The claim of the exhibition “Bruegel” at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum does promise a lot! The show brings together the largest amount of works ever shown in one sole Bruegel exhibition and offers a vast insight into his artistic universe. And after three visits altogether, I did have the impression of only having quickly dived in into the fab works of good old Pieter!
AUSTRIAN press reviews
Going through the reviews of the Austrian media before visiting I got the impression, that “Bruegel” makes a lot of promises but keeps none really. The main voices claimed, that the monumental subtitle of the show only wants to attract the masses. That the insights of the scientific project are kept behind in favor of highlighting the more easily digestible aspects of his work (you know, all the fancy monsters and funny peasants!). In short: It’s a Blockbuster, populist and superficial (and yes, “Blockbuster” is a swearword in this case). My answer to this: And what if? Does a museum visit have to be equivalent to research work? Is it really that bad, if an exhibition is visited by the so-called masses? If a museum visit is as appealing to many people as a mainstream movie? Can’t a Blockbuster exhibition be educative AND entertaining at the same time?
For the Love of INFOTAINMENT
Personally, I always thought, that information should be wrapped up in a charming way. It’s much easier to learn and it’s much more attractive to many more people. A museum is not a college, it’s a place to gather, to amuse, to inspire and educate people – so let’s think of it as a hybrid institution, taking the best of different social spaces.
Research vs. Art STARS
I actually think that the curators found just a beautiful equilibre between the content of the works and the research results. The exhibition shows a beautiful reenactment of how the artist painted (and held his hand). It illustrates research/restoration material (even the used cotton buds with traces of paint!), examples of the wood Bruegel used as well as photographs showing his working process. I love this didactical staging!
Illustration vs. MAGIC
That being said, I think “Bruegel” did a very good job. Why not a perfect job? Well, let’s examine the dramaturgy of the exhibition.
The exhibition’s didactics and therefore the level of blockbuster-title-execution (sorry for that word creation!) didn’t go far enough, rather than too far – at least for me. Since Austrian media are pretty reluctant to applaud a good blockbuster show, Austria’s museums often tend to be reluctant to stage their exhibits gloriously. Not all of course, but in this case, I think the Kunsthistorisches Museum could have gone further! I think that research results are super exciting and so should be their staging. Particularly when it came to all the wonderful research photography, I wished the interior design would have been more courageous (see gallery for the exhibition halls). Also when it came to the room showing 16thcentury shoes and other objects a more didactical and interior-wisely fancy staging would have been very exciting. As I am truly fond of things like immersive theatre or the idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk, I am always looking for art exhibitions/events being artful themselves and not just illustrational. I love to dive in into artistic universes, so an exhibition can be daring as well as narrative when it comes to the staging of the art content. In short, I wish there was more FACTION happening. Anyhow these last words only describing a pious hope, “Bruegel” was a pleasure to visit!
How do you feel about the staging of exhibitions? Are you team PRESENTATION or THEATER? Team ILLUSTRATION or team MAGIC? Looking forward to your comments!