‘The cultures of the world are at home here, and the people who carry those cultures.’
This was the response of the new director of the British Museum, Hartwig Fischer, lately director of the Dresden State Art Collections, to the Pegida movement and the anti-migrant , anti-Muslim demonstrations in Dresden over the last year and more. He persuaded the state government to allow long banners to hang outside the main Dresden Museum with the words:
‘The State Art Collection Dresden. Works from Five Continents. A House Full of Foreigners.’
He’s attracted a pretty virulent response and some downright nasty chants – ‘traitor to the people’- and similar, which have unpleasant resonances. But he’s brought people from all backgrounds together, and created by all accounts a special atmosphere (‘open-hearted and warm’) around the place.
He seems to be a bit of a hero. He has an impeccable background as an art historian, but he’s more than that – ‘a citizen of the world’ – and he deserves a big big welcome.
Under Neil MacGregor the BM has already opened itself to the world – almost, given the crowds, too much so! So all power to the museum for recognising that modern museums should be all about reaching out to present and future generations – t0 the wide and not the narrow world – as well as the past.
(I’ve memories from my early teens of my first-ever gallery, the Manchester City Art Gallery, and standing puzzled but vaguely curious in front of paintings by Italian Primitives. Hard to imagine anywhere more fusty, and I was almost – but happily not quite!! – put off forever.)
(With thanks to the Economist for background information on Hartwig Fischer’s appointment.)