|Interview with Magnus af Petersens and Ulf Eriksson|
Magnus af Petersens is the Curator of Film and Video in the
Exhibitions & Collection Department of the Moderna Museet, Stockholm,
Sweden. Ulf Eriksson is Curator of Education & Events at the
Moderna Museet. This interview with Magnus af Petersens and
Ulf Eriksson was conducted by Elna Svenle in Stockholm on September
Elna Svenle: Hello Magnus af Petersens and Ulf Eriksson. I was hoping we could spend the next hour talking about the large Paul McCarthy retrospective that will take place in 2006 at Moderna Museet. However, before we start discussing this exhibition, I would like to ask you to outline your professional history, what you did before you came to Moderna Museet and what your current position at the museum is. Would you like to start, Magnus af Petersens?
Magnus af Petersens: Sure! Here at Moderna Museet I am curator of contemporary art and my responsibility in the collection is for film and video, and I guess new media and moving image. I am curator for exhibitions also, of course. Before I started at Moderna Museet I was a curator at Swedish Traveling Exhibitions, which is a state institution that produces touring exhibitions with not only Swedish but also international artists, exhibitions that are shown mainly in Sweden but occasionally also internationally. There I was also curator of contemporary art. I was also head of the biennial Expo September, and I had a special interest in new media. I was there for five and a half years. Before that I was at Moderna Museet, working part-time as an assistant at the same time as working at F╣rgfabriken Center for Contemporary Art and Architecture, which I was part of starting up. I took turns working full-time at F╣rgfabriken and part-time at Moderna Museet for a couple of years. Before that I had a space of my own that I rented very cheaply in Frihamnen (the Free Harbour), doing exhibitions. Before that I was at university.
ES: Thank you for this detailed r│sum│, Magnus. Now to you, Ulf Eriksson-could you please also share with us what you do at Moderna Museet and what your professional background is?
Ulf Eriksson: Certainly. Today I work as a curator at the department of education and programs. I have been here for four years. Before that I was responsible for education and public relations at the Uppsala Art Museum for a year and a half. Before that I was a student in art history. I started my time at Moderna Museet as an event producer, working on seminars, panel discussions and artist talks. I did that for two and half years. Then I started to work with an educational youth project called Zon Moderna where young people work together with a professional artist in a creative process. We worked together with schools from all areas of Stockholm to make new connections and networks between people in the city. This is an ongoing project, even though I am not working with it a lot anymore, so that we can get a network of young people that can spread our knowledge throughout the city region. During the last year I have worked as a curator in the education department. I have mainly been working with our audio guide, with e-learning, making courses in art history for adults without any great knowledge of art history and also towards high schools. There are a lot of other tasks in my profession-actually it involves everything that helps our audience to embrace the exhibitions we show. It could involve doing educative films or buying literature for the audience, for example.
ES: Excellent, thank you, Ulf. There are regularly exhibitions including moving image and new media works here at Moderna Museet. I'm thinking especially of the Ann-Sofi Sid│n exhibition and Swedish Hearts (Svenska hj╣rtan), both in 2004, but also of solo shows by artists such as Esra Ersen, Johanna Billing, Magnus Wallin, and Douglas Gordon. Magnus af Petersens, could you please tell us a little bit about new media exhibitions you have been involved in creating since you started here?
MP: I'm not sure I've done something where the theme was about new media, but I've worked with Fashination, which was an exhibition about the borderline between art and fashion. We presented the works in different ways: clothes, photography and also documentation from catwalk presentations. One artist/fashion designer (he has a double identity), Hussein Chalayan, actually produced a film for us. It may have been the first one he did that didn't accompany a collection. It stood on its own. He was in a phase of his career where he, instead of channeling all his creativity into fashion, divided his practice into making, on the one hand, more wearable fashion, and on the other hand got a gallerist and started working more clearly as an artist. This was a work that we later on acquired for the collection. There were three items of clothing or accessories that were part of the installation that were lit from behind and then there was the film.
Then we also produced a film, which was an important part of the exhibition. We had invited Yinka Shonibare who was happy to be in a context that was not about colonialism but showed another aspect of his work, which is how clothes create meaning. But he had no works to show, because he had a huge retrospective touring, so he wanted to create a new work. He had already done site-specific works for us and had become interested in Swedish history and in the Vasa-ship, which is in the museum next to Moderna Museet. He became familiar with the story of the Swedish king Gustaf III, from the Enlightenment-a great patron of the arts-who was murdered at a masquerade ball. That was a perfect theme for Shonibare-a political murder at a masquerade ball. First we talked about making a seven-minute film, but it grew and in the end he had a choreographer and 33 dancers, all with handmade dresses. We couldn't have done this film without Swedish Television, which agreed at the first meeting that they would produce it for us. Moderna Museet produced the dresses according to Shonibare's design and Swedish Television provided the whole film crew. In the end it became a highly professional production.
