Herzog & de Meuron Basel Ltd.
4056 Basel, Switzerland
Which museum building has inspired you most? And why?
The Kunstmuseum Basel. Its collections are among the greatest anywhere in the world. The old building has an aura. For me the Kunstmuseum was the place that started everything: my whole fascination for art and artists of the past and the present. This is when and where I started to dream and to imagine my own path.
What kind of museum would you like to build?
We have built quite a few. All different, all based on specific conditions of place, public, collections, mission statements, etc. This is why I cannot answer your question so abstractly. The idea of a “musée imaginaire” is another story. Virtual reality tools will increasingly allow for everyone to imagine their own museum. Weightless, effortless, weird, unbiased …
Do we need a new art historical canon?
Why? I just mentioned a potential new role for virtual reality technology to attract and enchant people. These new technologies will complement the physical experiences people will look for in museum buildings. What would a new canon contribute to such a foreseeable outlook?
How can museums become welcoming places for everybody?
They can be especially so if the displayed objects are great, inspiring, and presented in a beautiful architectural context. The ideal museum should be inviting, offer places to hang out, to meet people. The galleries should be diverse in size, proportions, lighting conditions, materiality. Maybe it could have a patio, courtyard, or garden.
How should a museum deal with artworks that are considered problematic today?
Art is Art. We should not exclude any art form for its ethical or political positions. Art helps us reveal mystic truths—as Bruce Nauman puts it. But we should not be afraid of artworks that also reveal other things: for example, an artist’s attitude toward the world or even incorrect political behaviors of all kinds.
Is the blockbuster a thing of the past?
No. People will always be fascinated by the sheer accumulation and quantity of rare artworks assembled in a single place. It is exciting, especially in times when exhilarating prices for such artworks are being paid at auctions. Personally, I often felt it was too overwhelming to see so many great pieces next to each other. Blockbuster shows will remain on the agenda of leading museums. Perhaps there will be fewer as a result of the horrendous costs for transport and insurance, and because people may travel less extensively in years to come.
How do you view the relationship between the collection and temporary exhibitions?
Today it is more common that institutions offer both great collections as well as temporary shows. I like temporary exhibitions to be in a dialogue with the “center of gravity” of the permanent collections. This renews the way we look at the permanent artworks in a museum. On the other hand, I have strong sympathy for the traditional role of the Kunsthalle as an institution which holds no collection and is independent from such thinking.
Are artworks enough, or do museums need augmented reality?
Augmented reality will play a big role in attracting and orienting people. This can happen anywhere and anytime. At night, in the daytime, at home, at any place, even remotely. I don’t see why “the museum of the future” would need to offer extra space for that, except for artworks based on VR or AR.
What does diversity mean for museum practice?
It impacts the composition of staff, the critical look at the range and origin of collections, the purchase of artworks, the selection of artists, the topic of exhibitions. What seems to be an uncomfortable situation for those who are used to the traditional focus on European and American art made by white men will become the new normality. It naturally reflects the realities of a universal world culture imagined and made by people from anywhere in the world. The art world could thus become a model for such a transformation process in other fields and disciplines as well.
In a global world, what is the role of the local?
The local is key. Without a lively local scene of artists of all kinds—including graphic and furniture design, fashion design, photography, architecture, etc.—no art institution will flourish. A museum and a collection built from scratch anywhere in the world without a local population may be a strategic, political decision to put a city on the map of the art world. But what a sad destiny! It will only survive as a kind of magnet for tourism.
Climate change—how can museums be sustainable?
A museum is a place where objects are being stored and taken care of. Care is an essential prerequisite for sustainability.
Which museum (any size, any country) do you consider most equipped for the challenges to come? And why?
A museum is a place for preservation, but also for transformation. Seemingly a paradox, but only those who are willing and able to transform and reinvent themselves will remain attractive for an ever-changing society.
Should museum expansion continue?
No—but yes if it adds quality, variety, diversity, and not just more of the same.