With these lines from ‘West-Eastern Divan’, Goethe finds words to describe one important aspect of the act of breathing that concerns more than merely supplying oxygen to the bloodstream. And, in the midst of a pandemic of a severe respiratory illness, we have come to see the breath with altogether different eyes. The act of drawing in breath carries potentially fatal consequences – for ourselves and for those close to us. This shows that in many ways breathing has always been a communal activity. By breathing, we are in fact sharing the same air, which makes this fundamental act of life a deeply unifying gesture.
I consider it an extremely fortunate circumstance that we were recently able to install the large-scale video piece ARS MUNDI 2020, Ach, Och und Aerosole by the artist Vollrad Kutscher in the large exhibition hall on level -1 of the museum. In this work – at once stimulating, accurate, and narratively compelling – Kutscher confronts us with questions surrounding the human breath. One of the things that becomes apparent is just how much individuality is captured in a person’s breath. The way people perform the simple task of breathing in and breathing out is as varied as their personalities. And, what’s more, each person’s breath varies depending on how they feel at any given moment. The eyes may indeed be the to the soul, but the breath reflects the same as well as any glass.
The video installation is our contribution to the Kunsthalle Wiesbaden’s special exhibition Vollrad Kutscher reSTART, featuring Dieter Reifarth (film) and Hubert Machnik (music). It was supposed to open its doors on 12 December but was unable to do so due to the nationwide museum closures in response to the pandemic. We all hope that we’ll soon get the health crisis sufficiently under control again, enabling the museums to reopen at some point in the next few weeks.
It still hurts to see one gallery after another at Museum Wiesbaden bereft of any visitors, so soon after their first dormancy earlier this year. The works of art don’t want to be shut away – they want to stimulate and inspire reactions in a multitude of viewers; their purpose is to provide solace and joy, and make us reflect on their meaning. The objects in the Natural History Collections similarly want to be seen and studied, to lay bare the beauty and genius of creation in nature. It is especially saddening to walk through the new temporary exhibitions that are waiting for you, the visitors, to animate them. That goes not only for our major exhibition August Macke: Paradise! Paradise? which was at least able to go on view for one weekend; it also goes for Exquisite – Art of the 19th Century, which showcases the magnificent and generous donation of Jan and Friederike Baechle. Also ready to go on show is the study exhibition The Serpent Child of Asklepios, which takes a closer look at the Aesculapian snake and the European green lizard: two reptiles that rely heavily on the region around Wiesbaden and the Lahn Valley for their survival in Central Europe.
Due to the shutdown, we are extending the running times of our temporary exhibitions and rescheduling the entire exhibition programme for the first half of 2021 so that visitors will still have a real chance to see these exhibits. Most of the new dates have already been announced on our website. The coming weeks will still, however, require us to embrace a community spirit, as we accept our collective responsibility for finding a sensible and life-affirming path out of the pandemic. Until we reopen, why not take a peek at our collection displays and special exhibitions online and follow our activities remotely via our digital offerings and social media channels. The ‘Weihnachtsstücke’ videos (Christmas-time at Museum Wiesbaden) released for each Sunday of Advent have naturally run their course, but our next video series ‘Lieblingsstücke’ (Our Favourites, selected by the curators) is guaranteed to pique your curiosity about more objects in our collections.
We are currently working on a series of short films that will be released in instalments, presenting individual collection areas and the goings-on behind the scenes at Museum Wiesbaden. Following the positive response to our blog we are determined to keep it updated into the future. The same applies to our social media channels, with regular postings in store for Facebook and Instagram. If you don’t already, follow us now – like, share, and repost the content we post online.
Downloads of the newly released Museum Wiesbaden app continue apace. Most recent additions to the offerings on the app are virtual tours for the new special exhibitions Exquisite: Art of the 19th Century – the Jan and Friedrike Baechle Bequest and August Macke: Paradise! Paradise? as well as the tour through the permanent displays of art and our Natural History Collections. We have made a point of making the app available for free – lowering the barrier to anyone unsure of whether the museum is meant for them too. The app has been designed as a flexible, user-oriented additional resource for use in the galleries themselves on the day of your visit (when we reopen), or in preparation for an imminent visit, or, alternatively, as the epilogue to an exhibition, allowing you to revisit select exhibits virtually.
A fifth of the smartphones on which the app is installed are set to a language other than German. Most have English as their language preference, followed closely by Farsi, Dutch, and Arabic. These are followed, to a lesser degree, by French, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, and Spanish...About five percent of users activate the app
from abroad, whereby, surprisingly, since the launch of the Macke exhibition, the country with the most access requests outside Germany has been Iran, followed closely by the USA, India, the UK, and the Netherlands. But we have also been able to record comparatively high access figures from countries such as Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar.
I would also like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to the website of the Freunde des Museums Wiesbaden e. V., the museum’s patrons association. Their site also features interesting and varied insights, not only into the museum’s activities but also those of the Freunde in their efforts to support us. On behalf of everyone at the museum, I wish to thank the Freunde des Museums Wiesbaden for their wonderful commitment to our work. And speaking of websites: an initial relaunch of our own website has been completed: so if you spot a butterfly fluttering across your screen, click on it and subscribe to the Museum’s Newsletter to stay abreast of what’s going on.
And it doesn’t stop there: We will be taking further steps to conquer the digital realm in the new year. This will include, it’s now safe to announce, an Online Collection that is due to go live in the second half of the year. But well before that, in the next few weeks even, we will be finally unveiling an e-ticketing system, allowing admission tickets, guided tours, and events to be booked at the click of a button prior to your visit. We are confident that this will mark a significant improvement to user experience. And last but certainly not least, we will naturally continue doing our utmost to offer you an excellent and diverse exhibition programme in the new year as well. And we are also busy planning stimulating and exciting offerings for our public engagement and education programmes aimed to appeal to our visitors in all their diversity. But leaving digital content and learning aside, we still recognize that one of our primary challenges for next year and beyond is sustainability, which applies across the board to all departments at Museum Wiesbaden: to our technical team and building maintenance, to administration and to engagement and outreach, to our taxidermy studios, and exhibition management, and even to publicity and event management ...
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to all our patrons, sponsors, collection-, cooperation- and media partners. Thanks to your support, it has been possible to realise a diverse and substantial programme. A very warm thank you also goes to the Freunde des Museums Wiesbaden, to all its members, board of directors and board of trustees. I would also like to thank the volunteers for their important cooperation.
On behalf of the entire team at Museum Wiesbaden, I wish you all the best in a stimulating, healthy, and inspiring new year. We look forward to the day when we can throw open our doors to the public again. And we hope that you, in turn, fully anticipate revisiting or newly discovering the rich collection displays here at Museum Wiesbaden, as well as the fantastic special exhibitions mentioned above. We hope you are eager to explore the next two major temporary exhibitions for 2021: Crystal Worlds – From Diamond to Gypsum and the quirkily titled Cows, Noble Ladies and Enchanted Landscapes – New Arrivals from the 19th. That’s it from me for now, see you soon!
Wishing you the best for 2021,
Dr. Andreas Henning
Translation: Lance Anderson