ES: As I remember it, Shonibare's film ended up being shown both on Swedish Television and in the galleries here at Moderna Museet. Is that correct?
MP: Yes, Swedish Television initially wanted to show a film about the making of Shonibare's film, but when they saw the final product they said, We have to show this also. Shonibare allowed that because he said that it is a very different experience anyway, the film as an installation, as it was shown at Moderna Museet, and as it was shown on television. The sound is a very important part of the work. It is surround sound that travels around the room. He wanted a three-dimensional sound. It is a ballet but there is no music, it is just the shuffling of the feet and the shot when the king is killed, which is a bang that throws you off your seat. It was Shonibare's first film and I think it was an important step for him. It has later been shown around the world and written about in ArtForum and Contemporary, etc. I think it was a great success.
ES: Then there was the large Ann-Sofi Sid│n exhibition, opening in late 2004, including many of this artist's video installations, such as Who Told the Chambermaid (1998) and 3 MPH (2003).
MP: Yes, but I wasn't involved in the making of those. But I am responsible for a series of smaller exhibitions called The 1st at Moderna. We often present film and video artists within that program. The exhibition that opened on March 1, 2005, was curated in collaboration with Liutauras Psibilskis. He made a proposal to do it and I had just seen an exhibition with Jonas Mekas films in Paris and I thought they were fantastic. Liutauras Psibilskis was responsible for the selection and I was also involved. We showed installations by Mekas and also had four screening programs running one weekend each during the length of the exhibition. And then there have been quite a few other exhibitions with video and film.
ES: You have quite an extensive exhibition program for new media works. Do you have a special department within the museum that works exclusively with new media or are you working somewhat on your own as a new media curator?
MP: I am alone as a curator of new media, but we don't have watertight distinctions between curatorial groups at the museum. We work collaboratively quite frequently. There is one technician who is trained in this area, Johan Larje, and he is also responsible for the storage of film and video. And then there are two other AV technicians; one is more focused on computers and the other is more focused on sound.
ES: Ulf, would you specifically work on education and programming in relation to works in new media or could anyone in your department work with exhibitions of this kind?
UE: I wouldn't curate an exhibition like that but I would curate educational projects. In the Fashination project we worked together with the artist Lena Malm and in that process we made a lot of performances and filming them together with professional artists, like Kristin ╔hlund. We would make our own video material documenting our own educational and artistic projects. It very much depends on the project we're working with.
ES: This has been an informative introduction to what you do here at Moderna Museet. Now, I am very eager to start talking about the Paul McCarthy exhibition that will open in 2006. Magnus, would you like to begin by presenting the show? When did you first begin planning this retrospective?
MP: I'm not even sure when it started, because it was when David Elliot was the director of Moderna Museet and Maria Lind was the curator. And when did Lars Nittve take over as director? In 2001, right? For those who do not know it, Moderna Museet had to close for refurbishment and was closed for two years. That was the first decision the new director Lars Nittve had to make when he came to Stockholm, namely to close the museum. There were health hazards involved like mold in the ventilation system. This forced us to cancel all our planned shows. And we made a decision to start anew with a large Paul McCarthy show, an exhibition that we really wanted to do. Nittve has worked with McCarthy before and he asked the curatorial team if we wanted to do this and who would want to do it and I was very eager to do it. This was when I started here in September 2002. We had already asked McCarthy to postpone it for us, because of the closing of the museum. Then he had another large show coming up so he asked us to postpone it, which we did. It has been a long process.
ES: Have you been in close contact with McCarthy all through this process?
MP: Yes, but in different intensity. Sometimes he has been absorbed in other projects and I have had other exhibitions to work on.
ES: Could you describe the show in a few words?
MP: Sure, the show will open on June 17, 2006, and end on September 3, 2006. After that it will probably tour. It is a survey of 40 years of hard work for Paul McCarthy. It goes from 1966 (when I was born actually), up to present date. Very few works remain from the early days, but he has shown me a hundred early notebooks with a lot of instructional works and proposals for works, outlined. He said that maybe he was lazy, but he felt that the work didn't have to be done somehow. This was during the heyday of Conceptual art and also he didn't have funds to realize some of the larger projects. So they just became works on paper. Later on in his career he has realized some of these works from the '60s.
