“It's a misunderstanding that contemporary art is more difficult”

Mudam director Enrico Lunghi
Mudam director Enrico Lunghi
Photo: Andrés Lejona

Since 2009 Enrico Lunghi stands at the helm of the Musée d'Art Moderne, more commonly known as the Mudam. He spoke to wort.lu/en about the state of contemporary art in Luxembourg and the challenges of running the controversial museum.

Designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, hence the by-name Pei museum, the Mudam has become a fixture in Kirchberg's cityscape, together with the Philharmonie and more recently the redevelopment of the Centre de Conférence. But it was an uphill struggle.

When the Mudam opened in 2006 “it was not a popular museum,” says Lunghi. In the meantime, “the negative reactions haven't disappeared, but their role is less important now.”

“The challenges are big,” says Lunghi. Not only was the Mudam the first purpose-built museum in the country, with other museums all housed in refurbished or redeveloped buildings, but also “Luxembourg doesn't have a tradition in modern art.” Which is why an emphasis was put on contemporary art instead.

“We had to start from zero,” says Lunghi. Still, the museum tends to be compared with the big museums of modern art, such as New York's MoMA, London's Tate Modern or the Centre Pompidou in Paris, “even though it's clear we don't work on those dimensions.”

Discovering contemporary art

But it was not just an issue of resources and background knowledge. Luxembourg also lacked a museum culture, says Lunghi. “For a long time we only had one museum. Everyone thought that when you'd been once you had seen everything. But in a museum like ours we change the exhibitions three times a year. It's like having three museums in one.”

Lunghi is a fierce advocate of contemporary art. “It's a deep misunderstanding to think that contemporary art is more difficult to understand than classical art. That's nonsense,” he says. One of the beauties of contemporary art for Lunghi is the fact that you get the chance to discover an artist, to make up your own mind.

“In order to understand an artist like Da Vinci you also need to deal with him, put him in a context, know what he did, try to understand why he did that, why it was special,” he says. “People know the name and are told it's good. But it's not like they know this art better,” than contemporary art. “It's a question of attitude, of curiosity.”

Luxembourg as an international location

While Luxembourg's international audience is an advantage for a museum like the Mudam, it can also be a challenge. “We don't know how to reach people. There's lots of different newspapers, which is great; but at the same time we don't have one outlet to inform the public here and abroad. It's all the more surprising that the Mudam has such a reputation across the borders.”

Still, only around 55% of visitors to the museum come from within Luxembourg. “I wouldn't be surprised if there's many foreign nationals among them,” says Lunghi. “Maybe they even profit more from the museum than the Luxembourgers.”

Lunghi's wish is that people in the Grand Duchy would profit more from the museums in the country, not just the Mudam, as a way to learn more about their own world. “The museum is a place where you can take a look at the world, through the eyes of art and the artist. But at the same time you distance yourself from the world. You see it through a poetic filter.”

The museum's many activities for children and teenagers attest to Lunghi's mission of creating an accessible space.

“No museum shows as many Luxembourg artists as the Mudam”

Just as the museum is open to visitors from all nationalities, so it exhibits artists from across the globe. “We don't look at the nationality of the artists,” says Lunghi.

Instead, the director and his team collectively decide on artists, which are at the right point in their careers and which are right for the Mudam. “We do our best to show the best.”

While showing Luxembourg artists is part of the parcel, Lunghi says, “we wouldn't be doing our job right if we didn't show a good artist from Luxembourg. But neither would we be doing a good job showing an artist just because they are from the Grand Duchy.”

For anyone skeptical of the space to Luxembourg artists, Lunghi is probably right when he says, “there is no museum in the world that shows as many Luxembourg artists as the Mudam.”