PRINT October 2001


Udo Kittelmann

The fact that Udo Kittelmann—who takes over as director of Frankfurt’s Museum für Modeme Kunst (MMK) in January—was schooled as an optician rather than an art historian has not escaped the exacting eye of the German press. Upon his appointment last February, newspaper reports invariably noted the unconventional background, but any lingering doubts about credentials were altogether dispelled this summer: As commissioner for the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Kittelmann’s prescience with regard to contemporary art enjoyed a very public demonstration when Gregor Schneider went on to win the Golden Lion, the exhibition’s top prize.

Kittelmann follows founding director Jean-Christophe Ammann, who retired after ten years at the helm. The choice did not surprise the German art world, which has long respected Kittelmann’s curatorial acumen. An independent curator in the ’80s (while still writing spectacle prescriptions), he was named director of the Forum Kunst in Rottweil in 1991, and a short stint as head of the Kunstverein In Ludwigsburg preceded his current tenure as director of the Kölnischer Kunstverein. There, Kittelmann has chosen art that engages the crowds—literally. In 1996, Rirkrit Tiravanlja built a facsimile of his New York apartment in the museum and held sleepovers; last year, Michel Majerus’s muraled half-pipe transformed the exhibition hall into an arena for skateboarders. Thase works exemplify the “Ereigniskunst” (event art) that Kittelmann champions, describing its desired effect this way: “Atmosphere binds spectators to a work; aura creates distance. When the two are brought together, something else happens—first emotional, then intellectual.”

And what effects does Kittelmann hope to provoke at MMK? Exhibition plans are yet to be announced, but the soon-to-be director has promised to take advantage of Hans Hollein’s impressive building, which locals have baptized a “piece of cake” on account of its triangular shape. He also welcomes his first chance to manage a permanent collection—one that focuses exclusively on contemporary art. “The Ströher Collection, which forms the basis of the museum’s holdings, begins in the ’60s; it’s just as old as I am,” the forty-three-year-old Diisseldorf native noted. Thanks to Ammann, Kittelmann will have not only an exceptional building and collection at his disposal, but also well-stuffed coffers. Ammann recently secured additional funding from the city and initiated a corporate sponsorship program, increasing the museum’s annual budget by DM1.8 million ($831,500). Kittelmann, who has a proven flair for financing, will no doubt raise the stakes.

Jennifer Allen is an art historian based in Berlin.