ES: Have you thought about including some of these early notebooks in the exhibition?
MP: I think we will try to make facsimile prints of some of the pages in the catalogue. But we will probably also realize some of these very early works. It is quite funny because McCarthy said that there has been a retrospective that was organized by the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York which takes its starting point from a work that is called Dead Age. And there has been sort of a history of writing about his artistic development taking this work as a starting point. McCarthy said that it isn't wrong, but there were other works that were just as important, but you don't know about them, he said, because they were never made. They might have been actions he made alone in his studio or with one or two people as an audience that were not documented at all. We will try to put new light on these works and maybe realize some of them and also deal with them in the catalogue. McCarthy has mentioned one work that might be made in Los Angeles, but we don't know yet. It would be a performance, not including him which would be documented on video. It is an idea he has had for many years.
It is not new for him. He has worked like this throughout his career. He has made works that were later included in a larger work and that cannot be shown by themselves anymore. There is no clear chronology really. It is normal procedure that if you for example make a print of a photograph in 2005 that was taken in 1967, then you write 1967/2005. If McCarthy produces a work in 2005 that was conceived in 1967, he would allow you to write 1967/2005 but he would think it is silly because the work was actually conceived in 1967 and that's when the idea was born. There will be a room with early works that relate somehow to Minimalism. Of course there are connections to what he does today-his interest in architecture, the hollow of the inside and all of that. Then there will be documentation of performances. Some single-channel video works may be presented on monitors.
ES: I am trying to imagine what this exhibition will look like. Do you know already how many single-channel works will be included in the exhibition?
MP: Not really, because our idea is to show everything that he has done. But not until later will we make a selection of what will be shown in the galleries, and what will be shown elsewhere. Some of his works are part of installations and they will be shown in the galleries. And in addition to this we will have a resource area with a couple of computers where you can sit down and select among his works. Our goal is that all of his video works should be available. But some of them I believe need to be seen in historical context, in the curated context of a room, inside the exhibition. Some will be available but not in the rooms. He has made maybe 60 hours of video-at least.
ES: Will you also have a screening program running?
MP: Yes, we have a cinema that we will use. And then there will be those monitors connected to computers that will be in a space we call The Studio, by the seaside entrance. The cinema is on the second floor. And the exhibition will take place on the first floor, both in our large space for temporary exhibitions which is about 1,050 square meters (11,300 square feet), and in seven galleries where we normally have our permanent collection of contemporary art. We will empty all of that for this exhibition. It will probably be the largest one-man show that Moderna Museet has mounted since its start in 1958.
ES: The works that you will show on the computers in The Studio, will you digitize them or have they already been digitized for another show?
MP: They were digitized for an exhibition at the Kunstverein in Hamburg (November 10, 2001-January 27, 2002) that later toured to Oslo. So almost everything is already done. That makes it easier. McCarthy made a book with photos of videotapes he made between 1970 and 1975. It is called "Hammer Oranges Apples" and was published in connection with a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Siegen, Germany, in 2003. The tapes are photographed from above and the publication comes across like a pile of cassettes. There is a sculpture from 1984 consisting of three boxes containing these tapes stacked on top of each other, without a specific order. The boxes are sealed and are not to be opened. The work, The Three Boxes (1984), will be shown in the same room as The Trunks (1984), the large suitcases in which McCarthy stored many of his props from his performances, and with Propo (1992), which are large color images of these objects. The thematic in these three works is similar-traces of years of performances.
ES: In organizing the largest solo show ever at Moderna Museet, and one including quite a few large-scale installations, how far in advance did you start approaching lenders in order to get hold of the specific works you wanted to include in the show?
MP: We have worked quite closely with his gallerists, they have good knowledge of where his works are. The gallery Hauser & Wirth also has a close connection with the Sammlung Hauser & Wirth, which has a lot of important works. They have also sold a lot of important works to the Flick collection. They knew we were going to do the show, but we only sent the loan letters sometime in May 2005, about a year before the exhibition opens.
ES: You mentioned earlier that the show will tour. Are you already in contact with other institutions that are interested in taking on the exhibition after it has been shown at Moderna Museet?
MP: We are in the planning stage with one other institution and they have accepted that they will take the show but we haven't signed any contracts yet, so anything can happen.
ES: At this point maybe you would prefer not to discuss it any further?
