This summer I have been working virtually for the Kunstverein München, an arts association and gallery space in Munich that displays exhibitions by international contemporary artists. My role at the Kunstverein has been mainly translation so far, and I am learning a lot about good translation practices, such as how much editing is too much and which abstract art concepts easily translate and which don’t. In translating and editing archival materials, I am also learning a great deal about the history of the German Kunstverein (arts associations).
The first documents I translated were part of an archive newsletter series on the Kunstverein’s relationship with class historically. Formed in the 1800s, the Kunstverein München originally consisted of artists and upper-class patrons of the arts. It later diversified enough to include members of the growing middle class, and only in the 1970s did it reassess its role in society and consciously shift its focus to socio-economic and racial issues occurring in Munich. I was pleasantly surprised to see a relatively small institution taking these issues to heart and laying all of its history on the subject out for the public to see. It was especially refreshing to see a relatively small institution focusing so much of its effort on examining and learning from its complicated history. The archivist writing the newsletter didn’t pull any punches, either. He documented some of the most egregious instances of classism at the Kunstverein, including a heated debate among the bourgeois members about whether or not servants at the Kunstverein should wear formal clothing, with one member suggesting the ghastly possibility of a noble speaking to a servant by accident under the impression that the servant was also a member.
The Kunstverein’s concerted efforts to affect social change through art have highlighted key issues in German society with which I had not been previously familiar. For example, Germany largely has a different conception of “work” than America, such that Kunstverein München’s exhibition questioning the primacy of work in people’s daily lives is perhaps more radical than it would be in the US.
Above all, the Kunstverein has continually given me hope for the future of museums with its radical openness to discussing difficult topics and determination to create a space that welcomes everyone. Although I am working virtually, I greatly enjoy the work I am doing (while continuing to prioritize my mental and physical well-being and taking breaks) and hope that I can visit the Kunstverein in the near future. I hope that everyone working virtually this summer is also remembering to take time for themselves!