When was the last time you looked out the window on a cold, grey or rainy day and said to yourself: This is great. A perfect day to visit the museum? You can’t remember, or the idea strikes you as rather bizarre? Well, maybe it’s time to rethink it. And as a so-called “Newcomer” to the Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts (Museum der Bildenden Künste, MdbK), I’ll try my best to make you change your mind.
“Newcomer” means that I’m one of seven men and women, aged 29 to 75, from different walks of life, who are currently offering guided tours at the museum. None of us has a professional background in the arts.
With this pilot project, MdbK offers new perspectives on art, hoping to attract more visitors.
German museums often do have a somewhat somber and stiffly intellectual air about them. They’re places where you feel you shouldn’t talk too loud, let alone laugh, where you are suspiciously eyed by the museum attendants and where children don’t really seem to be welcome – in short, not generally associated with having a fun time. MdbK wants to show you a different experience, even as it physically disappears behind new hotels and fancy restaurants at Leipzig city center.
The museum is determined to break down these old stereotypes and the inner reservations keeping people from just walking in and enjoying a novel approach to art. Partly responsible for this is new museum director Alfred Weidinger, who came on board in August 2017, and who has since then brought a breath of fresh air to the museum halls with his new focus on female, young and international artists.
When I signed up for the “Newcomers” program, I was naturally curious who – aside from me – would volunteer for it. The group turned out to be quite diverse and representative of museum-goers: a 29-year-old student, a 75-year old pensioner, a city guide, a media person, a language teacher, a translator, and a guy with amazing insights into history and philosophy.
And while all of us are operating outside our natural element, this is still Germany, after all – meaning MdbK was not about to set us loose to approach visitors without some basic knowledge on what a museum is all about.
In several workshops, we were introduced to the Leipzig merchants and traders who initially founded and collected the money for the museum. We listened to what the experts had to say about how to communicate with visitors and engage the public. And last but not least, we became acquainted with “our” exhibition: Displacements, featuring works by female artists Ayşe Erkmen (Istanbul) and Mona Hatoum (Beirut).
That was somewhat of a surprise, because most of us had not been aware of the fact that ultimately we would be dealing with contemporary art – the kind of art that sometimes leaves those looking at it bewildered or perplexed. And now we’re out there in the museum halls on Sundays, extending visitors the invitation for a very special mix of basic expertise paired with individual and down-to-earth perspectives, and a sense of adventure to explore art in a new way. We’re hoping the pilot project will be a success so that there will be plenty more tours of this kind.
Please join me for the only guided tour in English, on Sunday, 28 Jan, at 4:00 p.m. The tour itself is free. Admission to MdbK is €10, or €7.50-€3.50 reduced (depending on the number of exhibits visited). Youth under 19 yr old get in free. The next “Newcomer” tours in German are on 28 Jan and 4 Feb at 3:00 p.m.
By Rita Wallace
Cover shot: Rita Wallace next to “Hot Spot III,” a piece by Mona Hatoum featured in the exhibition Displacements at MdbK. (Photo courtesy of R. Wallace)