How do we prepare for the future?


The opinion of Thomas D. Trummer, the Director of the Kunsthaus Bregenz

In the last month, ‘cancelled’ and ‘postponed’ were the two primary words found in most public announcements issued by art institutions and structures. A little over four weeks ago, e-mails with those words began to arrive in inboxes from all over the world, at first creating uneasy feelings of confusion, sadness and futility. Yet time has come to show that life cannot be cancelled: despite the deserted city streets, despite the museums, galleries, and other art institutions closed to visitors, despite the unrealised projects and events that had been meticulously scheduled to take place in a specific physical space and time – the art organism continues to thrive. It is mobilising all of its internal energy reserves and launching new initiatives that have been adapted to this period of self-isolation. There is acute awareness that after this moment of confusion brought upon by the crisis, we all yearn for two things: the ability to act and the need to support one another. We must become partners who have moved beyond competition, leaving all rivalry in the past.

In this regard, turns to the heads and managers of art institutions and structures with the request to share their thoughts and ideas of how this time can be weathered while, at the same time, preparing for the future – a future which will most likely have a plot-line drastically different than that of the pre-pandemic world. As the very first we are publishing the opinions of Thomas D. Trummer, the Director of the Kunsthaus Bregenz (KUB).

How does Kunsthaus Bregenz live and work in this time of crisis? What does it mean to be on lockdown for an art institution?

The last day the Kunsthaus opened was March 13th. It was a Friday. Closing the Kunsthaus is painful not only because the exhibit by US artist Bunny Rogers attracted a huge number of visitors, but also in general because people need art and culture. The arts have always processed extraordinary experiences. And they will definitely deal with this period of time, too. They have already started to work on new life scenarios, giving them visibility through images, language and representations. To follow the rising of these reactions is an exciting and promising process.

The arts have always processed extraordinary experiences. And they will definitely deal with this period of time, too.

Some believe that the situation ‘after’ this is going to be almost postwar in nature. What will be the biggest challenge for art institutions in the post-pandemic future?

Actually, I do believe there is already a certain post-war mentality. However, with differences. We are facing a mindset that has some likeness to the 50s, and to the early years after WWI, too – in particular, regionalism, the questioning of metropolitan centres, and the restoration of habits like a self-made economy. I am thinking of the domestic work we do, the meaning of cooking and, in particular, of yeast, for example, which seems to be a good equivalent to the malign virus – also an invisible microbiological entity, but in the case of yeast, serving as a companion or partner and not as an enemy. There is a challenge in these anti-modernist ideas. As institutions, we need to face the economic crisis, the reduction of funding, the loss of entrance fees, etc. But this will come later. At the moment, at this early stage, I would  prefer to talk about the present. Apparently, a race for visibility has begun in the digital realm. There are numerous online offers; many ideas circulate and more are to be expected. The most important thing to survive in this competition is quality. I therefore see the Kunsthaus well positioned. First, we were very active in this field long before the crisis started. The communications department, in cooperation with mediation, events, etc., has strengthened this appearance in the past few weeks and developed further formats. It was important to me that we act differently than the back-room updates and web-cam images of diverse competitors. Too many museum directors (who usually prepare exhibitions and personal performances carefully and for a long time beforehand) acted quite clumsily when delivering news from the screen camera at home. For us, a professionally filmed architectural tour with the head of technology, Markus Unterkircher, has confirmed this strategy of quality control – it was evaluated as being exemplary by several newspapers, and advertised accordingly. Second, the Kunsthaus has a rich fund of historically unique material. Posts appear daily, and interviews, educational films and clips are featured. I am working on a series of podcasts that are first broadcast to the club of friends of the KUB, and later to the general public. Finally, I am convinced that the brand will also prevail in the digital world. And the KUB is an internationally outstanding brand. We have the best contemporary artists, both real and digital.

A visit to the Kunsthaus will be perceived even more impressively in the future.

In a call to save the art world, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in London mentions Roosevelt's Federal Art Project, while Manuel Borja-Villel, the Director of Museo Reina Sofia, is calling for a Marshall Plan, and so on. What are some tools that could help artists and the art world survive?

I followed Hans-Ulrich’s attempt to once again bring up these historic ideas. They are relevant, absolutely. It is the only way to help all artists because the market will somehow recover, but not all artists will have access to a functioning trade. I do believe, though, that federal-level support initiatives must not be restrained to a local or national level. Hans-Ulrich stressed the point that they need to work on a global level. This is why supranational institutions, as the EU in Europe and the UN, need to be globally strengthened. But guys like Trump pull in another direction.

Do you have a vision of what the art scene will look like? What will the main shifts be and their directions?

I was recently asked if there will emerge something like ‘isolationist art’. Maybe, but what would such an art form look like – a mixture between Biedermeier and Science Fiction? Anyway, I see the the importance of Kunsthaus Bregenz strengthened by the crisis. Unlike so many museums which deliver their treasures cheaply online, we’re sticking to a programme of unique exhibitions. A visit to the Kunsthaus will be perceived even more impressively in the future. Precisely because we are dependent on digital surrogates these days, we are experiencing a new phenomenology of respect, understanding and contact. A direct encounter, a touch, a look, even a kiss will be rated differently, and possibly higher, in the future. We perceive others; we express an awareness of the human presence and aura. This also applies to art. The Kunsthaus – with its unique architecture and its experience of coolness, light, dimension and sound – will gain even more importance and exclusivity. The aura of the building and art that is extraordinarily displayed will be even more precious to us. We can not only hope for that, we can count on it.

Thomas D. Trummer. Photo: Miro Kuzmanovic

Related articles