Provincial, and Yet International. Museum Work in Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in the world and most people connect it to its former status as a tax haven when they think about this small speck of earth in Europe. We spoke with Professor Dr. Rainer Vollkommer, the director of the Liechtenstein State Museum about what it is like to direct a cultural institution with a regional focus in a country that many regard as provincial.
AMM: Dr. Vollkommer, for many people Liechtenstein is synonymous with a European financial metropolis and a former tax haven. Certainly, fewer people actually know where the country is located. With its capital Vaduz is, to borrow a phrase, located “behind the mountains”. Do you work in a province?
Rainer Vollkommer: The Principality of Liechtenstein is “not behind the mountains” but within in the mountains, in the heart of the Alps, approximately 100 km from Zurich and 250 km from both Milan and Munich. With 160 square kilometers and 37,000 residents, it is one of the smallest countries in the world and the region has relatively few inhabitants within a radius of 70 km. In comparison e.g. to regions in Germany, we are definitely provincial. But with residents from more than 60 countries, Liechtenstein is extremely international, the headquarters for numerous worldwide companies, and attracts workers from all around the world. A third of its residents are foreigners and many native Liechtensteiners are married to foreigners. The country is therefore a lot more colorful than one might imagine.
AMN: What are the advantages or prospects of this province? What does Vaduz have that other European capitals don’t?
RV: Vaduz is wonderfully situated at the foot of high mountains in the Rhine Valley, it is incredibly clean, it has wonderful gastronomy and it is very safe (aggression, crime and harassment are practically nonexistent). There is a very high standard of living, the inhabitants are social and friendly, and there are many cultural activities for the public such as concerts, theatrical performances and public festivals. The castle is located high above Vaduz, where the royal family lives, who is very popular.
AMN: That sounds purely idyllic, but perhaps somewhat static? Art and culture need conflict points as basis for analysis, experiments and new trends. You know the cultural life of your city well. What are things like for artistic innovation and the cultural industry?
RV: An idyllic paradise can lead to leisure and bored self-contentment, but it can also lead to questioning everything as well as rebellion and provocation. Liechtenstein has an incredible amount of creative, around 3000 people take part in the country’s cultural life. In all sectors there are groups, organizations, associations for individual museums, theaters, for music, for writers and for artists and a good percent of these organizations attempt to strike out new paths: The two operetta theaters in Balzers and Vaduz perform new productions and interpretations each year; the TAK theater and the Theater der Jugend (“Youth Theater”) produce their own works; the cabaret at the Schlösskeller in Vaduz takes a critical look at society; the music associations offer the latest trends alongside established works; the international music academy of the Principality of Liechtenstein presents concerts by the youngest stars from around the world; the art academy trains artists; the Kunstraum (arts space) Engänderbau opens new exhibitions every two months featuring artists from Liechtenstein and the region; the 17 museums and cultural houses present exhibitions and events focusing on problems and questions that are relevant today. The Landesmuseum has been showing several time-critical exhibitions. For example, we have been working closely with Helvetas and the Liechtenstein development service about food politics and the food industry. Another exhibition deals with the rocky road to emancipation in Liechtenstein and in a few weeks we will be having a presentation in cooperation with the Art and Prison association about the subject of freedom using artwork created by inmates.
“Treasure Room” of the State Museum Liechtenstein © Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum/ Sven Beham
AMN: What are then the challenges for you to operate a State Museum in this geographically secluded and hard to reach area?
RV: We have to try to be better than established museums in other major European cities. We have no laurels that we are able to rest on, particularly because our State Museum wants to reach many people. We want to welcome an international public alongside our important regional guests and therefore we have to gain more attention and create long-lasting foundations like good exhibitions and a varied program. Next to exhibitions on issues that are relevant to our country, we offer a wide range of events for our local public, from lectures to discussions, tours, hands-on activities and family days, programs for children and seniors as well as concerts. Such events attract almost exclusively local visitors. For the international public we present the country in all its entirety and facets through audio guides in many languages, focusing on subjects ranging from archeology to history, the way of life, religion, art, postage stamps and the environment. For both target groups, local and international, we regularly organize exhibitions that stand out through their objects, themes and productions. Of course it would be desirable to have more money for marketing to generate more attention, but like many others we are at our limits.
