Monday, 2 February 2009


Pontus Hultén Study Gallery at Moderna Museet. Based on an idea by Renzo Piano.

The following text is a re-working of Hans Ulrich Obrist's interview with the curator Pontus Hultén in the former's just-published A Brief History of Curating (JRP Ringier, Zurich, 2008, ISBN 978-3-905829-55-6). The interview was conducted in Paris in 1996 and was first published in Artforum, New York, April, 1997, under the title "The Hang of It - Museum Director Pontus Hultén."

BECAUSE an elastic and open space hosting a plethora of activities within its walls

BECAUSE I was given carte blanche to what interested me

BECAUSE lectures film series concerts debates

BECAUSE between the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College

BECAUSE you could bring a Mondrian to the gallery in a taxi cab

BECAUSE signed everything

BECAUSE we could gather there and talk about ants everyday

BECAUSE I'm not sure that last sentence is transcribed correctly

BECAUSE what I meant to write is that level of activity corresponded to a need

People were capable of coming to the museum every evening; they were ready to absorb everything we could show them. There were times when there was something on every night.

The museum became a meeting ground for an entire generation: 


(1)Create a public - that trusts the institution - come not because of the artists but because the museum is usually interesting

(2)Don't be identified with one person - too easily breaks down 

           (you'll be noticing that a lot of what I say in my sleep is about the need to built a durable system that can survive) 

Niki de Saint Phalle, Pontus Hultén, Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt working on the hand of Hon.

you need trust 

making connections

making catalogues

identifying axis

a catalogue in the form of a suitcase

an encyclopedic catalogue

QUESTION:What is an exhibition?

ANSWER:At lunch I suggested we build a woman lying on her back, inside of which would be several installations. You would enter through her sex. Everyone was very enthusiastic. We managed to finish her in five weeks, inside and outside. She was 28 meters long and about nine meters high. Inside there was a milk-bar, in the right breast; a planetarium showing the Milky Way in the left breast; a mechanical man watching TV in her heart; a movie-house showing a Greta Garbo film in her arm; and an art gallery with fake old masters in one leg.  










AFTERMATH: It was obvious that the mechanical age was coming to an end, that the world was about to enter a new phase.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Per Olof Ultvedt, Jean Tinguely and Pontus Hultén discussing the Hon project at the Moderna Museet on 27 May 1966.


Documentation was something we found very exciting. 

in the spirit of Duchamps boxes

having your own workshops is important - built Tatlins tower using my own miniature carpenters

installing an exhibition with that incredible collective spirit - install a new show every five minutes


BECAUSE a wall on which local organisations could affix statements of their principals and goals

BECAUSE it was like a big family, everyone helped each other out

BECAUSE work, money, school, press, community life

BECAUSE Dada in Paris

BECAUSE Ritual Celebrations of the Iatmul Tribe of New Guinea

BECAUSE Russian Art 1917-15, Surrealist Utopias, Parisian Graffiti, May '68

BECAUSE installed in trees

BECAUSE a geodesic dome

BECAUSE never started by thinking about budgets


a telex enabled visitors to pose questions to people in Bombay, Tokyo and New York 

Each participant had to describe his vision of the world:

what would the world be like in 1981?

is still the question we ask about the future.

come to test how open we really are: the Black Panthers, soldiers gone AWOL, Vietnam draft-dodgers. 

Accused of using public money to form a revolution.

a cross between a laboratory, a studio, a workshop, a theater, and a museum






BECAUSE the participation of the public was to be more direct, more intense, and more hands on than ever before

BECAUSE where the public could participate directly

BECAUSE how something new was dealt

QUESTION:These ideas are fantastic, Pontus! Perhaps you could describe for us something about the architecture of your brain.

ANSWER:It was designed so that as you went up a floor, what you encountered was more complex than what was on the previous floor. The ground floor was to be completely open, filled with raw information, news; we were planning on having news coming in from all the wire services on a telex. 

The other floors were to house temporary exhibitions and a restaurant; the latter is really important because people need somewhere to congregate when they are in your brain. On the fifth floor we were going to show the collection. Unfortunately the politicians and parliament took over my brain for themselves. But the work I did conceiving that brain turned out to be useful preparation for

BECAUSE I don't go there very often

BECAUSE I once made the mistake of going back

BECAUSE I now no longer go back

BECAUSE as a principle

BECAUSE I saw how fragile a space could be

BECAUSE the day someone decides

BECAUSE its all over almost without a trace

BECAUSE a few catalogues and that's it

BECAUSE no those are suitcases

BECAUSE ants are too expensive


I think a collection is absolutely fundamental to a space. To see a temporary show and then visit the collection produces an experience that is more than a sum of its parts. 

There's a curious sort of current that starts to flow - that's the real reason for a collection. A collection isn't a shelter into which to retreat, it's a source of energy for the curator as much as the visitor. 

The cover of the folder that accompanied the Moderna Museet exhibition, showing a working drawing itemizing the interior of Hon playrooms; Visitors to the Hon exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

a close dialogue with the artists

marked great moments in the history

of my friendship with them

becomes a kind of troubleshooter

there was a lot of improvisation

we had a good time

I had to leave 

I was no longer practicing my profession

BECAUSE it was a kind of cafe

BECAUSE where people could meet everyday

BECAUSE no real structure or authority figure

BECAUSE grew out a discussion

BECAUSE I had with the mayor

BECAUSE while it lasted

BECAUSE we invited

BECAUSE there were only 20 per year

BECAUSE we did great things together

BECAUSE including going on an excursion to Leningrad where we did a site specific show

BECAUSE experience for me

BECAUSE an end to it

                little coherence, something of a crisis

also moments of great courage and an enormous

general interest compared to when I started

I'm writing my memoirs