the figure of a man sitting backwards on a horse demonstrates that looking backwards is part of looking forwards, that what will come is connected to what was.‘holbein to tillmans’ is on show at the schaulager in basel, switzerland 4th april – 4th october 2009

imagine that dozens of works leave their everyday lives for a time, removed for several months from the traditional arrangement of the museum and placed somewhere unfamiliar to them. at schaulager, they find a very special kind of accommodation. the concept of the exhibition holbein to tillmans is based on consciously choosing to look at selected paintings, no matter whether they are old or new, with today’s eyes. from this contemporary perspective, unexpected connections between paintings emerge and reveal that certain themes and questions can become topical again and again.

'holbein to tillmans' exhibition at schaulagerrodney graham, ‘allegory of folly: study for an equestrian monument in the form of a wind vane’, 2005 lightbox, two parts, each: 306 x 141 x 18 cm © rodney graham photo: tom bisig, basel

prominent guests from the kunsmuseum basel – approximately two hundred works from the kunstmuseum basel, together with others from the emanuel hoffmann foundation and private collections, have left their familiar surroundings for a time and found a home at schaulager. a large store of images, each of which was chosen for its own sake – hand selected, explicitly desired, considered particularly beautiful, particularly attractive or particularly mysterious.

'holbein to tillmans' exhibition at schaulagerdetail

'holbein to tillmans' exhibition at schaulagerdetail

released from the museum’s ordering system, these images can be seen in a different light at schaulager. some of them have been preserved for the exhibition as still unpolished raw material, only roughly sorted. spread out on a monumental wall, the pictures hang next to, beneath or above one another, as an enticing treasure for the imagination. this wall provides the framework for the interior spaces of the exhibition. the other, larger group of resettled works are installed as a coherent installation in these interior spaces. the connections are, however, not produced based on the model of a classical museum hanging. rather, the result was a different, new narrative, or better: an essay of pictures. it evolved, image by image, by means of diverse and unexpected relationships and numerous dialogue that ensued between the works, until finally the essay ‘holbein to tillmans’ took shape.

'holbein to tillmans' exhibition at schaulagerwolfgang tillmans, ‘anders pulling splinter from his foot’, 2004

hanging at the entrance to the exhibition is the monumental light box ‘allegory of folly’ by the canadian artist rodney graham. sitting on a mechanical horse once used to train jockeys is a man, the artist himself, dressed in old-fashioned clothing: a coat with fur trim. he is sitting backwards on the horse and engrossed in reading a thick book. the image alludes to a portrait by hans holbein the younger depicting erasmus of rotterdam, the author of the famous treatise ‘praise of folly’ as a half-length figure in profile. ‘allegory of folly’ acts as a kind of guide to the exhibition. the juxtaposition of a work from the sixteenth century and a large-format black and white photograph from 2005 demonstrates exemplarily that old does not necessarily mean past; rather, an old painting seen with today’s eyes can suddenly become contemporary again.

'holbein to tillmans' exhibition at schaulagersebastian stoskopff, ‘zuber mit karpfen, glutherd mit artischocke und grünspechte’, 1928. photo: kunstmuseum basel, martin p. bühler

schaulager is neither a museum nor a traditional warehouse. it is first and foremost a response to old and new needs for the storage of works of the visual arts. it dispenses with box storage and transforms the anterooms of the exhibition halls into autonomous facilities, independent of museums, with their own specific qualities and functions. art that is not exhibited is normally stored in crates, inaccessible for research or teaching. schaulager, by contrast, is an open warehouse that creates the optimal spatial and climatic conditions for preserving works of art. schaulager thus fills the gap between traditional museum work and the offerings of universities and, as the only institution of its kind in the world, opens up completely new perspectives and possibilities for approaching works of the visual arts.