MP: Yes, it is a bit early still. For us it is very necessary that the show tours because there are huge costs involved that we need to share with someone.
ES: I know you are still in an early stage of discussions, but do you think that the other institution will be able to show this exhibition in the same large scale as at Moderna Museet?
MP: Yes, those are the kind of places we are looking for. Some kind of edit could be necessary, we can accept that, but hopefully it will tour in this scale.
ES: In an earlier discussion we had, you mentioned that you won't include any works that are made in collaboration between McCarthy and Mike Kelley (b. 1954). Could you please comment on this decision?
MP: McCarthy has said that they have this kind of agreement, that if any of them would include a collaborative work in a solo show it would seem like they claimed a larger part of it. I think it could be solved with just a label, saying that it is a collaborative work. Some of these works have however been shown a lot and I think there is so much other work that we can show here. The collaborative works will be part of the screening program, so it is not a taboo. There isn't a break between them or anything. They are good friends and we have talked about asking Kelley to write for the catalogue.
ES: On the computers in The Studio and in the screening program you will make available all McCarthy has ever done, including his collaborations?
MP: Well, saying everything is so definite. We are aiming at that, but a lot of his videos haven't even been edited. I was at this performance he did, a sort of parade this summer in Munich, and he had tied video cameras to the wheels of the wagons that were just spinning around. There is a lot of raw material. But all the finished works will be available. Our initial idea was to have all the digitized works on the hard drives in The Studio. There is a coding process that has been done so that they can be on the hard drive, and then you can select from the computer screen. But unfortunately that coding process is quite expensive and it also means that the information has to be compressed, and sometimes you can see the pixels. In addition to this it would be difficult to fit 60 hours of video on the hard drive; the storage capacity would not be enough. What we will probably do is just burn it onto DVDs and run a different one on each computer. There will be programs 1 to 6. This is a lot easier actually.
ES: What display format will you be using in the galleries?
MP: I think the works will be displayed from DVD. But actually, often when we show video works in the galleries they are linked to our hard drive where we code the works. It is safer than DVD. If we have a film or a video in the collection that is on display in our permanent galleries it is linked to our hard drive on the second floor. But for temporary exhibitions when it is not running for such a long time we usually just use DVD as the display format, but maybe we can use some of the hard drive channels for this show.
ES: In these larger rooms where you will have several installations, will you just have one that emanates sound, and attach headphones to the rest, or will you make another kind of arrangement?
MP: We are still working with that in relation to the architecture. I think some works will have headphones, especially single-channel works, and others not. The big space is over 1,000 square meters, so maybe if the works are placed in different ends of the room and with a dividing wall between them, then it will be fine. In Piccadilly (2003) there are 5-6 projections in the same installation, so you already have sort of a cacophony in the piece itself. It is part of the work.
ES: There is a kind of speaker that allows sound to be contained in a certain part of a room. They hang from the ceiling, and only emanate a quiet murmur up until you stand right underneath them. Only then can you hear the full sound. Is this a solution you've considered?
MP: Yeah, like a sound shower almost. We have considered this for a couple of exhibitions, for Fashination for example, but in the end we have decided not to use it, sometimes for esthetic reasons. If you have a high ceiling you have to drop it down like a huge hat for people to stand underneath. Sometimes it can be solved in other ways. I think that sometimes low volume is a good solution. Some works demand high volume, but not all. When I saw the show "Video Acts" at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London (July 30 - November 9, 2003) the whole room was full of monitors and all were sound pieces. But the sound was quite low-it was a pleasant murmur. But when you were standing in front of the piece you wanted to see, you would hear the sound. And then you would move on and then hear the sound from the next piece. It doesn't have to be that problematic I think.
ES: Will you put chairs or benches in the exhibition to make it easier for the audience to watch a work for a longer period of time?
MP: In the installations, no, because that would be to bring more architecture into the piece. And for some of the single-channel works it is not really necessary, some of them are not so long. We may have benches in a few places. We haven't made any detailed plans about this.
ES: Are you reluctant to include chairs or benches in the galleries? Sometimes generous seating arrangements can improve the experience of a time-based show.
MP: Normally I am not reluctant to do it. On the contrary I think there should be benches, like in Yinka Shonibare's installation, which was a 30-minute film. But some of Paul McCarthy's videos are based on a repetitive movement, a bit like Bruce Nauman's early video work. It can be in a room together with sculptures and you can walk around and see it or stand in front of it for a while. For me it doesn't always benefit from sitting down in front of it and putting on headphones. But for some works I'm sure we will have chairs or benches, it depends on the work.
