VIENNA: The "treasure chamber" at Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum has taken on a new meaning, thanks to an exhibition curated by American filmmaker Wes Anderson and illustrator and author Juman Malouf.
The pair were given free rein to assemble pieces from the museum's vast collections and archives, as well as some of its partner institutions, in order to put together the six-month show "Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures."
The opening of the exhibition Monday evening was attended by some of Anderson's perennial collaborators, including actors Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton.
Tongue firmly in cheek, 49-year-old Anderson gave a short speech describing the process of putting the exhibition together with Malouf, 43, as "the culmination of several years of patient, frustrating negotiation, bitter, angry debate, sometimes completely irrational confrontation and often Machiavellian duplicity and deception."
"Perhaps I am as guilty as she is," he added, "but I doubt it."
Even before they started working on the project in early 2015, Anderson and Malouf had been frequent visitors to the museum, which boasts one of Europe's most extensive collections of fine art.
Anyone expecting the usual didactic museum experience, centered on a historical theme for example, will be disappointed.
With labels and explanations cast aside, the visitor has the impression of stumbling into an intimate and sometimes surreal space, crammed with objects which evoke the palette and visual symmetry that Anderson fans will recall from films such as "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Moonrise Kingdom."
"It feels like the collecting chamber of an eccentric count," Jasper Sharp, the museum's curator for Modern and Contemporary Art, told AFP, "somewhere in the Czechoslovakian countryside hundreds of years ago."
Many of the pieces displayed are indeed fit to grace any aristocratic mantelpiece a delicately worked ivory sculpture of a phoenix, or a medieval games board inlaid with mother of pearl.
They have not been chosen according to traditional notions of rarity or artistic prestige. Instead, the show's eight rooms are arranged in a more intuitive way, and objects that may hitherto have been overlooked such as the tiny coffin of the show's title, made in ancient Egypt for a shrew take center stage.
"[Anderson and Malouf] curated very much with children in mind, both in the selection of objects and the manner in which they displayed them," Sharp says. "There are objects hiding high up, low down. Every time you come into the exhibition you'll see something different."
The show is the third in a series of exhibitions curated by contemporary artists part of the museum's efforts to engage with living artists and their public.
Could the museum be accused of seeking the publicity that will go with bringing in a high-profile name?
"You will always lay yourself open to the charge of making noise when you invite someone in like this," Sharp admits. "On the other hand Wes and Juman ... certainly didn't see themselves as being an instrument of fame and attention-grabbing. Very much the other way around, they saw it as a huge honor to work with the museum."
"Our hope," Sharp adds, "is that our objects develop these layers and skins of meaning through their reinterpretation."
"Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures" will run until April 28, 2019.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 08, 2018, on page 12.