Dedicating over twenty years to finding the hidden private art collections within this German city, museum director Ingrid Mössinger not only realised the importance of the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, she completely redefined Chemnitz as an international hub of Modern and Contemporary art. Bringing the world’s biggest names in art to the city, Mössinger quickly made a name for herself as the saviour of Chemnitz, unearthing the hidden potential of not just the museum, but the city itself and the art history that had gone into shaping it.
Now, as her time at the Kunstsammlungen draws to a close, IC Collector Konstanze Wolter sat down with Mössinger to speak about the last twenty years, how the role of collectors and private collections has changed over time, and what her hopes are for the next generation of museum directors.
For decades you have seen Germany’s museum landscape grow and evolve. In what way did the role of private collections change over time?INGRID MÖSSINGER
I feel the interest in collecting art has grown during that time, with more collectors stepping into the public eye. Nowadays there are many initiatives that make privately owned art publically accessible. I am thinking of the Museum Frieda Burda in Baden Baden or the Boros Collection in Berlin, for example, with both collections coming about quite recently within the last twenty years. Generally, the list of big art collectors who now build their own museums is getting longer. Of course there are still art collectors who remain discrete, but I would say that overall, collectors have become more active in seeking public attention. This can also cause problems. Collectors just start buying art, whereas museums only buy works if the artist is already more established. Ultimately a larger number of collectors are focusing on their own private museums, which is why they are less and less interested in making donations or financing new acquisitions or exhibitions.
In the digital age everything becomes more individualized and right now it seems as if people are less inclined to do something for the community. German collectors used to be a lot more discrete, whereas now I start witnessing an American approach to collecting. The Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, for example, has been around for 150 years and was founded on civic engagement during the industrialization.
Against the backdrop of a shrinking budget for acquisitions museums become more and more dependent on their patrons. But the increasing economic interest in art often results in a conflict of interest as we’ve recently witnessed in the scandal surrounding Beatrix Ruf’s acquisitions for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. How do you, as a museum director, deal with donations?INGRID MÖSSINGER
I never ask for donations because that would just be way too direct. Donations happen naturally because many collectors, who are actively involved in the art scene know of the difficulties public institutions face these days. Many museums do not have any budget for new acquisitions or have to find a compromise on many projects and secretly ask collectors if they can help out. But I would not ask for that, because, after all, these artworks are their private property.
What happened in Amsterdam with Beatrix Ruf is not really possible in Germany. You would just run the risk of creating a dependency that is too strong. I would never sign a contract for an art consultancy as a museum director. I also don’t collect art myself either, for that matter. Of course this also has financial reasons, but as the director of a public collection you simply have to try and acquire the best work for the institution. If you collect yourself you might want to include certain pieces in your private collection, too. I think it is great that all the art is publically accessible. If you run your own private collection or art-consulting firm, as well, you increase the risk of ending up in a conflict of interest.
Before you received this large donation for the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz you collaborated with many collectors for different exhibitions. What do you personally like about working with art collectors?INGRID MÖSSINGER
Unfortunately now the success of a museum director is measured by the amount of money they manage to collect in order to realize new acquisitions and renowned exhibitions that attract a lot of visitors. We collaborate with art collectors for every exhibition we do. Of course you have to acquire loans – for our Picasso exhibition we had more than fifty collections lend us their works. Among them are museums but also private collectors. Those collectors are very important and a lot more passionate in the collaboration process since they personally decided to buy the work of art. Museums, on the other hand, are more distant as they do not collect for themselves but the public and the collaborative working process feels a lot more administrative.
What in your opinion makes a great art collection?INGRID MÖSSINGER
That depends on whether the collection is founded in the 1960s like the Kunstsammlung NRW or in the 1860s like the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. The profile of younger collections tends to be a lot more precise as you can focus on a certain time or even a certain subject. Over the last decades the civic engagement in our collection has become somewhat heterogeneous. I think its difficult if a director’s own vanity or personal taste has a strong impact on the collection. Of course that is different when it comes to private collections. The growing reputation of a private collection also results in new opportunities for its collector.
Independent Collectors is dedicated to making privately owned collections accessible to a larger audience. Where do you see the potentials and limitations of arts education in the digital realm?INGRID MÖSSINGER
The limitations are clearly there, since the digital cannot replace the original. It can be a way to convince people to look at the original. Art education is also always a matter of the amount of money you can spend on it. Generally, I like the idea of being able to visit a museum in the virtual realm because it becomes accessible to everyone as not all of us can afford to travel and visit the big museums in New York and Paris. Making those collections digitally available is an important aspect of arts education because it circumvents those societal boundaries.
