Das Schubladenmuseum
The Museum of Drawers

von / by Herbert Distel

About the Museum of Drawers

Certainly inspired by Marcel Duchamp's "La Boîte-en-Valise" of 1941, I had the idea in 1970 to make a Museum of Drawers with contemporary art, that is, with the art of the 1960s and 1970s: with 500 works, as it were, an artwork mosaic of 500 artists as a Zeitgeist image. A museum in its medial function, or, as the English art historian James Putman wrote, "The Museum as Medium," and, as seen in Kynaston McShine's farewell exhibition in 1999 at MoMA in New York, "The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect".

The 'building' as a container for this museum, which I titled Museum of Drawers or also Schubladenmuseum, is a disused sewing silk bobbin box from a haberdashery. It contains 20 drawers, each with 25 small spaces - originally just for the different colors of sewing silk rolls - each of which measures 43 x 57 x 48 millimeters. For these 500 small rooms, I asked 500 artists to make one original work each and give it to me free of charge. After seven years, in 1977, the museum was 'filled' and it could go on tour: among others documenta 5 (here still as 'work in process'), the Venice and São Paulo Biennials, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, LAICA in Los Angeles, ICA in London and MoMA in New York.

The Museum of Drawers as a whole stands on the 501st work, a metal base made for it by the American artist Ed Kienholz. At the Kunsthaus Zurich, to which I gave the small museum, created with the support of the Julius Baer Foundation, among others, as a gift in 1979.

Herbert Distel 2021

BBC guided tour of the MOD

On the occasion of the 1979 London the Museum of Drawers exhibition at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art), the BBC produced a 9-minute television film in which Herbert Distel guides visitors through a selection of the 500 rooms in this museum. Thanks to the novel bluebox technique, he discusses interesting details there in front of individual works, and in some of these tiny rooms he gathered museum visitors who listen to the artists, also ever present, talking about their work.

The interactive Museum of Drawers

Based on the Museum of Drawers by Herbert Distel, Jeremie Maret and Christian Weber expanded the work with the Interactive Museum of Drawers. The original of the Museum of Drawers, a sewing silk bobbin box from an old mercerie store, presents in 500 small rooms (43 x 57 x 48mm) a wide variety of miniature works; mostly made by the artists in the 1960s and 1970s especially for the Museum of Drawers.

Christian Weber is a media artist and owner of the agency Plasma Design GmbH, Zurich.

Jeremie Maret is a media artist and owner of The Proposal gallery.

Hans Ueli Siegenthaler – Christian Weber – Jeremie Maret – Herbert Distel

Restoration 2010

With the kind support of Bank Julius Baer & Co. AG, the drawer museum in the Kunsthaus was restored in 2010.