The matter would probably not have been seen that way in Berlin: for Max Hollein, the director of the Metropolitan in New York, it was an “award” that the artist Nan Goldin had chosen his museum of all places for the high-profile protest against the Sacklers. A grand piano at the Met bears the name of the family of patrons, whose pharmaceutical company is believed to be responsible for the opioid crisis in the United States and has come under criticism. The wing has been renamed since last year.
With this example, Max Hollein gave an idea of his idea of a museum as a platform for social debates in his acceptance speech. At the same time, it became clear why he is an international exception as a cultural manager and why he deserves the award of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation. For a quarter of a century, the CDU-affiliated foundation has honored outstanding protagonists of the cultural scene with a special evening and a bust of Adenauer once a year.
The charm of the events, however, always lies in the mixture of humorous laudations and an accompanying program that is tailored to the honoree. For Hollein, the balancer between high and low, it was Benjamin Britten’s “Six Metamorphoses after Ovid”, played by the oboist Andreas Wittmann, and Ernst Jandl’s sound poems performed by Kathleen Morgeneyer. Text and sound form a new connection in the music and poetry lectures, the genres mix, as is Hollein’s credo.
The highlight of the evening, however, was the speech by the internationally sought-after museum man, whom Monika Grütters, as Minister of State for Culture, had twice tried to lure to Berlin in vain, as she admitted in her laudatory speech. Neither the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation nor the Humboldt Forum offered him enough potential for change. They could not tempt the native Viennese, who replied with Austrian humor: “If I had known beforehand how nice it is here in Berlin, I would have come.” The laughter was on his side.
But then there was a lesson that you wish other directors had heard. Museums are the mirror of society – responsible for the past and how it will be interpreted in the future, said Hollein. “You have to take a stance, there is no such thing as neutrality.” Museums reflect the constitution of a society, he continued, only to be followed by self-critical questions: How representative are we? Are we actually integrating different societies? Or are we ourselves the product of a latent nationalism?
In his acceptance speech, Hollein sang the new song of praise for museums as a place where social debates can be well-founded and not polemically negotiated. From everyday life in the USA, he knows only too well how important multiple perspectives are. According to Hollein, museums are more popular than ever, they are now at the center of social importance. “That drives me,” said the 52-year-old and explained that he was also accepting the award from the foundation for the cultural institution museum.
“Energy, stamina and a certain playfulness” was what Hollein once called his formula for success. As an intern at the Guggenheim, he had a lightning career and then made the Städel, Schirn and Liebieghaus in Frankfurt am Main attractions. The move first to the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco and then to the Metropolitan Museum in 2016 followed as a logical next step. Berlin as a stopover was not included in this plan. After the evening at the Adenauer Foundation, Berliners can grieve a little more.