I met the curator of the 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art Juan A. Gaitán after his talk at the Kunsthalle Wien to find out more about the upcoming 8th Berlin Biennale and his opinion on the contemporary art scene in Berlin.
Kristina Kulakova: Why shouldn’t one miss the Berlin Biennale?
Juan A. Gaitán: This 8th Berlin Biennale will ask people to go to places in Berlin that are normally not visited and in terms of the experience of the city it is a very interesting thing to engage in. As for the exhibition itself, the works are just fantastic, and everyone should see them installed and not in the form of the magazine. Europe has an amazing advantage over the rest of the world: You can easily go and see a show in another country. I feel that it is our responsibility to go to biennales that are close by and see the exhibitions.
KK: What are your expectations for this Berlin Biennale?
JG: I guess my highest expectation is that whatever is said about it will be said after seeing the exhibition and having thought about it and not based on the preconceived emotions of the curator or someone else.
KK: You commissioned 45 new works for this Berlin Biennale and the opening is one month. Are all of them ready? Are you satisfied with the result?
JG: Of course, I am satisfied, it was me who selected the artists (laughs). Not all of them are finished, but I know in what stage each of them is, and I like all of them.
KK: Were there any disappointments?
JG: An exhibition cannot be perfect. There’s this idea that a football team should have all of the best players in the world, but when you put them together, people realize this actually sucks and they cannot play together. The point of an exhibition is not to have perfectly finished, polished artworks; there has to be some room for a little bit of uncertainty in the process.
KK: What kind of art interests you? What draws your attention?
JG: Each project kind of brings along its own works, and at the same time works generate other projects. I think I’m drawn more to practices that are really based on discovering something; even when they are monotonous, there is a search, there is a compulsion, and it is continued to the point where you start to feel that whatever strategies there might be, they are outside of the work and not part of it anymore. I am definitely not drawn to works about the artist him or herself. I don’t think art should be it’s own subject.
KK: In one interview you said that it is not your role to attract new audiences. Why?
JG: I didn’t say it is not my job to attract new audiences. I said that it is not the starting point, or it shouldn’t be. If you start by thinking about how many people are going to come to your show and then do the exhibition, what’s the point? On the other hand, not everybody needs to like contemporary art. So firstly, in fact, we speak to an existing group, which might expand and contract and shift, but it’s completely absurd to expect that contemporary art will all of a sudden become a mass movement. For me it is not interesting to think about the public as a missionary act of indigenizing people in foreign lands (converting people to contemporary art). I don’t think this is how we should approach things.
KK: What is your opinion on the contemporary art scene in Berlin?
JG: I would say that there are several art scenes and sometimes they don’t even overlap. It’s not like everyone is there at the opening at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art or at the Neue Nationalgalerie. There are different groups and I think you cannot really have an opinion on “the” art scene. There are too many things going on for one person to follow them, and there is room for everything. I think that it is healthy.
KK: What do you find striking about Berlin?
JG: The dreadful city planning and the absence of meaningful architecture.
KK: What do you think should change about Vienna?
JG: Vienna has many amazing facets. But people treat them in a very orthodox and protective way. If they would just get over it and start understanding that we are no longer in the 19th century, maybe it could actually be a fascinating city for contemporary art. The same thing is happening now in Berlin; they want to do something similar there and rebuild heritage, which is totally shocking to me. Let’s say that Vienna is the model for Berlin. Maybe that’s why Berliners don’t really like Vienna – they can never aspire to be Vienna, although they wish they could.
KK: Who defines art history?
JG: It really depends on who is sponsoring it. Take the Mona Lisa and the Blue Rider paintings for example: They didn’t become famous just because they are great; there is a lot of interest behind it. The other day we were at the panel discussion with Matthias Mühling, and he explained to people: “Each museum wants an iconic painting because it brings the cash.” So they make efforts that such a painting becomes iconic. It is a matter of choice. Contemporary art has not entered that history yet. Because its public is not everybody, that’s the difference. The public of Guernica is everyone, Mona Lisa, everyone – this is not true for contemporary artists, not even the ones from the 50s. Maybe Pollock is the only one – but even he is not for everyone – because none of his works have arrived at the state of uncriticizablility or the state where it is impossible to harm it anymore.
8. Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art
The 8th Berlin Biennale brings together a range of international artistic positions that explore the intersection between larger historical narratives and individuals’ lives. The majority of the participating artists have produced new works for the exhibition, which proposes new perspectives on the facets of and relations in history. It spans four distinct venues in western Berlin and Berlin-Mitte—Haus am Waldsee, Museen Dahlem – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, and Crash Pad c/o KW. The exhibition is on view from May 29 until August 3, 2014.