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Interview | Head of Paris Musée d'Art Moderne: Estonian artists are very courageous

Fabrice Hergott, the director of the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, is visiting Estonia in connection with Tartu being the European Capital of Culture in 2024. Hergott told "Ringvaade" that he is impressed and moved by Kumu's art collection. Listen to the interview in English in the link above.

Fabrice Hergott, a museum curator and art historian, the director of the Musée d'Art Moderne, is on his first trip to Estonia. "It's really something," he said. "I'm very impressed with the [Kumu] art collection and the quality of the display, and I learned a lot. I'm a little moved by what I've seen."

"Estonian artists are very courageous, because it's not an easy story, it's not an easy time, the 20th century, and they're very sharp and they go very straight to the point," he told "Ringvaade" program on Thursday.

"You can really see that there is a message. Maybe it's a small country, but with a very strong mind, that's what comes out when I look at this collection."

But Hergott has never heard of such important Estonian artists as Kalev Mark Kostabi or Konrad Mägim he said.

"I am very, how shall I say, very sad and a little ashamed to say that I don't know these names. So I am here to learn."

Hergott began his career in the art world at a very young age, joining the Pompidou Center as a curator at the age of 23. He went on to direct the Strasbourg City Museum and is now the longtime director of the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, making him a major figure in the world of art.

Critics hailed him as a visionary. Others demanded his resignation after a particularly scandalous exhibition.

The Museum of Modern Art in Paris is the world reference and the heart of modern art in Europe. It has helped to change museums, making them more open to the contemporary reality than they were.

"We [museums] have to be very close to what is happening now. And what is happening now in Europe is the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian regime, which is something extremely violent and brings a lot of fear to a country in Europe, and we thought it would never happen again, that it was impossible. I think that reality is part of the reality of our time, and art has to deal with that," he said.

Art has an important role to play in expressing the unspeakable, he said.

"The emotion that art gives is stronger than a simple political message. I think the museum has to give space to an emotion. We are showing an emotion, and it is not a simple message. It comes through even if you are not able to formulate a thought or spell it out," he continued.

"It can be in color, it can be in proportion, it can be in a face, an object or a person. Art is a very strange thing because it can tell you things that you cannot say or read out loud, it tells you things that can really help you to be stronger in the face of new situations," he said.

Hergott's favorite artist is Otto Freundlich, a German of Jewish descent who was initially spared under the influence of Pablo Picasso but was nevertheless deported to the Majdanek concentration camp and killed.

"He was probably one of the most important and visionary artists of the first half of the 20th century," Hergott said. "His works reflect a vision, a contemporary vision of humanity, full of joy and hope. His fate was terrible, really terrible. I think he's probably the most, one of the most interesting artists I know from the last century."

Climate activists threw soup at the glass-encased Mona Lisa in Paris last Sunday. Hergott said he understood the protesters, saying it was an expression of desperation.

"Human beings killing the Earth is absolute suicide. And suicide for us, for our children. And of course we have to express the fact that it's not possible [to go on like this]. But I regret that it has to be done against art, although I also understand that it's like a form of despair. Art is one of the few remaining links to nature. And so if we destroy art, we destroy our connection to nature. So it's a little bit, it's a form of desperation," Hergott said.

"Art is not entertainment. Art is really a way to stay awake and keep your eyes open. And you have to open your eyes every morning so that every morning the world is different," he said.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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