Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Imagine that you are a museum worker in Belgium in 2007 and one day you stumble upon some old photographs of your museum taken during the occupation of the early 1940s. While the facility and all of its spaces look familiar, you are disoriented by this photographic image because there are solders wearing armbands and carrying rifles in the galleries. A colleague recently shared just such an experience with me. Imagine also that you are doing research in German museums and libraries and sifting through the holdings of used bookstores. It dawns on you that what you are seeing, and more importantly what you are not seeing, has a lot to do with political situations that started to unfold about a century ago. What was created under duress, what was banned, what burned during an aerial attack, what is missing because it was sold to far-away collections? There are reminders at every step, and they are living reminders: colleagues with personal histories; buildings that, for whatever reasons, have or have not been restored; books and prints only recently catalogued and indexed. While visiting a rural landscape recently I made a comment about a quaint duck pond and was reminded that there was a good chance that it was an old bomb crater. In another idyllic, rural landscape in another country another colleague pointed to the Black Forest “there” and the famous vineyards of Alsace “there” and the site of furious bloodletting toward the end of the First World War “there.”

Against many odds, the resources in European print collections are staggering, consider the sign outside of the Dresden study room for graphic art (housed in the castle or Residenzschloß that is pictured here):

The Kupferstich-Kabinett holds some 500,000 drawings, prints and photographs dating from the late 14th century to the present. Due their sensitivity t light, these works of art cannot be on permanent display.

The Study Room provides all visitors – scholars and laypersons alike – with the opportunity to examine the holdings of the Kupferstich-kabinett even when not on display in special exhibitions (...)

ight on!

ince I can’t post images of prints from my recent study visits I will post a British Satirical print by James Gillray (courtesy of
Wikipedia) that illustrates, however painfully, the realities faced by at least one quasi-vegetarian who dabbled with options in the land of bratwurst.

I’ll also share two
photos of bicycles that I took just before leaving Berlin. One is a rental bike of a variety seen parked randomly around the city. If you need a bike you call the number posted on the vehicle, give a credit card number, and the device is unlocked via a radio transmission (or that is my hypothesis) – to learn more see www.callabike.de. The only thing better would be the honor system (which is used on the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum ). The final photo is just a reminder that the honor system doesn’t always work when humans are involved.

1 comment:

Kate said...

When preparing for the MA exam I used to joke that if I got Courbet's Stone Breakers I would only be able to write that it was destroyed when Dresden was fire bombed (which I believe I learned in conjunction with reading Slaughterhouse 5, not in school). Amusingly, I did get that image and managed to come up with other thoughts about it.

I think it's impressive that the painting still makes it into textbooks despite being destroyed, and that it's important to the history of humans precisely because we destroyed it.