Behind the scenes: “Up close and personal with the artist”. An interview with curator Dagmar Korbacher


As a curator for the Kupferstichkabinett, Dagmar Korbacher has a passion for prints and drawings. Her current exhibition "Arcadia - Paradise on Paper” was designed for the commemorative year "1914. Aufbruch. Weltbruch”. In the following interview, she explains the process by which an idea is transformed into an exhibition, and how the "Arcadia” of the Renaissance relates to the First World War.

Where does the idea for an exhibition come from? Does it occur to you in the shower or while jogging, or does it develop primarily within the context of your curatorial work?

It varies widely, but often my ideas come from a catchphrase I hear somewhere. Alternatively, sometimes in my work at the museum I will come across pieces that strike me as particularly well suited for an exhibition or a special topic. There is not usually one idea that I simply carry out from A to Z, but rather many different ideas - all in various stages of development - circulating at the same time. And all of these ideas have to mature before they become concrete concepts and finally solidify into an exhibition. The size of our extensive collection and work on paper’s sensitivity to light mean that our museum does not have a permanent exhibition. We are working continuously to provide a broader perspective on our unique collection through our rotating exhibitions.

Once the idea is there, what are the first concrete steps?

First of all, it’s necessary to think in a specific way about what you want to say with the exhibition, and what makes that exhibition unique. So you begin with an initial concept and then focus on selecting works, which in turn further develops and matures the concept.

Do you develop an idea alone or collaboratively, in conjunction with your colleagues?

I always find it helpful to speak with colleagues when I am developing a project. Through discussion, we reflect our thoughts back to each other and find gaps in each other’s thinking. It is particularly useful when finalising the selection of works.

What were the foundational ideas for your exhibition "Arcadia - Paradise on Paper”?

The fascinating thing about "Arcadia” is that it was wholly invented by poets; it exists only on paper. From the beginning, it was imbued with a certain longing. Therefore, the "Paradise on Paper” shown in the exhibition is even more interesting than the idea of "Arcadia” itself, because it encompasses a whole variety of artistic projections. Additionally, the historical moment at which Arcadia became a popular theme - in the decades around 1500 - coincides with a very exciting time for art on paper generally: Mythological pictures and Arcadian scenes became more accessible through the recent invention of printing, the letterpress played an important role in the dissemination of bucolic literature, and the art of drawing expanded its repertoire through a variety of forms and techniques. It is also interesting that Arcadia is so closely connected to one of the Renaissance’s central themes, the discovery of the world and its people. The artist first discovered the world with a pencil. He set out and made personal notes from the landscape. In this sense, the art of drawing is much more fundamentalto the artist than painting is. Finally, the topic provides a great opportunity to demonstrate the diversity of our wonderful collection.

How is the exhibition related to the theme of the commemorative year "1914. Aufbruch. Weltbruch”?

Our initial plan for the commemorative year was to show images of war from a span of five centuries. Then we began to consider what else might complement this idea and came to the idea of parallel worlds like Arcadia. From its earliest conception, the utopian visions of Arcadia have served as a foil for war and conflict. Arcadia was a particularly popular idea in Venice shortly after 1500, a period in which the city was not exactly experiencing a golden era. At the time, the other great powers of Europe wanted to put an end to the supremacy of the Venetian Republic, and soldiers were pillaging the mainland. Much later, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Mueller also painted Arcadian visions of bathers on Fehmarn in 1914. Although this took place in a very different context, it gave us reason to make Arcadia a part of the commemorative year "1914. Aufbruch. Weltbruch”.

Are the design and planning involved in displaying objects also part of a curator’s work?

For exhibitions with a large budget, an architect is brought in. He or she works with the curator to develop the exhibition’s design and configuration. Sometimes, as with Arcadia, we even take into consideration how the walls should be set up and what colours we should use. For Arcadia, I sketched out the basic arrangement during a train ride. This was developed into plans that were to scale, which we then used to design the exhibition space.

Are there any objects of which you are especially fond?

There are of course several, for example a drawing by Botticelli, or a piece by the relatively unknown artist Camillo Gavasetti. I am especially pleased with our large labyrinth: It is a woodcut of 0.86 x 1.20 metres, composed of nine elements. I have always thought that the work would suit the topic of Arcadia perfectly, as it depicts a garden of love with flowering hedges, with a shepherd on one side and Diana bathing with her nymphs on the other. Multiple copies are often made from woodcuts, but this one is singular; it can only be seen here. Until now, the individual sheets of paper were mounted separately. My colleagues from the conservation department have recently brought them together, and the complete work will be a centrepiece of the exhibition.

The exhibition "Arcadia - Paradise on Paper” is on view in the Kupferstichkabinett until 22 June.