For a documentary with a no-nonsense title, no music and subtitles you’d be forgiven for not holding out much hope, but The Great Museum is well worth 94 minutes of your film viewing life.
Austrian director Johannes Holzhausen has delivered an engrossing and detailed study of work at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. He spans the full catalogue of jobs from conserving paintings, to arranging hangings and attending auctions.
The museum artefacts are elegant and impressive and so is the humble dignity and precision with which employees attend to these objects, from dusting down the groin area of a marble statue to checking security features on press night.
Mostly the dialogue is sparse allowing the objects to speak for themselves in all their splendour. At other times, insightful. You witness an art historian and a conservator discuss a Reubens painting like it’s a detective investigation and there’s humour too – a soon to retire curator likens the museum’s brand guidelines to toothpaste.
Close-up shots allow for an appreciation of minutiae detailing of the objects and wide-angle views show the majesty of the museum, its halls, ceilings and corridors.
More than a documentary, The Great Museum is a meditation. It’s a must-see if you are considering museum work and an education if you never guessed at the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and before you get to stand face to face with the exhibits.
The review first appeared on Vulture Hound.