Stefan Kraus is the Director of Kolumba, the museum of the collection of the Archdioceses in Cologne. This is an excerpt from an essay published in Salva Review for Theology, Spiritual Life, Culture No. 2 Year 21 (2011). It comes from a speech Kraus delivered to the Cologne Artists’ Union in 2009, who invited the director to speak on the occasion of Ash Wednesday. In the speech, Kraus discusses art from the perspective of a museum director who is concerned with spirituality and how art exists in society, within an art system which has vastly different sets of values. Here he addresses how spirituality has been dealt with in art, where it has been lacking, and how hermeneutics and language can “explain away” art, rather than encourage genuine aesthetic experiences. The text is extremely frank, and takes a tone usually tempered when one is concerned about their position within a given field.
For example, on page 157:
“Art has become, if not purely a marketing factor, nevertheless a ball tossed back and forth between curatorial whims, an object used to supply pictures for exhibitions to accompany art historical theses and thought-up themes. Please excuse my somewhat generalizing polemics here, which I only use to illustrate how so very much of what has developed in the so-called ‘art business’ as the customary and expected standard stands contrary to the actual possibilities and intentions of art.”
He goes on (pg. 158):
“In a world that views itself as an information society and in which we can only survive if we digest as much information as possible with each new day and make our decisions as quickly as possible, art is reduced to its factual aspects, to material and history, to material value, and to ranking and name.”
It is worth noting that in addition to traditional Catholic art and objects, Kolumba Museum has the largest collection of work by artist Paul Thek (1933-88).
Image caption: Paul Thek, Portable Ocean (1969). Collection of Kolumba Museum, Cologne.