Interview Fairs Museums Netherlands

Broadening horizons in Amsterdam

Beatrix Ruf talks about her aim to engage with the “extended world” at the Stedelijk Museum

Photo: © Robin de Puy

Beatrix Ruf, the newly appointed director of the Stedelijk Museum, is already one of the international art world’s most respected and influential figures. During her 13 years at the Kunsthalle Zürich, she not only oversaw an extensive programme of reconstruction and expansion, but also established a reputation for commissioning ambitious work and giving many young artists—including Sarah Lucas, Wade Guyton, Uri Aran and Ed Atkins—early institutional exposure. Under Ruf’s leadership, the Kunsthalle Zürich also became renowned for providing an important platform for, and reassessment of, more established but often underexposed artists, such as Ian Wallace, Lutz Bacher and Yang Fudong, and for forging vital links between generations.

She has also organised a clutch of biennials and triennials and is widely admired for her ability to negotiate the increasingly crucial relationship between public institutions and private collections, most notably as one of the co-founders of the Pool curatorial programme, in which private collections collaborate with emerging curators. As she prepares to make the move to Amsterdam, we asked Ruf about her future plans.

The Art Newspaper: The Stedelijk is a very different institution to the Kunsthalle. What are your thoughts about your new job?

Beatrix Ruf: It’s a total change of life and, of course, there’s always laughing and crying, as Zürich has been my home for more than 13 years. But the Stedelijk is the dream institution for me because it has an incredible exhibition history and it has always been at the forefront, not only in terms of representational modes and models but also in making statements together with the artists about what questions can be asked, should be asked and have to be asked. This is also greatly reflected in the collection and, of course, that is the great difference from the Kunsthalle. The Stedelijk has one of the really great collections of Modern and contemporary art and design—which is vast; almost 90,000 works—and I am really excited to be working with that and developing a programme that not only [takes] the collection further, but also looks at the histories and hidden stories that are in this collection, and puts them in relationship to a very up-to-date list of contemporary questions.

What are the questions that institutions should be asking today?

At the moment, the big general question for us all is how museums should be made to function. We are all looking into the meanings of heritage and the interplay between the caretaking of heritage and how to develop collecting further. Another big question is, how does an institution integrate the enlarged world of art and extend beyond a Eurocentric Western view? In the collection of the Stedelijk, I find that there are many narratives in its Modernism that connect to this extended world of art, which maybe have not yet been looked at and which still have to be uncovered. Instead of just acquiring the non-Western, I think that the future for these institutions should be about really engaging in an active dialogue with this extended world.

How do you see this dialogue manifesting itself?

I see it as a real dialogue that goes beyond the collections and deep into the workings of a museum. So, you would have the scholars from one institution go out and communicate with scholars in different countries: there is so much ind­ividual, local and national knowledge that should be used to contribute to a face-to-face dialogue. Knowledge should be exchanged to find out what narratives we share, what we don’t share and what we have to learn from one another.

You have a track record of showing more established artists who are ripe for reassessment as well as working with often very young artists. Will this continue at the Stedelijk?

Absolutely, and I think this is what the Stedelijk wants. Continuing to work very closely with artists in this particular way is also especially interesting against the background of a collection, because one of my guidelines when deciding whether to do a show has always been: how would that artist’s work and vision sit within the collective continuation of the archive? So, in a way, I have always been thinking about collecting, even without physically doing so.

Will part of your exhibition programme also involve inviting artists to intervene directly in the Stedelijk’s collection itself?

Yes, that’s exactly what I intend to do. Many of the conversations I have with artists are about other artists and art in general, and their excitement is always about looking into collections and into the sidelines, into the things that are not allowed or obvious and about really understanding the whole fabric of what we refer to as art. I get totally excited when I think of how many artists I know who can really get involved in this fantastic museum and uncover things in its collection that we don’t even know about yet.

Beatrix Ruf’s 2015 show recommendations

Sturtevant, MoMA, New York, 9 November-22 February 2015

I am very much looking forward to this exhibition, but it will also be a very sentimental and hard thing for me. Elaine was a very close friend and we are doing a memorial panel for her at Art Basel on Sunday 22 June at 10am.

1984-99: the Decade, Centre Pompidou-Metz, until 2 March 2015

This is a show that I haven’t yet been able to go to, but which I can’t wait to see. It is a very special endeavour, curated by Stéphanie Moisdon, with display systems by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and I think it will be the definitive show of what the 1990s really were.

Marlene Dumas: the Image as Burden, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 6 September-4 January 2015

I am looking forward to the Marlene Dumas show at the Stedelijk because this will be her first real full retrospective, with works dating back to the 1970s and right up to the present day.

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