“What is fascinating about Pissarro is that he was a very contemporary character from today’s point of view. He was a nomad, an anarchist, a cosmopolite, a globetrotter. He was audatios in his political thinking and his pedagogical ideas,” – art historian Olga Osadtschy about exhibition « Camille Pissarro. The studio of Modernism »(04.09 2021 – 23.01 2022), Kunstmuseum Basel,
Olga Osadtchy, Kunstmuseum: “Curating an exhibition is about asking questions. What story do certain artworks “tell” and what can I do to make it heard, make it visible to the public? Where are the artworks that I feel might belong into a future show? How can one get in touch with the owners and convince them to trust the museum with their precious possession?
A curator’s work is fascinating because it never gets boring. We can present new artistic statements, but also show artists who we consider to be well known – in a surprising way, find a new angle or point of view. This effect of surprise is a wonderful moment. I also appreciate the fact that all exhibition projects I worked on usually involve colleagues from around the world. Before coming to the Kunstmuseum, I was mostly writing about art. But my PhD research had a limited audience. The beauty of our work at the Kunstmuseum is that thousands of people come to see our splendid collection and our exhibitions every year. So, the stories that we tell will be heard.
Nowadays, there are a myriad of possibilities to present any kind of exhibition. Many people don’t like the word “entertainment”, but it can mean so many things. A serious topic can be approached in a more light-hearted manner, if it is adequate. To surprise is even more important than to entertain. For me there are two moments when viewing a work of art elicits a sense of awe. Sometimes, I am touched because I’am familiar with the artist and the context behind their work. Sometimes it is like love at first sight, without knowing anything. I would like for every visitor of any exhibition that I curate or co-curate to experience this moment of love, passion, and surprise. Art brings us together as human beings on so many levels. Art has so many different facets. It is impossible to put it all in a text, or a catalogue, people need to experience it.”
Irina Vernichenko, “Artdecision”: This thrill, is it part of offline aesthetic experience or of online experience?
Olga: « It can be both. Sometimes people simply can not come to see an exhibition. They might be far away or experience other difficulties. So, there are practical reasons to have a strong digital position. The pandemic has taught us that we can offer so much on a digital scale. And we should pursue this path further. For example, at the moment large scale temporary exhibitions are available as 360° experience on the website.”
Olga: “My current role is that of an assistant curator to the Director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, Josef Helfenstein. The idea of this exhibition was his, Camille Pissarro was always an important artist to him. J.Helfenstein and his co-curator and Director of the Musées de Pontoise Christophe Duvivier have pursued this project for more than four years. The curatorial team grew to include other younger colleagues.
What is fascinating about Pissarro is that he was a very contemporary character from today’s point of view. He was a nomad, an anarchist, a cosmopolite, a globetrotter. He was audatios in his political thinking and his pedagogical ideas, he never settled for compromises.
He is often called the founding father of Impressionism, because he was the one pushing all these artists to work together, to make exhibitions together. Even when he struggled, he didn’t give up this idea until the group eventually fell apart.”
Irina: And will it be reflected in the exposition?
Olga: “The exhibition is not a classical monographic exhibition, instead it emphasizes the idea of collective artistic creation. The curatorial team understands Impressionism as a network, where artists constantly influenced each other. Visitors will see not only masterpieces of Pissarro but also Alfred Sisley, Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Mary Cassatt, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Maximilien Luce, Vincent van Gogh and other artists.”
Irina: What kind of network and partnership was this?
Olga: “Pisarro and Monet were among the founders of an anonymous society of artists, the “Société anonyme coopérative des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, et graveurs”. Many of the artists knew each other from an open studio, the Académie Suisse. They wanted to find a way to show their work to the public without having to wait for the acceptance of the conservative jury of the Salon de Paris. So they founded this society to have the means to present their own group shows in spaces they rented for the occasion.
The term “Impressionism” came later. An art crtitic, Louis Leroy, coined this term after seeing the group’s first exhibition in 1874. Only years later did the artists adopt this name: The Impressionists.
It was a very heterogeneous group, there were friendship as well as many passionate discussions, even fights.
Eventually the group fell apart, when they could not find a common language any more, but until the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, it was a fabulous and daring artistic experiment”.
Olga: “I co-curated the exhibition “The Incredible World of Photography. Ruth and Peter Herzog Collection” with Paul Mellenthin. He was then the Head of the Fotosammlung Ruth und Peter Herzog im Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett, Basel. This photography collection is one of the biggest private photography collections in the world. It’s density and variety is breathtaking. The a big part of the collection was acquired by the Jacques Herzog und Pierre de Meuron Kabinett in 2015. It contains approximately 500 000 images! The exhibition marked the end of the first systematic digitization effort. Now the collection is available online.The Kabinett also contains architectural models, all the history of Herzog & de Meuron! It’s such a fascinating, hybrid place.
Our task as curators was to create an overview of the collection, create a sort of comprehensive map. But how do you do this with half a million images? We tried to understand: How did this collection come to be? What was important to the collector in every single one of these thousands images? What were the collectors’ thoughts? How and where did they find their treasures? We also wanted to show the original order that the Herzogs gave to of the their collection and maintain some of the original chapters. We wanted the visitors to understand the organic structure of that collection, to me it felt like a living and breathing thing.
We realized that at the core of this collection is “owning” the world, of representing the world in all of its facets. There is are family photographs and albums, war is a huge topic, there is industry, tourism, science, technology, there are babies, dogs, motorcycles, microscopic views of insects, mummies and archeological artefacts.
It was interesting to see what the collection did not show, what they did not collect, what were white spots on this photographic map. There are more photographs of Italy then of Africa for example”.
Irina: Can photography be elevated to the level of high art?
Olga: “There is nothing to elevate. Photography has always been there”.