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Germany’s only Museum of Folk Art is about to be reopened

Invitation to a press conference
at 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18 November 2010, Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst, Jägerhof, Köpckestraße 1, Dresden

Prof. Dr. Martin Roth, Director-General of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Dr. Igor Jenzen, Director of the Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst mit Puppentheatersammlung

At the end of the Jubilee Year 2010, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden has another reopening to look forward to. In the Jägerhof the Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst mit Puppentheatersammlung (Museum of Saxon Folk Art with Puppet Theatre Collection) will be opening its doors again as of 27 November 2010. Thanks to the sum of about 1.5 million Euros provided out of the Federal Government’s economic stimulus package, it has been possible to thoroughly restore and modernise the Jägerhof, including optimising its energy efficiency and making it accessible to disabled people. Despite being simultaneously responsible for several building sites of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the public enterprise Sächsisches Immobilien- und Baumanagement has once again done an excellent job in record time on behalf of the Saxon State Ministry of Finances.

After a period of closure lasting about ten months it is not only the building that now presents itself in a new guise, however. The need for fundamental modernisation induced Dr. Igor Jenzen, Director of the Museum since 2004, to carefully modernise the concept behind the exhibition whilst paying due respect to the museum’s traditions. The new presentation of the collection starts in the basement with an explanation of what folk art is. For this purpose, the exhibition first examines its roots, which lie in the period of the applied arts movement before 1900. Hence, in the basement the visitor learns what Oskar Seyffert, Professor at the Kunstgewerbeschule Dresden, painter and founder of the museum, understood by this term. He saw folk art as a counter-concept to applied arts, which had fallen into disrepute, and he initiated an approach that was totally revolutionary at the time. A separate section of the exhibition is dedicated to him. A complete room from an ‘Umgebindehaus’ (‘bound house’), arranged on the basis of original photos taken by Oskar Seyffert, illustrates his art of creating picturesque room collages.

The exhibition goes on to look at different aspects of the wide spectrum of folk art, ranging from simple handicrafts and the typical products of Saxon domestic industry, through to the skills of traditional needlework and craftsmanship, down to individual endeavours to beautify everyday objects. The regional identity of folk art is demonstrated by considering the example of Saxon pottery and examining its specific technical and stylistic features as well as the characteristics of the market and the particular guild.

Death, love and faith are traditionally the most important inspirations for folk art. The highlight of this section of the exhibition is a mechanical puppet theatre from the first half of the 19th century, which now for the first time can be presented in its entirety and whose seven scenes arranged in a semi-circle show the Passion of Christ. This mechanical marvel with its highly dramatic movements takes us back to the time before the invention of film, when there were various attempts at reproducing life by means of mechanical devices.

The section of the exhibition on the 1st floor, which was refurbished in 2006, will remain in its present form. As previously in the collection on the first floor and in the Puppet Theatre Collection in the attic, curious children can now find a Children’s Trail with various hands-on, experimental and play activities on the ground floor, too. The Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst regards itself not only as a poetic place for lovers and tourists but, above all, as a lively family museum. As such, it encourages visitors to take the initiative, to adopt a “do-it-yourself” approach, which in a time of pre-fabricated solutions for non-existent problems can be wonderfully subversive.

Whereas after the Second World War the concept of folk art in the Federal Republic of (West) Germany withered into insignificance, the GDR filled the old theme with a new content. Under Socialism, folk art was regarded as the art of the working class and as proof of that class’s cultural competence. Consequently, courses in carving, painting and lace-making were organised in which skilled artists provided thorough instruction in the various techniques and conveyed sound knowledge about art, irrespective of the ideological slant, which was sometimes clearly articulated, sometimes less so. It is this good-quality teaching that explains why in the eastern federal states of Germany it is taken for granted that the concept of folk art is a recognised and respected variant of the art and culture scene. The “do-it-yourself” principle, which in GDR times was often enough simply a case of making a virtue out of necessity, for example because it was simply impossible to obtain professionally made Nutcracker figures from the Ore Mountains, had – and still has – the potential to initiate a new form of creativity which may either be an end in itself or may attract a viewing audience. A particularly stimulating section of the new exhibition is devoted to this variant of the broad concept of folk art, which is known as autodidactic art.

The Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst is Germany’s only museum of folk art. It was founded by Oskar Seyffert in 1896 and was opened in the Jägerhof in 1913. The Jägerhof also houses one of the world’s largest puppet theatre collections. The Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst mit Puppentheatersammlung is a special pearl in the chain of institutions that make up the world-famous Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and one which can now be discovered anew.

Before the Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst is festively decorated – as it is every year – for the Christmas season, we should like to invite you, Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, to visit the rejuvenated museum. We should therefore like to extend a sincere invitation for you to attend the press conference and as always we should be grateful if you could let us know beforehand whether you are able to come.

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