, as exhibition makers, are always happy when a new museum opens, and if this happens in our own city, it feels even better!

Recently, I reached out to Sven Friedrich, the museum’s director. Since many of my readers are involved in travelling exhibitions, I asked him if he’s planning any tours: “We are planning special and temporary exhibitions for the new exhibition hall. If it is feasible for a project to travel, and if an institution elsewhere is interested, it is certainly possible.”

The museum is presenting an excellent series of concerts as well, many featuring superstars from the world of classical music. I asked Mr Friedrich if his “musician museum” placed its emphasis more on Wagner’s music, or on the story of Richard Wagner’s life and festival? “As a ‘musician museum’ the music should have its place here”, Mr Friedrich told me. “We understand ‘museum’ as a word meaning ‘place of muses’. But the question ‘music’ or ‘history’ is not relevant to us: In Wagner, one cannot be separated from the other.”

Thinking about the new museum (“Kids, do something new!”) another “kids quote” came to mind, this time not from Richard Wagner, but from US art critic Dave Hickey, who said: “Let’s do something for the kids.” This quote is taken from an interview Mr Hickey gave in May to NPR’s Eric Ducker. The subject of their inspiring discussion was the controversy surrounding the Björk exhibition at New York’s MoMA. The conversation went as follows:

Asks Erick Ducker: “Can you give me some context as to why art people have such a problem with these museum shows centered around musicians?”

Replies Dave Hickey: “The people at the museums who are doing this are old people. They are a bunch of old guys, many of them Canadians, who think, ‘Let’s do something for the kids.'”

I couldn’t keep from laughing! It’s really smart, funny and thought provoking, and for me the art interview of the year so far. Spare some minutes today and read this interview, you’ll have a good time: www.npr.org/…

With the new Richard Wagner Museum open in Bayreuth, exhibitions about the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd in the making, and the ABBA film “Mamma Mia” opening early 2016 in Stockholm in a replica of a Greek tavern (not exactly an exhibition, but still…), I’m sure that we’ll have enough to discuss about musician museums and exhibitions. And the more I think about it, we should host “a rational conversation about music in museums” at our new museum here in Bayreuth, chaired by Eric Ducker, with Dave Hickey as special guest and curators from museums, journalists and musicians, with my beloved new art magazine BLAU as presenter. I need to make some phone calls now.

The entire SC Exhibitions team sends happy congratulations to Sven Friedrich and his team on the opening of their museum in our town!

Best wishes

PS 1: Next blog on August 14th! – Today is the last day to book discounted early bird tickets for our Touring Exhibitions Meeting in Istanbul! – Follow interviewer Eric Ducker on Twitter !

PS 2: Thanks dear for sharing the interview on Twitter! I would have missed it otherwise!



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