ES: Let's talk a little bit about the art collection at Moderna Museet. Are any of Paul McCarthy's works already in your collection?
MP: Yes, we have two pieces that were made at the same time. What we have actually all comes from Electronic Arts Intermix. We have Black and White Tapes (1970-75), Family Tyranny (1987), Cultural Soup (1987) and Fresh Acconci (1995). Black and White Tapes and Fresh Acconci are recent acquisitions, so I haven't had time to look at what has arrived yet. But Cultural Soup and Family Tyranny we've had for quite a while.
ES: Will you acquire some more of McCarthy's works after the exhibition?
MP: Yes, we're hoping to do that. It is not decided yet, what pieces and so on. It depends on money of course.
ES: You talked earlier about commissioning new works by McCarthy, based on ideas and notes from the late '60s. Would you try to make some of these works part of your collection since you are enabling them to be made?
MP: It is likely that we would look at those more than the others. A lot is of course already sold, but I think that would be interesting.
ES: Do you have a policy to try to buy some works for your collection when you do a retrospective of a contemporary artist or a larger solo show like this?
MP: No, not really. It often happens like that, because you get a special relationship in the history with the artist. But it is not a policy. Especially with commissions, you never know what you are going to get. And we never buy things we haven't seen. But commissions tend to get especially tied to the history of the museum. Our audience expects them to be ours so it would be strange not to have them in our collection. But there are a lot of practical circumstances around it.
ES: Is Yinka Shonibare's film in your collection now?
MP: No, not yet. We are trying to work it out somehow, but we have another piece by him that was commissioned that we bought for the collection. We are working on acquiring the film, but we don't own it yet.
ES: Now let's jump to a different subject. Do you at this early stage know how you will be documenting the show? If you will only take still images of the exhibition or if you will also make tape recordings, since it is a time-based show?
MP: It is a good question. I haven't really discussed this with my colleagues. But I am sure we will film it.
ES: Have you documented other of your shows with film or video?
MP: I'm pretty sure we have. But mostly we do it with events: seminars, talks or performances. We normally document the galleries with photography. I have to bring that up with my colleagues and think more about it.
ES: We've already talked about the catalogue, but I have some additional questions that I would like to ask. Will the texts be written mainly by people working at the museum or by external writers? You mentioned earlier that Mike Kelley might contribute a text.
MP: In the end I think Mike Kelley won't have time to do it. But Iwona Blazwick will write one text. I have approached a few other writers that I haven't heard from yet. We have to figure out if they can do it within the deadline. There will be a text by me, a general introduction and a chronology of the development, not focusing on just one aspect, which will be tied to the curatorial concept of the exhibition. Then there will be a foreword by our director, Lars Nittve, which there always is, but this time I think he will write a little bit more since he has a history with McCarthy. In addition to Blazwick's essay, there will be one more essay by an outside writer. Also there will be a conversation with McCarthy that probably I will do. Then I would also like to have some artist's writing or facsimiles of his instructions and notebooks that we discussed earlier.
ES: How about the image material? Do you find any difficulties in creating a catalogue for a time-based show?
MP: Absolutely. If you have a painting or a sculpture then one image of the work can be enough. But of a film or a large installation you need a lot of images in order to get any kind of impression of what the work is about. We have to solve that graphically, and there will of course be a lot of images.
ES: I don't know if this would be possible, but have you ever included for example a DVD in the catalogue that includes clips from time-based works in a show?
MP: I don't think we have. Do you know, Ulf?
UE: I'm trying to think, but no, I don't think we have.
MP: I am not against it but it is not something we have considered.
ES: For this show, will you work with freelance staff, in addition to the writers in the catalogue?
MP: Yes, we practically do that all the time.
ES: Will it be especially many people freelance for a show like this?
MP: Yes, it will be especially many for this show, partly because there are large installations that normally just McCarthy and one or two persons from his crew know how to assemble. He can't install all those installations himself all the time, so we will bring probably six or seven people from his crew that will have the responsibility for one installation each. And then they will work with our ordinary technical staff, but as we do for all exhibitions, we will also bring in freelance people that we regularly work with. There will be a lot of time-consuming installations to build. Maybe not so many architectural solutions, like with a painting show, where we often need to build dividing walls in our large space for temporary exhibitions, which is over 1,000 square meters. That may not be necessary here. But just assembling the installations will require a lot of people and a lot of work.
