Walk on the Water

- Edited by Marc-olivier Wahler Musée d’art et d’histoire de la Ville de Genève, €36 (hardcover)

Around 100 academics recently signed a petition demanding the dismissal of Musée d’art et d’histoire director Marc-olivier Wahler following, among other things, the institutio­n’s displays of ‘historical nonsense liable to mislead the public’. In Walk on the Water, Wahler argues that he is remaking the home of Switzerlan­d’s oldest art collection as a space that reflects contempora­ry ways of looking. That’s achieved, he states, via exhibition­s, and more precisely this one, the first in a series of displays that give carte blanche to a visiting personalit­y, in this case Austrian artist Jakob Lena Knebl, to reimagine the collection. In one sense this book is a manifesto; in another a record. Through both Wahler seeks to present curating as a creative act. ‘The more displays are adjusted,’ he proclaims, ‘the more the interpreta­tions are multiplied.’ Before mentioning that mediums and profilers (performing the role of curators) are among the figures on his revolution­ary hitlist.

Knebl has a track record of mingling contempora­ry with historical works. She uses humour and seduction to remove the distance that defines encounters with the objects in museums. Her ‘’“ display includes a nineteenth-century plaster sculpture of Venus at Her Bath (Jean-jacques Pradier) placed in a shower cubicle, while a blown-up print of a man in bathing trunks from Henri-edmond Cross’s pointillis­t painting The Ballaster (1908) appears to leer through the screens. Paintings (dealing with nature) are hung on the walls of garden sheds; a colossal statue of Ramses smirks in a velvet-lined bedroom. The exhibition’s title refers to a 1444 altarpiece by Konrad Witz (featuring Jesus walking on Lake Geneva) and a song by British metal band Deep Purple (recorded by the lake in Montreux). Which is why, reflecting the spirit of the exhibition, the catalogue includes an interview with barefoot water-skier Laurent Albisati. Also present is Jorge Luis Borges’s short story ‘There Are More Things’ (1975), about a man’s encounter with objects with which he thinks he is familiar, but turn out to be the stu¡ of nightmares. The point according to Knebl is to find out whether your response to the new is to run away or find out more. Nirmala Devi

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