Nouveau Musée National de Monaco

Björn Dahlström:contemporary resonances

Björn Dahlström took over as director of the NMNM in April 2021, in the middle of the health crisis. Here he talks about his vision for the museum, and upcoming exhibitions.

Björn Dahlström: “The visual arts can enter a dialogue with other disciplines”.

What approach have you been developing at the NMMN since you became its director?
I intend to pursue Marie-Claude Beaud’s strategy, taking into account the Monegasque context. Here, we have a collection, a geographical and human context, with a population of 40,000 inhabitants of which 30,000 are foreign nationals. The museum’s current form, which comprises Villa Sauber and, since 2010, Villa Paloma, is quite recent, and we are carrying out in-depth work with local members of the general public and school students to spark their interest in creativity and explain to younger generations how a collection is put together. I am also interested in this location on the Mediterranean, so in 2021 we presented the exhibition Monaco-Alexandria, which focused on other narratives that are not Euro-centric. Contemporary creation must take into account global problems. Artists such as Mark Dion and Michel Blazy, whose work is in our collections, examine our relationship to nature. The exhibition Tremblements in early 2022 presented works that reflected contemporary issues such as gender and racial tensions with the artist Arthur Jafa. I believe that Monaco should be a forum for asking questions.

Vue d’exposition Tremblements. Robe réalisée pour le film Body Double 35 de Brice Dellsperger, 2017. Imprimés originaux de Marc-Camille Chaimowicz. Robe en coton imprimé et satin, jupon et ceinture, 129 x 55 cm. Body Double 35, 2017. Film 2K, format 16:9 letterbox, fichier ProRes 422, couleur, son. Avec François Chaignaud. Imprimés des robes par M.-C. Chaimowicz 4 min. 38 sec., en boucle. © Collection NMNM / Brice Dellsperger

Tell us more about the museum’s collections and its interest in contemporary artists.
We work in a limited area so we have to managed a variety of collections. We are in charge of almost 10,000 works in total, including heritage pieces such as the 19 th-century paintings, and dolls and automatons from the Madeleine de Galéa collection. Since 2002 the museum has also kept nearly 400 set design maquettes and 4,000 costumes deposited by the Société des Bains de Mer. The first step in their conservation was to recondition them, restore them if necessary, and preserve them following strict protocols. I am keenly aware of these issues because I managed the Berber Museum in Marrakesh, followed by the Musée Yves Saint Laurent. We have presented works from these holdings in exhibitions on Léon Bakst, Eugène Frey and many others. We also regularly invite artists to work on this collection, such as Latifa Echakhch, who was inspired by details from the paper models designed by Alphonse Visconti and the collection of automatons. This summer’s exhibition dedicated to Jean Cocteau is a dialogue with the photographs of Mauro Restiffe. The collection also includes nearly 1,000 contemporary works of art.

Vue d’exposition Monaco-Alexandrie, le grand détour. Léonor Fini, Masques de théâtre, s.d. Collections de S.A.S. le Prince de Monaco. © Collection NMNM / Andrea Rossetti, 2021

Besides showcasing local heritage and international creativity, what are the other highlights in the upcoming programme?
We’re aiming to offer more entry points, for example with the first edition of the Winter Video Days programme from 16 December to 15 January, featuring three videos by Turkish artist Ali Kazma. Then, from March to October, Villa Paloma will host an exhibition on George Condo, part of a generation of artists who, alongside Keith Haring and Basquiat, shook up figurative art. This highly sought-after American artist has taken a shine to Monaco. After designing a proscenium stage curtain for the Ballets de Monte-Carlo at the Opéra Garnier, he went on to produce the costumes and scenery for Opus 40 by Jean-Christophe Maillot. A sculpture by Condo, who is represented by Hauser and Wirth gallery, will also be on display in the spaces of the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. The idea behind this exhibition is to show how the visual arts can enter a dialogue with other disciplines, for instance with the Ballets Russes in their era.

by Tanja Stojanov