I still get a kick out of deadlines!
Belvedere director Stella Rollig in conversation
Stella Rollig has been general director of the Belvedere since January 2017. Born in Vienna,
she headed the Lentos Art Museum in Linz, where she caused a sensation not only with exhibitions like “Mother of the Year” or “The Naked Man,” but also witty presentations of the permanent collection: for instance, she invited artists to design rooms based on the museum’s holdings and showed works from the Lentos depot exclusively by women artists. Rollig talked to VIENNA ART WEEK magazine about wonderful museums, people who have influenced her, and the thrill of the deadline.
Which international museum is particularly well managed in your opinion?
Stella Rollig: I was always greatly impressed by the Kunsthaus Zürich. The range of the collection is enormous. Early on in my career in art I discovered the Giacometti Room, which had a profound and formative influence on my memory. Apart from which, the museum is in great shape. In some museums every third wardrobe locker is broken; this would never happen in Zurich.
Is there anyone in the history of museum directors who has influenced you?
Stella Rollig: There are many important historic figures, like Alexander Dorner for instance, but the ones who have influenced me are from my closer environment.
Stella Rollig: When I was 17 I met the filmmaker Peter Kubelka in private circles. I heard his lectures – legendary today – and was fascinated by how he wove cultural theories out of his observations, how he related audio-visual art to cooking and other cultural techniques. Wolfgang Kos was also important; later he directed the Wien Museum. I started my career under his tutelage. The fact that someone like him, who accumulated such chaos around him – his desk was an impenetrable heap of writings and other material – could produce such brilliant results: this impressed me a great deal. Also his independence of thought.
You were working as a radio journalist at the time. Are there any experiences from that period that were important for your later career?
Stella Rollig: Perhaps the fact that everything works in the end – whether an exhibition or a radio program. Sometimes the result is grandiose, sometimes average. But I have never experienced anything to crash – a long silent period, or an empty exhibition room. And what I liked most was to write the presentation text shortly before the start of the transmission. I still get a kick out of deadlines!
You took a degree in art history and German studies. What idea did you have then of your later profession?
Stella Rollig: My main subject was German philology. I wanted to have a job that had to do with writing. I was an outsider at the institute because I chose a doctoral program; the others mainly opted for a teaching profession. The milieu was somewhat staid. Although I had grown up with art and visits to museums, I never planned this as my professional focus. But because I was bored in the German studies department and my nightlife brought me into contact with students at the University of Applied Arts, I landed in the art scene.
Do you remember visiting the Belvedere as a child?
Stella Rollig: I came here pretty often. As a child I was particularly fascinated by Kokoschka’s “Still Life with Mutton and Hyacinth”: the animal’s cadaver and next to it the beauty of the flower – it harbors a special tension of its own!
And which work have you rediscovered most recently since taking over as museum director?
Stella Rollig: Giovanni Segantini’s “The Evil Mothers.” It shares with other famous works the fate that it seems hackneyed because it’s been reproduced too often. But it is a very poignant picture that has gripped me yet again, with these female figures that flutter specter-like on the trees, or grow out of them.
What’s your take on the Vienna art scene, or artists’ scene, to be precise?
Stella Rollig: What occurs to me here is that the generations have little to do with each other. They move in different institutions and milieus. Even with me, I notice the danger of sticking to my generation.
Wouldn’t the 21er Haus be the very place to shake this up?
Stella Rollig: Medium-term we want to show an overview of the Vienna scene, which will surely provide the opportunity to do this.