The Great Museum

"Excellent"

The Great Museum Review


A fly-on-the-wall documentary about the backstage workings of an Austrian museum doesn't sound very exciting, but this film is a gift to any art lover. Packed with gorgeous artwork and fascinating people, it gently explores the passion and tenacity of museum staff from the director to the cleaner. And watching them work is surprisingly riveting, especially as they assemble a priceless collection that has been out of view for a decade.

Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum is the home of Austria's national treasures, a wealth of paintings, artefacts, clothing and jewellery by the finest artists throughout history. And the staff has a huge project underway, rebuilding the Kunstkammer, a collection of exquisite pieces that have been stored in the cavernous basement while the building was being renovated. Marketing teams debate advertising concepts and plan for the grand opening in the presence of the country's president. Restoration experts touch up paintings, repair mechanisms and polish precious metals. Builders lay flooring and electric wiring. Workers move paintings and items with painstaking care. All as the big day inexorably approaches.

Without any voiceover narration or on-screen titles, director Johannes Holzhausen simply observes these people at work, including hilarious moments of decision-making (director Paul Frey can't stand how a 3 looks in the font used for an advert). These conversations are caught almost accidentally, as restorers debate how to fix a damaged canvas or swear quietly to themselves when something goes wrong. And by observing these various people at work, a larger image of the museum staff as a single unit begins to come into focus. It may be rather dry, with no background music and little in the way of dominant characters, but there's a driving pulse to the film as everyone works together to get the Kunstkammer, a museum within the museum, ready for the opening ceremony.

There are all kinds of fascinating people along the way, including an archivist who rides a scooter through the labyrinthine corridors, a family donating their patriarch's vintage military uniform, guides being trained to meet the public, exterminators examining traps for signs of moths and even a visit to an auction house. Like the startlingly endless basement archives, these are sides of a museum we rarely get to see. And Holzhausen continually drops in moments of wit like dusting a naked statue or "operating" on a polar bear rug. So in the end it's impossible to watch this film without gaining respect for these dedicated people who spend so much time thinking about how to fix a work of art and display it for maximum impact.



Facts and Figures

Genre: Documentaries

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Johannes Holzhausen

Producer: Johannes Rosenberger

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