In February 2018, Stephanie Rosenthal was named new director of the Martin-Gropius-Bau, and anyone who enters this historic Berlin structure today will be amazed by the light that now streams through the airy rooms and the courtyard. That is how Stephanie Rosenthal likes space to be, so she had the partition walls taken out and the sticky foil taken off the window panes; the courtyard is now freely accessible and the restaurant and bookshop have been reopened after a make-over.

 

Recently, we met up with Stephanie Rosenthal, recently appointed jury president for the 58th Venice Bieannale, to find out how a comfortable bench in a museum can change the way we consume works of art.

 

Ms. Rosenthal, the "Rendezvous with the Garden of Earthly Delights" is an exhibition which aims to persuade visitors to spend time with the painting. What will having a comfortable seating option opposite the picture change for its viewers?

I've spent a considerable amount of time working on choreography over the years and, on the basis of this experience, have reached the conclusion that sitting down makes a big difference in how art is approached.

Our hope, of course, is that visitors to our exhibition respond to the invitation and take a seat opposite the image, taking the time to enter into an intimate dialogue with it. There really is something unique about being able to discover the countless details in this 1535 masterpiece in such comfort.

 

So what does having a "comfortable museum bench" mean for the Gropius building?

What is particularly important to us is the conversations these works of art allow us to have, and I am of the opinion that where and how we sit down has a lot to do with how we talk and, above all, what we talk about.

We pay a lot of attention to detail here - and what you very quickly realise is that each and every detail contributes to allowing us to approach art in a deeper, more reflective way. What we don't want is for people to come to visit us and then leave talking about the next thing they want to buy; rather, we want them to walk out talking about something substantial. Furniture is an ideal way of achieving this - and I think this exhibition makes that very clear.

 

Do you think that this idea of taking more time to do things is something topical?

I certainly do! Exhibitions should have lasting effects, and the new restaurant, Beba, the bookshop, and our cooperation with Freifrau can all be traced back to us asking ourselves have we can make sure our visitors feel an "afterglow" after visiting our exhibition - and look forward to taking the discussion further.

 

Is a "comfortable museum bench" a concept with a future?

What we sit on has always been an important issue, and I think it is important to create moments with help from furniture. Exhibitions are always choreographed in one way or another and provide quick, intensive experiences as well as calm and tranquillity. Furniture can help to reinforce the feeling of these moments, so the shape and style of furniture is crucial.

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