Interview date: May 2021 @ Gen de Art
For anyone looking for a more immediate Olympic experience, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne is the perfect place to visit and relive great sporting moments of the past. Founded on June 23rd 1993, the Olympic Museum is an architectural masterpiece, surrounded by the beautiful grounds of the Olympic Park. The museum houses over 10,000 artefacts related to the Olympic Games, from its ancient beginnings right up until today’s breath-taking spectacles. It is the largest archive in the world dedicated to this ultimate sporting experience. Highlights include a display of Olympic torches, as well as a fascinating video documenting major moments in the history of Olympic Games opening ceremonies.
But The Olympic Museum is about more than just its collection, it is about an idea: Olympism. In addition to three sprawling floors of engaging and interactive permanent and temporary exhibitions, The Olympic Museum offers diverse education and cultural programmes as well. Just like the Games themselves, the museum brings together people of all ages and from all walks of life to experience and learn about the history of this significant event.
The Olympic Games have never been only about sport; The Olympic Museum’s aim is to let people discover the Olympic Movement’s essential contribution to society, culture and (and, yes, sport) throughout history. These Olympic values bring us together as one global society, and extend way beyond the Games.
Angelita Teo is Director of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH). She leads the management of the Olympic Museum, Olympic Studies Centre, International Cultural Affairs Unit and Heritage Unit. Here, she tells us all about the cultural and societal importance of the Olympic Games.
The confluence of culture, art and sport was present even during the Ancient Olympics, especially during the tributes to deities, but what is their current relationship in the modern Olympic Movement? What is the purpose of art and culture in contemporary Olympism?
This relationship between arts, culture and sport has stood the test of time for a reason. In ancient Greece, art and sport were considered key to human wellbeing. The idea was to achieve harmony by exercising both, the body and the mind.
When Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympics, he advocated a strong alliance “among athletes, artists, and spectators”. Coubertin had a vision of blending arts and literature with sport to ensure the greatness of the Olympic Games. Seven editions of the Olympic Games from 1912 to 1948, included Olympic events in painting, sculpture, literature, music and architecture.
In later years, the art competitions were discontinued, but the International Olympic Committee urged each Organising Committee to create an art and culture programme to complement the sport competition. This started with a fine arts exhibition at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. Since then, cultural programmes that showcase local, national and international culture, foster cross-cultural dialogue, and celebrate Olympic values, are a key part of the Olympic celebrations.
The IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 also recommends 'the blending of sport and culture at the Olympic Games’ which has led to the development of an artists-in-residence programme during the Games. At the 2016 Games in Rio, for the first time, contemporary artist JR, writer Tilman Spengler and digital artist Gerald Andal were commissioned by the IOC to produce new works during the Games. This was followed by Argentine conceptual artist Leandro Erlich who created a large-scale installation and performance that marked the Youth Olympic Games 2018 in Buenos Aires.
Every edition of the Olympic Games has an indisputable and profound cultural impact on the host nation and global society at large. The Games bring the world together in an unparalleled manner, becoming a diverse display of cultures. This can open new perspectives on fundamental Olympic principles to new audiences, and allow development of long-term legacy projects.
The Olympic Charter defines the Olympic Games as the convergence of sports, culture and education. Thus, Olympism is not just about sport; it is a philosophy of life, and the blending of sport with arts, culture and education is an integral part of this philosophy.
In what way does the contemporary architecture and design of The Olympic Museum correlate to the Olympic Movement? What message does The Olympic Museum convey about Olympism?
The architecture of The Olympic Museum is inspired by Ancient Greece, both conceptually and architecturally. The columns in front of the main entrance pay homage to Greek temples and the marble of the façade was sourced directly from the island of Thanos. The resulting feeling is one that reminds the visitor of the origins of the Games, at ancient Olympia. With the fire burning in front of the building, the five Olympic rings and the statue of Pierre de Coubertin, The Olympic Museum reflects the origins of the Olympic Movement. Even the lush greenery and striking vegetation of the park are curated. Careful thought has gone into the landscaping, with many plant species of Mediterranean origin.
At the same time, The Olympic Museum is also a contemporary architectural masterpiece. The centrepiece roof is inspired by Sverre Fehn's Nordic pavilion at the Venice Biennale (1958-1962) and consists of a joist of ultra-high-performance fibre-reinforced concrete (UHPC) slats forming a sunshade and metal beams with slits between them that allow light to filter through. When the Museum was restored in 2012-2013, it marked the first time that a UHPC structure of such proportions was built in Switzerland.
Overall, the architecture and design are a synthesis of the Olympic Museum’s mission: to tell the story of the past to build the future. One must visit in person to truly experience it!
There are many celebrated sculptures in the gardens of The Olympic Museum. Which of them do you think represents the concept of Olympism the best, in your opinion? Why?
There are in fact, two groups of sculptures at the Olympic Museum; those that are directly a depiction of sport or athletes, and those that are related to the values important to Olympism.
The ‘Lotura’ by Spanish Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida is a special one. It does not refer to sport directly, but to the environment. The artist forged iron to allow the material to expand and contract naturally, and the meaning of the word ‘Lotura’ is union. This work reminds us that Olympism is also engaged in field of environmental sustainability and works actively towards making a difference for a better world.
However, I cannot say that any one sculpture represents Olympism the best as each work of art in the Museum and its grounds has symbolic values and represent different aspects of Olympism.
The Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture at the entrance of the museum stands out thanks to its unconventional body representation and colours. What was the reason behind commissioning this work to welcome visitors to The Olympic Museum?
When the work was originally commissioned, the artist came personally to the Museum to discuss the installation. At the beginning it was not at the entrance. We had it first installed on a terrace near the TOM Café, on one of the upper floors near the North entrance to the Museum.
However, during the renovation of the Museum in 2013, it was decided that this sculpture merited more visibility, and it was then moved to its current location in front of the Museum entrance. Its lively colours and dynamism never fail to welcome visitors in a very engaging manner. For the Museum, it was an opportunity to represent a team sport, namely football, as well as diversity, with both the figures representing different ethnic origins. This colourful polyester resin creation is certainly one of the most unique works of art on the Olympic Museum’s grounds.
What is the biggest impact of the pandemic on the Olympic community? Would you like to share any messages or insights about Olympism with our reader, with regards to how to weather the storm of the pandemic?
The pandemic has impacted the entire world, and the Olympic community is no different. A survey conducted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in May last year revealed that managing mental health and sports careers were the biggest challenges faced by athletes during these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While speaking at a World Health Organization (WHO) seminar recently, IOC President Thomas Bach reiterated his call for governments around the world to include sport and physical activity in their COVID-19 recovery programmes. I would underscore that and add that we must work together towards building healthier societies. The Olympic Movement is all about being stronger together and moving past this pandemic with solidarity.
Olympic Foundation Director Angelita Teo has extensive experience in museum management, having worked on the renovation of several galleries and initiated many innovative digital experiences. Prior to taking charge of the Olympic Foundation, she was based in Singapore where she was Senior Director at the National Heritage Board. Before this, she worked as Director of Singapore’s National Museum for seven years. Teo is also responsible for three of Singapore’s largest festivals: the Singapore Heritage Festival, the Singapore Night Festival and Children’s Season. At the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage, Teo is leading the foundation’s move towards further digitalisation and innovation, all the while keeping heritage, history, arts, culture, and education at the heart of the Olympic movement.