ES: The next large subject I would like to talk to you about is the budget. Have you had any particular problems in relation to the budget for the McCarthy show?
MP: Yes, the biggest problems in relation to the budget are transport and installation costs. Those are huge costs for us. There will also be logistical problems when we bring in the crates. Just for Bossy Burger (1991), which is not one of McCarthy's biggest installations anymore, the crates alone will fill up a huge space that we don't even have. We need to bring in the works not all at the same time, and ship out the crates to a rented storage somewhere. All of that will be very expensive. Also, this is not the kind of exhibition that it is easy to get corporate sponsorship for. McCarthy is an extremely important and respected artist internationally, and a lot of institutions all over the world want to make exhibitions with his works, but not everybody can, for those reasons. Therefore it has been a bit difficult to find touring venues that can share those costs. They need to have a big budget and huge spaces and also they have to have an attitude that they are not dependent on blockbuster shows.
ES: I suppose one way to deal with these enormous costs would be to find corporate sponsors. Do you have some sponsors for the McCarthy show, or are you funding the whole exhibition yourselves?
MP: At this point we don't have any outside sponsorship. But we have come quite far in finding other venues for the show to tour to. But it is not ready yet. Otherwise it would be a very big problem for us, I must confess. But we have also approached individuals, friends of the museum, and that is still on an early stage so we don't know what will happen there.
ES: Is there a McCarthy installation that you have been forced not to include because of money restraints?
MP: Not because of money restraints, but because of ceiling heights. And of course, some of the inflatables, like the ones he had outside of Tate Modern, Blockhead (2003) and Daddies Bighead (2003). It hasn't even come up so much, but I know it is a big project in itself. I don't know if it would be necessary for this show. We will have one or two other inflatable works for this show. Otherwise it is mainly space problems. We decided that we are going to do this exhibition and it is going to cost us a lot but we are going to do it properly.
ES: Generally, is it harder to find sponsors for new media shows than for more traditional shows? Or is it the subject matter of this show that has made it problematic to find sponsors?
MP: I'm not going to say that it is problematic because I love it. I don't want to get problem-oriented because McCarthy also has a great sense of humour. It is not out of nothing that he is considered one of the most important artists living today. There are not that many problems. But of course, a big insurance company for example, they want to sponsor shows that are less provocative, that are more mainstream or more generally accepted, like some Impressionists for example.
ES: Do you find it difficult to find corporate sponsorship for all kinds of contemporary art shows?
MP: No, not really. Maybe it is a little bit easier for modern classics, but we can find sponsors even for video art shows. I think in recent years collectors and other people have started to realize that video is here to stay and that it is an important part of art.
ES: Do you ever get sponsorship in kind where you for example just get the technical equipment from a certain company?
MP: Yes, it has happened. Now we have a new sponsor policy that sort of makes things easier and more difficult at the same time. There is like a price list, if you want to support a show you become a co-sponsor that supports a part of the show. Just asking for a couple of projectors for example is not always the best way. We can't have an endless list of sponsors, where we can't see who made an important contribution and who gave us free paint for example. We have started to focus on major sponsors. Before here at Moderna Museet, and at other institutions where I have worked, we would work hard on finding little things here and there and it would be very time-consuming. Now I think it is more professionally run, where there is someone who is responsible for finding large sponsors and the curators can focus more on curating than chasing monitors and projectors.
ES: Will you rent, or maybe even buy, the technical equipment you will be using in this show? Or do you already have most of what you need at the museum?
MP: We have quite a lot, but for a show like this I am sure we will have to bring in more. Renting is not always the best option economically.
ES: Now to education-Ulf, at what point will you start working with the pedagogical side of this exhibition? Or have you already begun?
UE: Yes, we have already started. We are several people involved in it, six or seven. We are at a stage where we are still bringing up new ideas and killing them and giving birth to others. It is quite a difficult project to work on.
ES: Is it the subject matter of McCarthy's works that makes it difficult?
UE: Yes, we have been in contact with colleagues at Tate Liverpool in the UK for example, that held a McCarthy survey show a couple of years ago (October 19, 2001 - January 13, 2002). Their experience was that the audience was a bit distressed about the content. We have discussed a lot how to be prepared for the situation and how we could work with the staff and our hosts in the museum galleries, to talk and have discussions with the audience. We will also have printed material to answer the questions that will be asked by the audience. We are also discussing to make a presentation film about McCarthy and his work.
