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Kunsthaus Zürich

Herbert Distel

Herbert Distel’s Schubladenmuseum (Museum of Drawers)

Between 1970 and 1977 the Swiss artist Herbert Distel worked on his Schubladenmuseum, a collection of miniature contemporary artworks. It is also known as «Le Musée en Tiroirs» and the «Museum of Drawers». The work has been in possession of the Kunsthaus Zürich since 1979, when it was donated to the gallery by the artist and the Julius Baer Foundation.

The conservation and restoration of the Schubladenmuseum, which will take place on the occasion of the Kunsthaus’s one hundredth anniversary, will be funded by Bank Julius Baer.

Herbert Distel’s Schubladenmuseum is often referred to as the world’s smallest modern art museum. And while this statement could be disputed, the Schubladenmuseum certainly brings together – in a very small space – an extraordinary diversity of artworks, artists and art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and it thus provides an overview of art from this period.

The Schubladenmuseum contains 500 miniature objects by over 500 different artists. Those artworks are on display in the drawers of a cabinet that had previously been used for storing reels of sewing silk in a haberdashery shop. The wooden cabinet measures 186cm in height, 37.5cm in width and 38.5cm in depth. Its 20 glass-fronted drawers each contain 25 compartments of equal size, namely 4.3cm in height, 5.7cm in width and 4.8cm in depth. Most of the miniature objects were made especially for the Schubladenmuseum in the 1970s, with each work fitting into a single compartment. The contributions vary considerably in terms of form, the materials used and the production techniques employed, as well as the subject matter itself. They reflect various approaches to the theme of ‘scale’. In addition to the miniature objects themselves, Ed Kienholz’s metal ‘Base to the Museum of Drawers’ (1974) serves as the 501st contribution to the Schubladenmuseum. Some of the correspondence between Distel and the artists involved is likewise always on display together with the other components of the Schubladenmuseum. Further correspondence is held in the Kunsthaus archives.

Almost 40 years have elapsed since Distel started work on the Schubladenmuseum, and some of the miniature objects it contains are now in a poor state of preservation due to the deterioration of materials and/or mechanical damage (e.g. damage in transit). The authority and expressiveness of the artwork is thus at risk of being undermined. In collaboration with Bern University of the Arts’ Department of Conservation and Restoration, a project was initiated for the purpose of conserving and restoring the Schubladenmuseum. Financial support from the Julius Bär Foundation means that this project can now go ahead. The artwork will be exhibited at the premises of Bank Julius Baer upon completion of the conservation and restoration project in October 2010.

Conservation and restoration project

«The Schubladenmuseum» by Herbert Distel (1970–1977), with its Kunsthaus Zürich inventory number: 1979/18.
«The Schubladenmuseum» by Herbert Distel (1970–1977), with its Kunsthaus Zürich inventory number: 1979/18.
Drawer number six gives some indication of the wide diversity of materials employed for the miniature objects. Diagonal view from above.
Drawer number six gives some indication of the wide diversity of materials employed for the miniature objects. Diagonal view from above.
Example of an untitled miniature object (1975) by Fernando Botero, watercolour on paper
© Fernand Botero 2010
Example of an untitled miniature object (1975) by Fernando Botero, watercolour on paper
© Fernand Botero 2010