Collecting Policy: Exhibition presents new works in the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

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Collecting Policy: Exhibition presents new works in the Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Collecting Policy. New Works in the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, 2022, Exhibition view, photo: Rainer Iglar, (c) Museum der Moderne Salzburg.

SALZBURG.- The Museum der Moderne Salzburg oversees its own collection as well as the Federal Photography Collection, the Generali Foundation Collection, and the art collection of the State of Salzburg. Its task is to preserve the collections entrusted to it, to expand their holdings, to make them accessible to scholars, and to exhibit them to the public. The museum is guided by strategic considerations when adding to its holdings. It might desire to fill in gaps, to expand an existing group of works, or to establish new foci for its collections.

It is rare for a museum’s collecting policy to be discussed in public. Significant policy decisions are made behind the scenes by the director of the museum in consultation with the curators of its collections. These decisions are legitimized by the professional expertise of those responsible. Official reports on the number of new purchases, donations, and permanent loans often remain abstract. That is why the Museum der Moderne Salzburg has decided to organize a large-scale exhibition of a selection of its new acquisitions from the past seven years. The show offers insight into the museum’s collecting policy and provides a transparent demonstration of the criteria that determined which works found their way into the museum’s collections.

With works by Anna Boghiguian, Günter Brus, Melanie Ebenhoch, Marina Faust, G.R.A.M., Nilbar Güreş, Jojo Gronostay, Julia Haugeneder, Ana Hoffner ex-Prvulovic*, Hannah Imhoff, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, Sigalit Landau, Angelika Loderer, Luiza Margan, Walter Martin & Paloma Muñoz, Ashley Hans Scheirl, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Laurence Sturla, Not Vital, Kara Walker, and Lois Weinberger.

The collections at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Scope and positioning

The Museum der Moderne Salzburg is one of the major museums of modern and contemporary art in Austria and has comprehensive collections of Austrian and international art of the twentieth century and the present. It is a significant player on the contemporary art scene that has acquired international visibility and discusses socially relevant issues. The Museum der Moderne Salzburg is responsible for a diverse, extensive collection ranging from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the present day. Since it was founded, it has also had a focus on graphic art and photography. Along with works owned by the State of Salzburg, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg is responsible for the photographic collection of the Austrian Federal Government, which itself comprises some 12,000 titles. Since 2014, the museum has also been entrusted with another prominent collection: the internationally oriented Generali Foundation Collection, which holds around 2,100 works in various media and whose focus is on conceptual, media, and performance-based art. In total, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg holds around 31,000 works on paper, 22,000 photographs, 800 paintings, and 700 sculptures and installations, as well as 800 film and video works, including installations with electronic media.


The collection of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg is relatively young, going back to the art dealer Friedrich Welz’s gift of his private art collection to the State of Salzburg in the late 1970s on condition that a museum be established to house it. The Modern Gallery and Graphic Art Collection—Rupertinum was accordingly opened in 1983, declaring its aspirations to be an “Albertina of the West,” with reference to the Viennese museum that is especially famous for its graphic art collection. The new museum in Salzburg was housed in the historic Baroque building of the Rupertinum. In 2004, Welz’s problematic ties to the National Socialist regime prompted the Museum der Moderne Salzburg to undertake extensive research into the provenance of its holdings.

A focus on photography

As early as 1981—two years before the museum opened—the Austrian Photo Gallery was founded as part of the Salzburg State Collections. The Museum der Moderne Salzburg today has assumed the role of the center of competence for Austrian photography after 1945. The extensive holdings of its in-house photographic collection have been continuously expanded since the early 1980s. In addition, the museum has for many years been entrusted with the photo collection of the Austrian Federal Government on permanent loan, and this collection, too, is expanding steadily by means of annual purchases through the federal funding program for photography.

International orientation

Under director Peter Weiermair (1998–2001), work began on giving a more international focus to both the program of the museum and its collecting policy. The building on the Mönchsberg was inaugurated in the fall of 2004, bringing not only an expansion of the museum’s exhibition space to some 3,000 square meters, but above all spacious rooms suitable for exhibiting larger-format works to complement the Rupertinum’s more intimate spaces. This also promoted a reorientation in the museum’s collecting strategy under the leadership of Director Agnes Husslein (2000–2005), who began to focus on large-format paintings, installations, expansive sculptures, and media art. At the same time, the museum started showing more works by young contemporary artists on the national and international scenes and acquiringthem for its collection. During the tenure of Toni Stooss (2005–2013), the gallery owner Thaddaeus Ropac donated a large number of works to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, including art by Georg Baselitz, Sylvie Fleury, Anselm Kiefer, Imi Knoebel, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Hubert Scheibl, Not Vital, and Erwin Wurm. This gift not only fostered the museum’s strategic shift toward Austrian and international contemporary art, it also directed its attention toward abstract art. Under the direction of Sabine Breitwieser (2013–2018) and Thorsten Sadowsky (2018–), the international orientation of the museum’s collection has been strengthened by acquisitions of larger-scale works and groups of works by artists such as Kader Attia, Anna Boghiguian, Andrea Geyer, Renée Green, Nilbar Güreş, Paulina Ołowska, Sigalit Landau, Wiebke Siem, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, and Fiona Tan.

The Generali Foundation Collection

The museum’s collection underwent a further realignment under its director Sabine Breitwieser, who succeeded in bringing the Generali Foundation Collection on permanent loan to the museum for an initial period of 25 years. The internationally renowned Generali Foundation Collection, one of Austria’s most important corporate collections, has been setting significant accents in contemporary art with feminist, performative, and conceptual positions since the 1970s.

Current collection strategy

The current strategy for the further development of the collections of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg pays special attention to acquiring works by female artists. The aim is to undo today’s clear asymmetry in favor of male artists by achieving a greater long term balance. It is also necessary to expand the scope of the collection, which has hitherto been oriented toward Austrian, Western European, and North American art. With a few exceptions, this Eurocentric approach has not yet been subjected to critical questioning. What the American art historian Hal Foster has called the “ethnographic turn in contemporary art”—artistic strategies that draw on anthropological and ethnographic methodologies and are focused on issues of cultural difference, diversity, and representation—has so far been underrepresented in the collections of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg. The days in which what was called global art was largely white art, while other positions and associated value systems and aesthetic concepts remained excluded from the Olympus of the white cube, are over. Instead, the critical examination of the “cultural construction of whiteness” (Kobena Mercer) is on the agenda. Another focus in the collections and research program is the East-West problem in Europe; here, we examine from an artistic perspective what Europe means for us and for our identity. The aim is to explore the hybridity of the “third space” between cultures that the Indian theorist Homi K. Bhabha has described so vividly. What we need is a “polyperspectival” way of thinking that deconstructs and dissolves conventional narratives and stereotyped modes of perception. What is at stake is the human condition—the defining terms of human existence and the human as a being-in-the-world.

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