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Photo: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen

Behind | Language schools at museums | 21.sep.2016


By Berit Anne Larsen, Director of Learning & Interpretation

The National Gallery of Denmark’s framework agreement with the Danish Ministry of Culture states that we must “contribute to redefining the museum as an institution in the 21st century” and as “an agent in society as such”. This requirement is one of the many excellent reasons why we collaborate with Images 16. The partnership allows us to present exhibitions that introduce a greater variety of voices, including unconventional ones, in our exhibitions and activities. In our migration exhibitions we have done this by letting CAMP curate the show, in Two Worlds as One we have done so by letting Pakistani artist Aisha Khalid reflect the encounter between two different visual regimes, and in our SMK Ansat scheme we engage many new voices in dialogue by bringing together permanent SMK staff and temporarily employed new Danish citizens to work with the museum exhibits.

As an organisation, we are curious and keen to explore this field of diversity and multivoicedness, precisely because it is very much about introducing more narratives, about identity and about negotiating meaning. At a lecture held in Copenhagen in connection with this year’s Chart Art Fair, the French curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud said: “What is a subject if not narration? It is not being born here or there. What we are is our destination”.

We see an opportunity to move away from the discussion about integration and inclusion, about new voices as additions. Instead, we want to move ahead to discussions about hybrids.

In other words, we see diversity as a fundamental condition today.

A new reality
Perhaps the raison d’être of cultural institutions resides in the opportunities they provide for rethinking the images and structures we know only too well? To be open towards the citizens’ contributions to changing established orders, just like artists are known for doing. This perception of democracy describes a movement away from the democratic society as a state of which each citizen is a member, with the main emphasis placed on duties and rights. A movement towards a democratic society where the key element is shared cultural experiences and constructions of meaning. A movement away from viewing the citizen as a disciplined subject towards seeing the citizen as a critical, reflecting co-creator of society.

A key aspect of our formation and growth as human beings emerges out of the narratives we use to find meaning in the lives we lead and the communities of which we are part. The open-ended spaces of art and culture allow us to meet and confront all those aspects that challenge, inspire and evade everyday pragmatics, thereby giving us opportunities to relate to our current era, society and history in new ways.

According to the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, an included individual is an individual who moves freely around the global network, constantly searching for new personal challenges in their encounters with various communities. The relationships within those communities play a central part as morals and values are negotiated through such relationships.

Today, the concept of enlightenment – which gave rise to the museum institution – is undergoing a renewal. Enlightenment is not just about learning a cultural canon, but equally much about creating foundations that allow all citizens in society to ask questions, use their senses in critical ways and enter into dialogue with others: i.e. to act within the framework of the art field.

By collaborating with Images 16, the museum seeks to reflect and evolve in keeping with the society that surrounds it. As SMK director Mikkel Bogh puts it:

“Our collaboration with Images 16 is a perfect fit for our strategic promise to the wider world about continually exploring what being a national gallery means. As the entire nation’s gallery we have an obligation to take an explorative approach to our practice and our collections. This holds true in terms of the exhibitions we make, the works we collect and the languages we speak. We have dedicated ourselves to being particularly aware of how Denmark is more diverse now than ever. It is our task to present the cultural heritage in our care, and to do so in ways that are relevant, vibrant and interesting to wide audiences. The activities we create with Images are symbolic and an important mainstay of our strategy.”

As Denmark’s national gallery of art, SMK’s role is primarily to collect and exhibit European art. But what does this mean in an art world that has become extremely globalised and looks very different today compared to just 20 years ago? This issue is also among those raised by Mikkel Bogh. In its collaboration with Images 16, SMK asks: What does being a national art gallery mean today? And what nation are we an art gallery of? Hopefully, our encounters with the works of Aisha Khalid, CAMP’s exhibitions on migration politics, and our temporary staff of new Danes can bring us closer to answering these questions.

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