Craig Hubert for ArtInfo talked with Jem Cohen about his new film Museum Hours.
AI: There’s a moment in the film I wanted to discuss. Bobby talks about a conversation with a younger guard, and there’s a discussion about art and capital, and what happens to art when it’s placed in a museum and can the two be divorced. Can art be divorced from money? Especially painting, which has such strong roots in the world of money.
JC: The way I look at it is, realistically, and historically, and in terms of present day economics, it might not be possible to divorce them. But practically, and logistically, and in a way out of necessity, it has to be divorced. It’s ours to decide what art means to us. We have not only the possibility, but in my belief, an obligation to make that a personal connection rather than one that is dictated for us by popularity or celebrity or market values or an art world that has become frighteningly adept and obsessed at seeing art works as commodities. Even just talking about it using a word like “commodity” or “capital,” I can just see people rolling their eyes, but the fact is it really doesn’t have anything to do with that. It has to do with people making a one to one connection with art as they encounter it, and the wonderful thing about a museum is that that can be done without a price sheet. So, people can legitimately explain to me that oil paintings in particular were a pivotal part of the history of art and capital…
AI: But the film is also a love letter to museums.
JC: I wouldn’t make a movie about any institution without some degree of critique, but I think in some way it becomes more radical, and subversive, to embrace some aspects of the museum, and of art, in spite of being institutionalized. I have to be honest about the fact that I’m really thankful that I can go to a museum and somebody is taking care of a 3,000-year-old object that is blowing my mind, that I couldn’t see if it was tucked away in a private collection. They make work accessible to us, as I said before, in a context, like the gallery, where there isn’t a price list waiting at the desk. I also, frankly, even though I think it’s a little unpopular, love the old art museums. I love them as spaces: they’re hollowed, they promote a contemplative state, they are often beautifully lit in such a way that there’s this amazing mirroring between the people in the place and the things they’re looking at.
The film drops us into the world of Johann, an amiable guard at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Art Museum. Surrounded by precious Brueghel paintings, Johann seems content. One day he meets Anne, an enigmatic Canadian woman visiting an unfamiliar city where her cousin is ill in the hospital, and the two form a bond. Johann acts as Anne’s guide to Vienna; he relishes the opportunity to share his knowledge of its art and architecture, acknowledging he is rediscovering the place himself. (Synopsis provided by London Film Festival.)
The NW Film Center is doing five showings of Museum Hours between July 12th and 15th. Buy tickets here.