In 1984, artist Hans Haacke, the éminence grise of institutional critique, wrote the seminal text “Museums, Managers of Consciousness”—recently republished and therefore “actualized” by the museum M+ in Hong Kong—in which he states that “museums work in the vineyards of consciousness” (Haacke 1984, 2018). The essay’s underlying assumption is that the ultimate goal of the art museum is not only to substantiate a society’s cultural past, present, and future, but also to create “new” forms of consciousness in relation to history, contemporaneity, and the unknown time zones that lie ahead. Museums, despite all attempts at being welcoming, democratic spaces of assembly and encounter where new forms of awareness arise, in reality often slip and stumble in endeavoring to establish unexpected and meaningful relationships between viewers and artworks, to tickle and tease out new forms of understanding, attentiveness, and sensibility. However, that intermediate conclusion is not a cause for despair; it is an occasion for self-reflection. How can museums—and specifically transhistorical ones with collections that span across centuries and sometimes continents—in the current times both cherish tradition and invest in the future? How can museums be “centres of curiosity” and work across time rather than segregating the past from the (brutal) present and what is yet to come? Are there ways to involve artists, not just as producers of work but as thinkers who actively engage with the visual on a daily basis?
Ann Demeester, born in 1975 in Bruges (Belgium) has been Director of the Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland's largest art museum, since October 2022. From 2014 to February 2022, she was Director of the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands, a museum for old masters, modern and contemporary art. Prior to that, she spent eight years at the helm of de Appel, an exhibition center for contemporary art and performance in Amsterdam, famous for its “Curatorial Programme” for training curators.
Ann Demeester studied literature and linguistics (English/Dutch/Norwegian) and worked as an art critic for national newspapers in her home country. She was assistant to Jan Hoet and curator at the Belgian Stedelijk Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent (SMAK) and the German Museum MARTa Herford. Ann Demeester was co-curator of the Tirana Biennale in 2003 and realized exhibitions with artists such as Salla Tykka, Zarina Bhimji, Mika Rottenberg, Nina Yuen, Bjarne Melgaard, Luc Tuymans and Michael Borremans. In 2009, she curated the Baltic Triennial in Vilnius together with Kestutis Kuizinas.
Until 2022, Ann Demeester held a full professorship in art and culture at Radboud University Nijmegen. Her teaching focused on the concept of the “transhistorical museum”, a museum in which works of art, objects and ideas from different eras and periods enter into dialog with each other. In the Netherlands, Ann Demeester was regarded as a respected ambassador for fine arts and museums, maintaining a lively dialog with politics, the media and the public. For her services, she was knighted by the Dutch royal family in 2022 and awarded the Order of Orange-Nassau (officer rank).
Ann Demeester is married and lives with her husband and two children in Zurich.
The lecture will be held in English.
Image: © Franca Candrian, Kunsthaus Zürich
Hans Haacke, “Museums, Managers of Consciousness,” Art in America 72, no. 2 (February 1984); auch M+ Magazine, February 23, 2018, https://www.mplus.org.hk/en/magazine/museums-managers-of-consciousness/.