AMN: But visitors still find their way to your house?
RV: Yes, more and more, but there is still room for more, especially because we offer unique exhibitions. In 2012 for example, we had an exhibition on the 300-year anniversary of purchase of the Earldom Vaduz by the Principality of Liechtenstein, which was the basis for the foundation of the Imperial Principality. We focused on the unique period around 1700 and received special artifacts from 20 of the most important German speaking museums such as the Kunsthistorischen Museum in Vienna, the German Historical Museum in Berlin, the Zurich Landesmuseum and the Bavarian National Museum in Munich. In 2013 we presented the exhibition “Matheliebe” (“Love of Math”). In 2014, in “Gladiators and Colosseums” we presented unique originals from Naples, Rome and Bologna as well as from the Roman Colosseum. Currently, in “Marilyn, the Strong Monroe,” we are not only displaying 400 unique artifacts from Marilyn Monroe’s legacy, but also take up the issue about the “emancipated” Marilyn Monroe, who tried to be deliberately successful as a woman in a branch extremely dominated by men. In its entirety, we are offering a wide-ranging spectrum.
Exhibition “Marilyn, the Strong Monroe” © Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum/ Sven Beham
AMN: How do you try to fill this “room” that you describe when you say that far more money is needed for marketing? What means do you turn to in order to gain international attention?
RV: First of all, we take advantage of the free digital media such as Facebook and YouTube, and provide journalists and media offices with extensive media information. Moreover, we try to get newspapers, radio stations and television stations to present features. We regularly take out ads in newspapers and specialized media, always targeted according to the current themes. In other words, we use the classical arsenal that is at our disposal.
AMN: Another question about the subject of “being regional”: How does work in a museum, where the collection, as well as art and culture, presents such a small speck of the world, differ to other galleries and museums?
RV: Actually, the work is similar to many other museums that don’t belong to the list of large institutions that are a must for visitors. It is always important to stay on top of things, to ensure an intensive program and interesting exhibitions and to tell good stories.
AMN: What are the challenges of a museum of this kind that intensively deals with art and culture?
RV: Our society always expects increasingly more service and is more widely travelled than ever. In our globalized world it seems important to me, on the one hand, to deliberately present one’s own characteristics. On the other hand, the “other” also has to be addressed or at least kept in mind.
AMN: How should one promote regional art in an international context? What does modern exhibition management do here?
RV: In our breadth, we are fortunate to be able to address difficult issues, although they should not be used provoking and harming even if it would draw more visitors. Museums enjoy a high degree of credibility according to a survey from Glasgow. We shouldn’t gamble with such trust. One glance beyond the horizon is all the more necessary than ever. That can be achieved through both thematically comprehensive exhibitions, through a capable supporting program that is vibrant and international and/or through variety in the events. Modern exhibition management has to be flexible and open to exchange information and network with others. It has to try to get a sense of what might be interesting for different people. The target public plays an important role. Succumbing to leisure is over. We are a service-oriented society; we expect more and our public expects more from us and it is irrelevant whether one works in a large city or in a so-called province.
AMN: But wouldn’t leisure in your idyll be a powerful marketing tool? Especially when one sees how many people seem to be overwhelmed by everyday life?
RV: Of course our visitors find spaces where they can relax and receive information in a playful manner. But the majority of the visitors expect sufficient input – sophisticated, lifelong learning has become a part of mainstream society.
The interview was first published in KM Magazin.
Professor Dr. Vollkommer studied classical, prehistoric and Near Eastern archeology as well as art history at the universities of Munich, Paris and Oxford, where he received his doctorate from John Boardman. In December 2009 he was appointed honorary professor at the Technical University Dresden. Since April 2011 he is director of the Landesmuseum in Vaduz, Liechtenstein and since 2012 president of the association “Museen und Schlösser Euregio Bodensee e.V.“.