posted on 06 Nov 2012 12:47 by Elena Pinto Simon
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EPS: Hello, Professor Leben. You have an interesting appointment. You are both a Visiting Professor, and a Special Exhibitions Curator. Can you start by talking a little about that?
It’s a very interesting position as it allows me to help the students gain “hands on” experience while they are doing their studies. They very much like to be involved in the process of exhibition-making, and follow-through well. It’s a bit challenging as you are standing on two feet and deal with two realities of one institution – the Exhibition side and the Academic side- which are not always easy to combine – but in the end it always works out.
EPS: You come to the world of material culture from a very interesting route. Can you talk about your own background and interests?
It must be in the genes. When I was a small child I built cardboard houses and furnished them , then I studied furniture making and now I am curator with one of the finest collections of French furniture in Europe and teach the history of European material culture at BGC – in a way I have been able to realize an aim – a dream – and my interest comes from deep inside myself. I am interested in this field because I want to know about the people who made these things and their social and cultural conditions in order to learn about how it happened that we are where we are.
EPS: The Hoentschel exhibition opens this spring. Update us on how the work is going.
We are fine – a lot of research has been accomplished – actually we found too much archival material- the object lists are done, the texts are in final editing – all is going ahead and the students with whom we worked on the project were actually all very involved and are still very engaged in the project. We are now working on the installation project and exhibition texts- the works of art have been conserved and look great – I am very excited to see the result of this big institutional effort and think it will bring new insights into a hidden treasure of NYC.
EPS: Tell us a little about some of your other areas of interest.
Furniture – and History of Materials – the interconnection of European cultures and the transatlantic connections with the USA since the 18th century — how it all came about, the age of enlightenment, and the age of nationalism and its results for the 20th century. Now more and more I look at world culture and people and think what we can do to exchange more, and communicate more directly. In this respect BGC is great – as you meet and communicate with students from parts of the world I still want to learn much more about!
EPS: As someone still relatively new to the BGC can you tell us how you feel about the mission of the school and gallery?
It’s a great idea and a very nice one, too, when you see what incredible good exhibitions have already been prepared by the BGC and the catalogues that go with them. It’s a very privileged institution to be able to do such big projects; they demand a lot of effort on every side. I think it’s a great learning opportunity for the students in every stage of these projects. In cooperation with Professor Deborah Krohn, we will propose a new class on Hoentschel and the upcoming exhibition for students who did not follow the exhibition class for the preparation of the upcoming show. We will see how we can involve a new group into this process which will go along with the last stages of its preparation. Hoentschel opens near the end of the spring term… another challenge, but I think we can turn this to an advantage, which will be a valuable experience for the students nevertheless, as they will be thinking about how to present the exhibition to the public.