Hot Museum Comes Out of Cold Storage

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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On Nov. 18, 2017, the Wende Museum will open a public venue of its very own that will have the capacity to engage with a much broader constituency and produce more cutting-edge (and unusual) collaborations with scholars and artists. Founder and director Justin Jampol is “thrilled to have the opportunity to participate more deeply in the cultural community of Southern California.” The space is imagined as a laboratory for combining historical collections and contemporary art with the aim of exploring and subverting the traditional narratives of the Cold War. If done successfully, the impact would have resonance far beyond the Cold War, especially as Cold War themes are popping up in the current political landscape.

“Doing history” cultivates essential tools for good citizenship. It involves looking at a broad spectrum of information and critically assessing it in order to formulate an informed opinion. A byproduct is a keen awareness and skepticism of timeworn political triggers, imagery and vocabulary. History also provides us with reference points for topics like walls, surveillance and espionage. Ultimately, it fosters understanding of this world and the complexities of living in it.

The programming is overseen by curator Joes Segal, who is prioritizing experimental exhibitions like a show on Cold War Hungarian Ephemera with the Getty Research Institute and a collaborative project with the Wellcome Trust in London called “The War of Nerves,” which looks like the biological process of anxiety as triggered by visual culture, aka propaganda. It follows the whole process of a person seeing a political poster, for example, the subsequent neurological-chemical reaction and what the behavioral impact is (like voting for the guy who validates your fears).

“The Museum is in a state of flux, our very own Wende (a German word meaning transformation or change),” says Jampol. “We have been around for 12 years and have collected curious people as much as artifacts. Our patrons and supporters are excited about this next phase and the prospect of reaching out to others. Once we are in the new space, which also features a sculpture garden on our one-acre mini-campus, we will be interfacing with a whole new audience, and one which might have expectations that do not align with who we are. That can be a challenge, but challenging the preconceptions of the Cold War is also what we’re all about.”

The new museum is in a special building created by the U.S. Army in 1949 to withstand a first strike from Soviet Bombs. The Armory features two above-ground bunkers complete with an atomic air filtration system. The idea was that the bombs would hit, and then the soldiers would prepare for the coming invasion by grabbing their guns and patrolling the streets. But the Soviets got the hydrogen bomb while the building was under construction and it was obsolete before it was even completed. The walls are ridiculously thick and the concrete slab was designed to hold the weight of tanks. Now, the building will be used to house artifacts and artworks from “the other side.” It all feels to be in poetic alignment.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →