Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Little escap(ad)e: The Museum of Art of the Western Coast

My family and I are spending a few days on the Frisian island of Föhr. Home of many emigrants to the United States - so many, that they say there are more people of Föhrean descent living in New York than on the island today. Wedged between the mainland and the island of Amrum on the Western Coast of Northern Germany, this island is my favorite place to experience the Wadden Sea at its best: water comes and goes, the wind blows, and you can’t do anything but relax.

Except visit an old church and its interesting graveyard.

And go to the beach, rent a “beach basket” to be protected from the wind, and just enjoy life.

It had been a while since I last was here, and I was more than pleased to find out that an art museum had opened in one of the island villages, Alkersum, in 2009. It is called “Museum Kunst der Westküste” (translates as "Museum of Art of the Western Coast") and collects, exhibits and researches art about the ocean and coastal regions. It was founded by Prof. h.c. Frederik Paulsen and houses his collection of art from between 1830 and 1930, which is exhibited in changing combinations in the permanent exhibition, alongside interesting contemporary exhibitions.
Unfortunately a part of the permanent exhibition – which had promised me pictures by Emil Nolde, my favorite painter -  was closed due to a fire in January. But the rest of the buildings was open, for half the usual entry fee, and a treat.

First of all, there was an impressive photo exhibition by Danish photographer Trine Sondergaard.

Her pictures of women on the Danish island Farö, wearing the traditional face masks, which were meant to protect the women’s faces from harsh weather conditions during work on the files shed a strong light on current discussions in Western countries on the head coverings of Muslim women, strangeness of customs, and our way of dealing with communication.
Secondly, there were several impressive videos by young artists, amongst them a documentation of Donna Conlon of her unpacking a set of many different plastic bags that she had collected over the years and from around the world (Más me dan, from 2005), and of ants carrying little flags and peace signs.
Unfortunately I had timed my visit so that I kept running into a group of visitors who were obviously on a bus tour around the island – and while I was quite pleased to catch some of their guide’s explanations every once in a while, I was rather annoyed by their attitude and comments about the general state of the arts and modern art in particular. “They shouldn’t be allowed to even charge this half price entry fee!” was one of the more favorable ones. Quite true, however, was the elderly lady’s “Well, I am too stupid to understand this kind of art.”
If you ever come into this part of the world, this museum is definitely a must-see!
I’ll write more about the exhibit that was my primary interest in visiting this museum in a couple of days.

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