The MoMA exhibition opened in Berlin on Friday. DW-TV talked to Peter-Klaus Schuster, director general of the city of Berlin's state museums, about his work as well as the event.
Peter-Klaus Schuster heads 16 museums.
Thanks very much for joining us today, Mr Schuster. Now if my Math is up to much then you are in charge of no fewer than sixteen separate museums and galleries. It’s an impressive total, among them are some of the most prestigious in the world. It's no surprise therefore, I've got a quote, that you have been described by one source at least as being "the most powerful museum administrator in the world". Is that how it feels to you?
Not really, we feel much more modest. But you're right, there are sixteen museums in one museum institution, this makes the state museum of Berlin so unique. If you compare it to London that would mean the British Museum, the Tate Museum the National Gallery all in one museum.
It's a big job you've got, and it's a big year you've got coming up in 2004. Foremost amongst the attractions we can look forward to is the MoMA, the legendary Museum of Modern Art based in New York is coming to Berlin to put on display 200 masterpieces of modern European art. It's a very exciting prospect, how did it come about?
The idea was to give the Museum of Modern Art seven months somewhere and where should it be? And they said, let's make Tokyo, Madrid and all this and then they considered it from the point of history and said let's go back to Berlin to a place where somehow our roots are. The very beginning of the MoMA as an ideal concept was in Berlin with the National Gallery and with the Bauhaus in Germany. So coming back and also coming back to Mies van der Rohe. In this building, Mies van der Rohe is somehow the architect of the MoMA.
So the modernist project comes back to Berlin.
That's it and for seven and more months, this is much more than an exhibition. It's a manifestation of modernism. The point is the MoMA is coming back to the beginning and Berlin is coming back to modernism. You see modernism or modern art in Berlin, in Germany too, is also a disaster with all that we had with the degenerated art and all that.
Art described as degenerative by the Nazis.
Yes, and now we have
the collection of modernism in this building, a temple of modernity.
It's a great prospect, but there's more to it than meets the eye, perhaps because there's also a political aspect to it all as well. The co-patrons of the exhibition are Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, and Colin Powell, his American counter-part. There's been a lot of turbulence on the diplomatic level between Germany and America in recent times let's say. Is there an element of cultural fence mending going on here?
It's a manifestation of real understanding a deep friendship in the cultural field. There's not so much trouble and confusion as in the political field. Berlin is always looking with love to New York. Berlin always likes to be compared with New York, Berlin likes to be the other New York.
And there's more coming up in 2004 than just to MoMA exhibition, what else is bubbling?
We will open the Helmut Newton museum, the Helmut Newton foundation. It's an artist coming from Berlin and becoming international in Paris, London, New York. And so you see this cosmopolitan - this side of Berlin, to re-establish this and this is in the middle of the year. Towards the end of the year we have the collection of Frederic Christian Flick, the “Mick Flick collection” of very contemporary art in our museum of contemporary art, the
Hamburger Bahnhof, and so you have the beginning of the classical modern with the MoMA and then you have how modernism ends with the very contemporary. And so you could say that Berlin is somehow a little bit of the cultural capital in 2004 - luckily.
Berlin the cultural capital of Europe perhaps, Berlin the cultural capital of Germany maybe. Let me put another quote to you. Berlin, you have said yourself, is a showcase for the nation, for the German nation. What does that mean?
The awareness of Germany is very difficult with the different Länders.
The Federal States?
Yes, and this very important capital areas like Munich, Hamburg, Stuttgart and all these. And then almost you have the question where is Germany? As what is really relevant or who can demonstrate a figure from Germany. And at the very end there is now Berlin - the new capital of this united Germany and this tremendously large museum complex. And so you get an awareness of Germany and it's somehow that the international audience is expecting.
The international audience maybe, but there are many in Germany in many of the other German cities Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt perhaps they're not happy about Berlin being the featured German city, not necessarily so.
Well the point is that ten-fifteen years ago we always said Berlin was the showcase of the free western society.
Yeah, and everybody was glad about this and now I think we have this free society and we should make the best of it and we should develop a good feeling. And for all these other cities we are now somehow at the stage, for Bavaria and Saxony for example, in Berlin, to be seen by an international audience. See after the flood in Dresden we made the large exhibitions and then it went to London to the Royal Academy. So I think this works in a mutual friendship. Berlin is so big, Berlin is so rich with the collections that there are so many other places for the others to be here and to be shown here. So I think there is good competition but at the very end its the focus.
We've talked about Berlin as a national arts capital for Germany perhaps, now what about Berlin and international art?
The point is we are a universal museum and our companion museum, is somehow the British museum and it's more than Le Louvre and we would like really to establish a non-European collections also in the center of Berlin, in what we call the "Mitte of the Mitte."
The "middle of the middle."
That's it - and there's a complete deserted area where the castle was in the centre.
The former Hohenzollern Palace in the center of Berlin.
That's it the Berlin castle and we would like to establish a non-European museum there, so we have the European and the non-European - a touch of Le Louvre and a bit of the British Museum all concentrated in this city and I think this will give a new aspect, dimension to Berlin and the cultural role of this capital.
One aspect of the Berlin landscape that we haven't mentioned so far is the museum island. It's a world cultural heritage site since 1994, UNESCO nominated it as such. It's a very impressive ensemble. Could you describe museum island and your vision for it.
The museum island is an island in the center of the town with five museum buildings or better put five museum temples built from 1830 to 1930 - and it's unique to have five so completely different museums for European art history, from the very beginning till 1900. And as it's in one spot, it's like an acropolis of the arts - and it's only for the arts, only for the visitors and to re-do this, one building is a complete ruin, the others have to be re-done and all this will be finished in ten years. And now we're on the way and we're re-doing one building after the other and it's a real surprise, you have historical monumental buildings that no-one would build now. It's a real luxury in museum crowd and to have this rich collection together with - it's really unique, you should see it.