Art can be a solitary craft, but for inspiring masterpieces to reach us, they need to go through many hands.
“A museum director I invited here raised his glass at dinner, and toasted ‘to Vienna, the best-kept secret in Europe!’ I love that and I hate it. There’s no reason it should be a secret.”
Although he comes from a family of diplomats, Briton Jasper Sharp came to Vienna – like many expats – for love. He’s now married to his Austrian sweetheart. Altogether, he attributes the circumstance to “a bit of serendipity.”
Given the devotion the 42-year-old Brit has put into transforming the Austrian art scene since he arrived in 2006, we should consider ourselves the lucky ones.
At the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Sharp has helped to mine the potential of one of the greatest historical art collections in the world through projects that reveal its treasures in a new light. One upcoming exhibition, The Shape of Time, sets out to bridge the gap between where the collection ends, around 1800, and the present day by presenting a series of works covering the period in between.
“Museums based on royal collections like ours often come to a grinding halt at a certain moment in history,” Sharp said. “But we’re still living, and every moment we live, we move further away.”
In another program, he invites interesting personalities to plumb the museum’s archives and freely “curate” their own exhibition. Joining the ranks of artist Ed Ruscha and author Edmund de Waal, film director Wes Anderson and his wife Juman Malouf will be bringing fresh eyes to the next installment.
Novelty, changing context, new voices. So, what is “curating,” actually? Sharp is keenly aware of the malleability of the term. He cites the Latin origin of the word “curare,” which means “to care for.”
As in any nurturing role, there’s the complicated paradox of the need to protect but also to set free, and Sharp has skillfully navigated this fine line. When he compares the experiences at the Kunsthistorisches Museum of having the luxury to contemplate a painting in relative solitude to that of straining “over six shoulders to get a glimpse of a work” in crowded venues in London, he is torn.
“Part of me is wearing my museum hat saying, ‘I wish my museum was that full,’ but another part of me really enjoys the fact that here, you can still really look at a painting.”
“Yeah,” he mused. “It’s a conundrum.”