ES: Would that presentation film be screened outside the galleries, just before you enter the exhibition?
UE: Yes, exactly. It is something that we are still discussing; it is not fixed yet. But it is important to be able to have a perspective on the exhibition and on McCarthy and his work before you enter the galleries.
ES: Would that be a new film for which you would interview him now or would it be a production consisting of older documentary material?
UE: We would make a new film.
MP: Maybe we should mention that this is not something we do only for the McCarthy show. For example we recently made a film with Jockum Nordstr¨m (b. 1963) that was shown outside the galleries of his show here at Moderna Museet.
ES: Do you often produce background films about the contemporary artists you present at Moderna Museet?
UE: Sometimes. It depends on the artist and what kind of art it is. From time to time we do it and present it in various ways.
ES: Will there also be educational material for this exhibition available online?
UE: We're in a project now where we are discussing a tool to build a platform for all different kind of things. It is a collaboration with IBM and together with them I am now also creating Internet courses. This platform could also be used for an exhibition like this. You could make small platforms about the exhibition, where you could create discussions and present written material that you can print out and bring to the exhibition, if you are a school class for example. This show will run during summertime so not that many school groups will be able to go. But we will produce material that the groups can use to prepare themselves for the show that you could print out from a computer. We will also make a folder about the exhibition that you will get when you arrive to the museum. We have discussed how we should develop these folders and one suggestion is to work with a consulting psychologist to try to scan what kind of reactions we could expect from a show like this.
MP: We might even have to think about age limits for a show like this.
ES: Have you used age limits before when you have been showing works that could be considered offensive to the audience?
MP: Yes, we had a work now which was nothing compared to some of McCarthy's works. It was a scene in the distance of a group sex act. It was not very graphic at all. A very calm, almost pastoral scene. We had a sign outside the gallery saying that this work contains graphic sexual material and still people reacted-I got one letter from a person asking why we show pornography at Moderna Museet. I think that if you are very young then some of McCarthy's works can be very hard to understand. They can be frightening with long violent scenes. Especially some of his later works are quite realistic.
ES: This age limit will be a recommendation of course, and not a rule.
MP: Yes, there won't be guards at the entrance refusing children to enter but there will be clear signs. We won't charge an entrance fee to this show. Entrance fees are not always used to gain money but in order for the audience to make a conscious decision to see this exhibition and not just stroll in. If a 10-year-old comes to the museum he won't pay 60 or 80 SEK to see a McCarthy show unless the parents are with him, to pay. That would be a way of deciding whether you want to see the show or not. But we have made the decision to make the show free and that will make signs even more important.
ES: If having an entrance fee is an effective way of making the audience choose whether they really want to see the show or not, why did you decide against it?
MP: Those decisions are often market decisions actually. If we have a possible blockbuster show, like Edvard Munch's self-portraits, we know that we can pull in a lot of money that we need for producing other shows. I don't think McCarthy appeals to such a wide audience, and therefore we don't want anything extra to stop as many as possible from coming to see it. With Munch they would come anyway.
ES: Ulf, you mentioned offering the audience an online discussion, or some sort of debate forum on the Internet. How would that work?
UE: There won't be an online discussion, but we could have a debate forum, which could be quite hard when you deal with such explicit material. You need someone who watches the discussion. It could be quite a hectic discussion. It would be interesting to really use these discussions, because I think that could give something to the total experience of the exhibition. But this is nothing we have decided upon, and there are lots of problems involved with the control. It is a possibility that I am suggesting and that we are thinking about. But you could also have a special Web page about the project, a platform where you could write letters and post notes. It is something we are working on right now.
ES: Have you considered having a lecture program in relation to this exhibition?
MP: We have talked about at least one big seminar that will be about censorship. It is a debate in Sweden that started earlier this year. Some institutions have removed art works because they have received reactions that they were unprepared for. My interpretation is that they hadn't realized that the works could offend somebody, and they didn't know what to do when it happened. Or there was a lack of communication between the curator and the management of the museum. There was even an attack on one artwork by the Israeli ambassador in Stockholm. People are not always prepared for the reactions. Censorship and self-censorship can become a problem. Moderna Museet has this great opportunity now since we have a huge attendance-we had 750,000 visitors last year. That will not make us avoid difficult subjects. We don't want to become a big Disneyland. I think it is an important discussion to show that the museums are taking responsibility for talking about a lot of different issues and not avoiding content that can be controversial.
