Berlin's Museum Berggruen debuts in China
Updated 10:40, 24-Jun-2023

The art scene in China is back with a bang, after struggling in recent years amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Major international exhibitions have now returned to the country once again. For our "Art without Boundaries" series, we talk to the heads of museums and galleries from across the globe. In our third episode, reporter Wang Siwen sits down with Gabriel Montua, director of Museum Berggruen, one of the most popular modern art galleries in Berlin. 

Holding one of the most comprehensive collections of modern art in Europe, Museum Berggruen has come all the way from Berlin to Shanghai, ready to make its Chinese debut with 90 works of art for "Modern Time," an exhibition at UCCA Edge beginning at the end of June.


Preparations begin in 2020 

Q: Talking about this exhibition, for the very first time it will be displayed in China; how much efforts have been made to make this exhibition happen? 

Montua: Sure, basically we started to get in touch before COVID-19. Because of COVID-19, we couldn't travel; everything was done by Zoom video call. We had a lot of time for conscious building by the time. Usually you could meet each other in real life, visit the places, while all these could not happen, we just stayed in touch and managed to go through the crisis. 

"We want to develop closer cooperation in art between Germany and China" 

Q: Talking about this art communication between China and Germany, why is it important? What will this bring for both countries?

Montua: There had been a lot of different cooperations between Germany and China before. But for us, for Museum Berggruen, it's a first, and we really want to develop this cooperation. I think it goes both ways; these works are here for the first time, the biggest presentation of works by Paul Klee, to be introduced to audiences in China; it's a great honor and pleasure for us. It also works the other way around, we hope our Chinese audiences get interested in our collection and tell their friends and family, so when they travel to Europe, we hope they will stop by. 

"This is just the beginning of art exchanges between China and Germany"

Q: Featuring works by Picasso, Giacometti and Matisse...and so on, which work of art is your personal favorite? 

Montua: In this exhibition, since it's about chronology and time, I would pick Paul Klee's "Time" on the last floor of the exhibition as it represents the concept of the whole show. 

Q: Any strategies to attract more overseas tourists especially Chinese, to go to the Museum Berggruen? 

Montua: We hope that through our collaborations with UCCA and other partners, these can help us to establish the presence here; (we are) also thinking about establishing a channel on something like Red (a lifestyle-sharing platform), which is used by Chinese users. 

To keep this presence, even after the exhibition leaves China, we really hope this could be the beginning of a very lasting exchange.

"'Stendhal syndrome' describes the experience of near fainting when seeing beautiful art"

Q: As a digital world, what does art appreciation, like face-to-face, mean to us? 

Montua: I borrow a quote from a French moviemaker who talked about the advent of video: Cinemas are like reading a book for the first time, watching it on video is like reading it again. It's the same with art, the experience is much more immediate when you are standing in front of it, there is this thing called the Syndrome of Stendhal. A French writer in the 19th century described this fainting when seeing the treasures of Italian renaissance in real life. You still have people who faint, because they're overwhelmed by the majesty of some artworks when they see them for real. 

So I think this is something that will not go away; this is why museums are still needed, to care for the works and present them to the public. 

"We've fined-tuned until the last minute to give visitors a beautiful experience"

Q: This exhibition will be open to the public in less than one week. What are the final preparations? Are there any final touches? 

Montua: The hanging is mostly done. We'll have to re-adjust some of the sculptures. We have to look at the light and take account of a lot of small details. The artworks are physically here; they're on the wall, so you may think it's time to recover now. But no, you really have to stay concentrated until the day of the opening, to fix every little detail to make visitors' experience as beautiful and amazing as possible.

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