»Museum Matters«

Is the museum a collective reservoir of knowledge or a platform for experimentation? White cube or workshop? Architectural icon or forum for interactive communication?

There have long been a variety of notions, theories and utopias about the museum – an institution that has itself changed again and again over the course of its history. It is not least of all artists who continually investigate this public venue of imagery and the experience of the same, this space that oscillates between opposites such as history and future, boom and crisis. On the one hand, museums have traditionally served artists as means of training and sometimes as studios. On the other hand, – in their art and manifestos alike – artists have persistently attacked museums, critically addressed their supposed neutrality and objectivity and questioned their gestures of showing, for example from a feminist, anti-racist or anti-colonial perspective.

Entitled »Museum Matters«, the current Videobox series concentrates on works by emerging and established artists and filmmakers addressing the theme of the museum. Pursuing documentary, experimental, essayistic or narrative approaches, they explore museums, their policies, presentations and forms of mediation with the aim of exposing the conditions of collections and provoking alternative forms of archives.

»Museum Matters« is supported by:

Programm Videobox »Museum Matters«

5.9. to 29.10.2017
Jem Cohen
»Museum Matters«

For Johann, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is his workplace. For Anne it is a place of refuge. There the museum attendant and the visitor from Montreal meet. She is in Vienna because of her cousin, who is in a coma. Without money or any familiarity with the city, Anne seeks respite in the museum, drifts through galleries featuring works by Bruegel and Cranach, immerses herself in stories of the Crucifixion or the Fall of Man. After an initial tentative conversation, they get to know each other, and are soon exploring the art together, and then also unknown aspects of their own lives and unknown parts of Vienna.

Yet this plot is merely a loose pretext for Jem Cohen's non-love film "Museum Hours", which is actually about the museum. It is from there that the protagonists set out for their explorations of the city - to the Naschmarkt or to bars you only know of if you're a local -, always returning to the museum after every adventure. For an entire ten oppressive minutes, for example, the film insists in taking us along on a guided tour of the museum. For Cohen, art is less an agent than a prism for Johann's and Anne's conversation topics such as death, sex, history, theology and materialism and how these matters manifest themselves in their lives. Within this context, Cohen is particularly fascinated with Bruegel's world landscapes, which bear a resemblance to his own documentary-style shots of the city streets.

The constantly progressing flow of calm scenes merges fiction, documentation and essay in the manner typical of Cohen's works. Again and again, reality makes its way into his film, for example in the form of circumstances adopted from the career biographies of his lay actors. Chance also participates in the film's making. The walls of the museum separating it from the street and life outside are thick. With "Museum Hours", however, Cohen succeeds in making them more porous.


1962         born in Kabul, Afghanistan, lives in New York.

His films are screened at international festivals, are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and are broadcast on BBC, PBS, ZDF/Arte and Sundance Channel.


Whitechapel Gallery, Barbican, Hackney Picturehouse, London; NFT London; Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (BAFICI); Gijon Film Festival; Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen.

Films (selection)

Counting (2015); Gravity Hill Newsreels (2011/2012); Crossing Paths With Luce Vigo (2010); Night Scene New York (2009); NYC Weights and Measures (2005); Chain (2004); Chain V Three (2002); Little Flags (2000); Amber City (1999); Blood Orange Sky (1999); Lost Book Found (1997); Nightswimming (1994); Just Hold Still (1989), Witness (1986); A Road in Florida (1984); Buried in Light (1993).

JEM COHEN »Museum Hours«, 2012, HD-Video, Farbe, Ton
JEM COHEN »Museum Hours«, 2012, HD-Video, Farbe, Ton
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