UE: That is one lecture program that we are discussing, but we are also discussing several other programs. One suggestion is to have an artist talk with McCarthy around the opening of the exhibition and maybe cut pieces of that into the film. We are also discussing making a talk about McCarthy's role in Swedish art life, about what he has brought to the Swedish art scene, and how it has been dealt with here. In addition to this we have been discussing how to be prepared to arrange small seminars on touchy subjects that could come up during the exhibition period. Maybe there won't be a need for these seminars, but we want to be prepared just in case the questions arise. We have this forum for seminars called Aprop╬ (apropos) that we could set up with quite short notice. Apropos this exhibition we want to discuss this and this. We have some new staff in our programming department-why, there could still be new ideas coming. A new curator started here just one week ago.
MP: The educational part also involves folders and texts, and one staffer in your department works mainly with editing texts and making them readable on a wall.
ES: Will there be extensive written material available in the galleries?
MP: I don't think we have gotten that far yet in our discussions, to decide on how much text there should be in the galleries. Something we've talked about is to make a folder if you don't want to buy the whole catalogue. At an early stage we decided not to make an audio guide because it just wouldn't work practically with so much time-based work, emanating sound.
ES: Does the sound element of a show like this obstruct you when you are leading guided tours?
UE: Yes, for some more than for others, but most of us are used to different kinds of environments. Sometimes there are several groups in an exhibition at the same time and then it can be a bit crowded.
ES: Do you run into any other problems when working pedagogically with a new media show?
UE: One problem, if you talk to groups, is that in some installations the whole group just won't fit. If there are only a couple of headphones in a sound piece, then the whole group can't get a grip on the work at the same time. The exhibition Svenska hj╣rtan (Swedish Hearts, June 12 - August 15, 2004) was architecturally very narrow. You went through a kind of maze. These kinds of exhibitions can be a bit troublesome to bring groups into. Also with some time-based works that are one hour long, you have to make a short r│sum│ for the group. But otherwise I don't experience a lot of problems with new media art.
ES: You mentioned the educational project Zon Moderna earlier. How will you be working with this project in relation to the McCarthy show?
UE: Like I told you, Zon Moderna involves working with high school kids. That team is planning a special Zon Summer Camp next summer and it is going to be related to the McCarthy show. We always work together with a professional artist on these projects, but now we have been doing three full-scale projects and we have already built a great network of young people that are starting to make their own art projects and websites. They are now going to be mini-hosts for this summer camp and they are going to arrange the events together with our staff and create films and lectures and also invite artists. It is going to be a hangout for teenagers.
ES: Where in the building do the Zon Moderna projects take place? Do you have a special room dedicated to this project?
UE: We have a room that is called Zon Moderna. It is one of the public workshops and it is on floor two. We also have these pedagogical ˝islandsţ outside the rooms where the permanent collection normally is. For this I will buy lots of literature about McCarthy, and also we hope he will make suggestions for additional literature that we could buy.
MP: And also books about art from Los Angeles and performance art in general, to give more context to the show.
ES: Are there any documentaries made about McCarthy that you would like to show to the audience? Or is there any additional material you are considered including, either in The Studio or in the corridor where the ˝islandţ will be?
UE: We have discussed a few.
MP: I know one documentary that was made by a Swedish artist called J¨rgen Svensson. It has not been shown on television. He has a long conversation with McCarthy and it is very interesting. That is something we could show, if J¨rgen Svensson agrees, maybe in the cinema. I don't know if there are that many other documentaries made. I'm sure there must be other filmed interviews, but that is something I have to research more. Also there is lots of surrounding material that could be interesting to show, like concerts with his band for example. It could be interesting to focus on that in a special event. We'll see.
ES: This is most likely a show that will create a heated discussion and therefore it seems particularly important to provide as much background material as possible.
UE: Yes, and also I want to build this platform on the Internet where you can bring the discussion home with you.
ES: That seems very useful for this show. How do you work with the press coverage that you will get? Will you collect it somewhere for the audience to read when they come to see the show?
UE: No, we don't normally work that way.
ES: I suspect there might be vivid debates in the media, and maybe it would be of interest to the audience to read what is being written and said.
UE: As I said, if there is controversy in the media coverage then we will discuss it in a public program. One last thing, you asked about texts in the galleries. We will have those plastic holders in A4 size, and have discussed that every major installation should have one of those each. Those will be department-produced texts on each work.
ES: Thank you Magnus and Ulf. This has been a very enlightening and inspiring conversation. Good luck with the continuation of the production of this exhibition. I look forward to seeing the final result next summer.