You have always aimed to increase people’s interest in art, making it accessible to a large audience of museum visitors. Your very own passionate way of dealing with art has helped you greatly in this endeavor. What are your hopes and expectations for a new, younger generation of museum directors?INGRID MÖSSINGER
It is hard to make a general statement here. I can only speak for the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. I hope that in the future a lot of emphasis is put on using new technologies in arts education. Setting up a digital record of what we have in the collection is also important, but that requires a lot of staff. There’s also room for exploring more opportunities for digital solutions in marketing and press related work. Now would be a good time to start. Expanding the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz through an additional adjacent building would be ideal.
A bigger exhibition space would also enable us to include bigger formats as currently we can only show about 2% of our storage. Showcasing the Bastian donation, which includes more than 200 works, also means that we need to put all of our current installments into storage. In terms of the size of our collection we are one of the biggest communal museums in Germany, which is why setting up a complete record of our collection is so crucial. This work process has been neglected for a long time – first by the Nazis, then during GDR times. There is so much to update. The Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz has the potential to become a very important museum. Often people are not aware of all the treasures we house, but during my time here I have always tried to point that out.
Another important point is that the contracts between museums and their directors have become ever shorter, which is the reason why all candidates feel the pressure of setting up something exceptional that quickly becomes a great success and attracts a lot of attention. This is not always beneficial to the development of a museum. You should never forget to work on the museum’s permanent collection, but this long-term approach to museum work is often questioned these days. In this regard art collectors have a lot more freedom, since they are not to be held accountable. They can collect whatever they want, they can stop buying art altogether or simply restructure the entire collection, make it public or build their own museums. Whereas museum directors can only focus on showcasing a small selection, private collectors can highlight different aspects, which is beneficial to the entire art scene. However, it is a pity if they just focus on building their own museums and refrain from making any more donations to public collections. There can never be enough people interested in the arts – I am just skeptical of everyone feeling the need to build their own institution. Monographic collections also present a problem these days, as they don’t enable visitors to come across different artists, which, in my eyes, is crucial.
The Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz are celebrating the donation from the Bastian Collection with an exhibition entitled “Hommage à Ingrid Mössinger”, which also shows great appreciation for all your work during the last decades. What do you personally regard as the biggest success in your work?INGRID MÖSSINGER
It was necessary for me to stay in Chemnitz for a longer period. The house’s condition was disastrous. In 1996, the theatre’s costume designer and the museum of natural history was still here, there was no café, the passageway was open and people would relieve themselves in it at nighttime. But Chemnitz surprised me.
What I liked is that we had an Edvard Munch in Chemnitz because the city’s entrepreneurs were investing in modern art before 1933. The house’s atelier deeply impressed me, as well as the versatility of the collection and we also have the biggest collection of textiles in Germany for example. There are so many different angles to the collection. The way people look at Chemnitz is often very one-sided and I have the impression that this is still connected to the image of Chemnitz during the times of the GDR.
However, the city is 875 years old and founded by Benedictines. There is a huge variety of artistic tradition here. In fact, Chemnitz is one of Germany’s capitals of culture in every way: architecture, visual arts, literature, music and theatre. Most of the “Brücke” artists, a renowned German expressionist group, came from Chemnitz. We have more than 450 works from Karl Schmidt-Rottluff here, Erich Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner used to exchange ideas in the youth club Vulkan. Max Beckmann’s wife used to sing at Chemnitz’s opera house.
There’s a connection between industrial evolution and intellectual nourishment. We have a unique artistic heritage: The “Geißelsäule” in Chemnitz’s castle church, for example, was specific to its point in time. All of these different dimensions of Chemnitz surprised me as I did not expect to find so many of them. The city has so much potential, which has been restricted during GDR times. Sadly not a lot of people know about this. Both totalitarian systems have harmed Chemnitz in a lot of ways, as I tried to point out in exhibitions such as the one of Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Lucas Cranach or of Andy Warhol .
What’s on the horizon for you after Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz?INGRID MÖSSINGER
After finishing my work in Chemnitz I will have more time for the things I neglected in the past. When you are busy organizing exhibitions and finding money to fund them, you lack the time to engage with other things in a more profound way. For that reason I only wrote the prefaces for publications during my work as director, although I would have loved to have written larger pieces – on Daniel Buren’s painted chimney, for example. Of course I’ve been to the Venice Bienniale last year, but this too ended up being such a busy event, that I simply did not have the opportunity to look at everything I was interested in. I would love to visit important solo exhibitions again. Now, as I’m free of administration and organization, I’ll have more time for art.