“The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas”

by Nandia Foteini Vlachou


While the idea of having an established artist curate an exhibition – or, rather, create an exhibition – sounds fascinating, one has to wonder about the limitations of this approach. Probably meant as a draw to younger (or other than the usual) audiences of the Kunsthistorisches, the exhibition “The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas” is the result of the choices made by Edward Ruscha, invited by the museum especially for this purpose. Although the juxtaposition of items dating from different periods, executed in diverse media, and coming from collections as wildly diverging as the Gemäldegalerie, or the Natural History Museum, can indeed be refreshing, eschewing traditional categorizations and inviting viewers to a re-appreciation (and re-contextualization) of the objects and artworks presented, the ramifications of the individual’s choice are worth considering here. What ultimately validates this particular choice and arrangement, its raison d’être and justification, is the individual responsible for it. In a culture that glorifies authorship (despite the claims about the death of the author, he – less often, she – is more alive than ever, as our copyright obsessed culture testifies), presenting to the public an exhibition that seems to have been conceived first and foremost as a door to the creative mind of an artist, reinforces assumptions about the importance and centrality of said authorship. Can we escape such assumptions? Are the objects and their history more important than their creators? Or, are the stories that we weave around them less pertinent than the story-teller himself?