Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator: The way I see it: artists on politics


Does art make a difference?
Yes, in the sense that it very often anticipates things. That is the case for Picasso’s Guernica, for instance. Even though it is a work that was made to comment on a specific war, it is an enduring manifesto for peace.

Does money corrupt an artist?
Art can never be reduced to money because it examines and reflects other worlds and other realities. Great artists have always been free spirits and very independent minds, even if some of them are deemed valuable by the art market. The connection between art and money cannot be denied, but ultimately money and power are transitory phenomena.

Is your art for the many or the few?
I have always believed in Gilbert and George’s idea of “art for all”. It is central to our philosophy at the Serpentine Gallery to offer free admission. As a curator, my work is to make artistic endeavours public.

Which artist do you most admire, and why?
Among the artists that I admire most is the Italian Alighiero Boetti, by whom I am greatly inspired and from whom I have learned so much. He was one of the first artists to truly understand globalisation and its inherent possibilities and dangers. Meeting him when I was 18 was an incredibly important experience for me. He told me, back then, that as an artist you are always doing exhibitions in galleries and museums, but there are many other things you would like to do which, perhaps, artists are not supposed to do – such as exhibitions in spaces such as trains and planes. This conversation opened a door for me.

Where do you work best?
I have definitely found that, for writing, I work best in the Swiss valley of Sils-Maria, where Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra. The oxygen there is very different because of the high altitude, and somehow I think and write better there.
London is a great place for curating because it is an extraordinary city where all roads seem to come together. Ultimately, I feel I work best in between geographies.
If you were world leader, what would be your first law?
It would definitely be that war should not exist. As Yoko Ono has always said, we are supposed to be producers of peace and not producers of war.

What would you censor?
Censorship is an interesting subject that frequently comes up in my conversations with artists when we talk about unrealised projects. Many good projects and many good books are never realised because of fear and self-censorship. So, I would censor self-censorship.

What would you legalise?
I would make it a legal requirement that all broadcasting services must give something like 10 or 20 per cent of airtime to art.

Are we all doomed?
I am an extremely optimistic person. Historically, this is a very difficult moment that could make us all pessimistic, but it makes me even more optimistic. All big narratives have to collapse: communism, capitalism and all the systems that have failed. But even when it seems that what is going to be next is a kind of vacuum, there will always be space for someone to come up with new ideas.


from The New Statesman.

Published 12 February 2009