Tiana Wilhelm: ‘Art creates awareness’ | The latest news from Zutphen and Warnsveld

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“I always think it’s a shame when people say that a museum is not for them because they – in their own words – ‘don’t understand art’. You never hear that when you talk about enjoying nature. It’s apparently quite possible, even if you can’t tell a birch from an oak,” says Tiana Wilhelm, “you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy and be moved by what you see in a museum.”

Tiana Wilhelm has been director of the Zutphen museums for almost fifteen years: Stedelijk Museum Zutphen and Museum Henriette Polak. She will retire at the end of this year.

By Jolien Wilmar

“It’s quite exciting to stop,” she says, “I work full-time, but even on days off my thoughts go to the museums’ topicality, because they are open seven days a week. It will be strange not to be involved in it anymore.”

To move into another
“I was taught at home that family and friends are the most important thing. Fortunately, I have more time for that now. In addition, there was a lot of attention to spirituality, history and culture. My parents, my father in particular, stimulated our – I have a younger brother and sister – interests through his own broad interests. He actively gave us information and made it attractive through his enthusiasm. He once woke me up as a kid because there was a Fred Astaire movie on TV and he wanted to show me how well he could dance.

My parents gave me a sense of spirituality without being religious themselves. As a child I went to mass on my own. I couldn’t quite tell you why, maybe to understand the elusiveness? I am grateful for what my parents have given me. Faith and art and culture are ways for me to relate to myself, other people and the world and to gain understanding and insight. Literature, film, visual arts, but certainly also history give you the opportunity to move into other lives, cultures and times. You must be able to learn – theoretically – from history, and art must create awareness. Both fuel curiosity and an eagerness to learn. At least that’s how it works for me.” Laughing: “That’s why I also love Google and YouTube, when you search, you meander through all sorts of interesting areas that you didn’t search for beforehand, but found anyway.”

New home
“When I became director of the Zutphen Museerne at the beginning of 2008, my main goal was to realize shared housing for both museums. An extensive and patient-demanding job, at the same time that I am actually not very patient and from my previous work as a consultant and interim manager I was used to fast processes. However, this project required a long-term commitment and a long-term commitment, but I did not expect that it would take more than nine years before we could open the doors to our new location, Hof van Heeckeren at ‘s Gravenhof. Various factors played a role in this: a fierce dispute over a previously planned location, administrative changes and – when we finally started building – also the monumental status of the building and the square. ‘s Gravenhof is an archaeological national monument, and it also determined what was and was not possible. Add a monumental tree in the museum garden and you have a fun puzzle for everyone involved. A beautiful book has been written about that.”

VIP Tour of Acquisitions
“The beauty of medium-sized museums is that, as a director, you are not only involved in the management, but also close to the content. Our exhibition program is, in any case, teamwork. Together we have made more than a hundred exhibitions in these fifteen years, in a number of which I was more closely involved as a compiler or initiator.”

When Tiana talks about exhibiting the permanent collections and showing loans, the penny drops for me. I’ve always thought that a permanent collection is a collection that doesn’t change so it’s on permanent display, but Tiana says that what you see at the museum is only the tip of the iceberg. “We administer the extensive municipal collections. For example, the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Zutphen consists of 530,000 pictures and objects, and the collection of the Museum Henriette Polak includes more than 2,500 works of art. We draw on our depots for our collection presentations and exhibitions, but we also make a lot of use of loans.”

In the farewell exhibition ‘Nothing is lost’ Tiana shows her personal selection from the hundreds of acquisitions from her leadership period. Until the departure, she gives a free VIP tour every first Wednesday of the month and tells the stories behind the objects she has chosen. You can register for this via Registrations@museazutphen.nl.

There was one room that Tiana was not allowed to enter until the opening of it ‘Nothing is lost’. There, her team made a special collection presentation under the name ‘Let’s go’. A parting gift that they thought: we can make Tiana happy and surprise with this. On the website it says: ‘You see the loveliest, biggest, sweetest, most beautiful and perhaps also the oldest dogs at the Stedelijk Museum Zutphen and Museum Henriette Polak. With this exhibition, we pay tribute to Tiana with one of her great loves: the dog!’ Tiana points to the drawing ‘Dog’ by Jacqueline Overberg and says: “I only knew this fantastic drawing from the collection book, because it is not an easy work to show because of its size and vulnerability. I think it’s very sweet that my team also got me this huge puppy from the depot.”

Too bad she’s leaving. But what she leaves behind is fantastic: two museums that complement each other under the same roof in the oldest place in Zutphen, a wonderful place for meetings, lectures, workshops, a cup of coffee with cake and a museum shop that is also open on Sundays .

We hope to see Tiana often at ‘her’ museums, because it will feel that way for a while. Although she herself says: “The Zutphen museums belong to you, the inhabitants of Zutphen, for everyone who wants to enjoy or is looking for inspiration.”

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