ICOM/DemHist Annual Conference Antwerp, Belgium – 17-20 October, 2011
Conny will present to DemHist which is the standing committee for historic house museums, a sub-committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) on her paper “Historic Houses and the Modern Gesamtkunstwerk”. The keynote speaker in Antwerp is Peter Greenaway who did a project recently for Castle Amerongen in the Netherlands:
Ms. Bogaard is the former curator of Sypesteyn Castle and Museum in Loosdrecht, the Netherlands. She is co-author of “Huismusea in Nederland. Kasteel-Museum Sypesteyn en het Ontstaan van Verzamelaarshuizen in Nederland, ca. 1870-1930,” (House Museums in the Netherlands. Sypesteyn Castle and Museum and the Origin of Collectors Houses in the Netherlands, ca. 1870-1930), Zwolle: Waanders Publishers, 2007. Currently Ms. Bogaard lives and works in the United States. She serves as the Project Director for the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum in Arvada, Colorado. She teaches art history at the college level and is also a PhD- candidate at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts based in Portland, Maine.
The Gesamtkunstwerk – the “total artwork” conceived by the composer Richard Wagner in the mid nineteenth century – challenges traditional conceptions of modernism. A synthetic, multimedia entity, the Gesamtkunstwerk clashes with the autonomy and medium specificity extolled by such modern critics as Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Moreover, assailed by Friedrich Nietzsche in the late nineteenth century and later embraced by Adolf Hitler, Wagner and his dream of a total work of art were dealt a series of critical blows. Most devastating was the critique delivered by Theodor Adorno who excoriated the composer’s theories as little more than fascism avant la lettre. What then should we make of artists’ engagement with forms of the total artwork during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century? More specifically: What is the meaning of Gesamtkunstwerk’s influence on the interiors of some well-known collector’s houses that were conceived around the same time? This paper examines adaptations of Wagner’s project in collector’s houses attending to both their aesthetic and political dimensions. Examples include decorative programs, art installations, architectural ensembles, and collaborative practices in Europe and the United States. It will address the contemporary critique that Gesamtkunstwerk’s attempt to bringing artistic media together into a total work of art is dated in our post-modern, post-media contemporary art world. For others, the problem is even worse: Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk is forever compromised by totality’s fateful historical entwinement with totalitarianism. Ours, however, is an era of “clashing civilizations” in which artists and theoreticians struggle with renewed urgency to imagine what a non-hegemonic, open-ended universalism—or totality—might be.
This paper sets out to explore the opportunities and challenges of the modern Gesamtkunstwerk for historic house museums today, arguing for a more nuanced view that testifies to Gesamtkunstwerk’s revolutionary origins and potential for change.