Philipp Kaiser is a man of vision. This year Art Basel chose him to direct the Public sector, following in the footsteps of Nicholas Baume. He tells AMA about how to organize a city-wide show with some of the best living artists, about the changing dynamics of the art world, and the challenges and opportunities unique to Miami Beach.
Kaiser has had many different roles throughout his career and for many years he worked on the institutional side of things. He was the Director of Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, the Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Curator of Contemporary and Modern art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Basel, Switzerland. In that capacity, he worked with many of the most influential artists of the past half century, and put together a string of exhibitions that still have people talking today, such as the monumental “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974.” More recently, Kaiser has been working as an independent curator and in that capacity he has had the chance to work more directly with gallerists, and to examine how art intersects with the public outside the walls of museums. Earlier this year he accepted the challenge of curating the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It was the first time Swiss artists were chosen by an independent curator rather than being nominated. Following that success, his current undertaking is to curate Public, the public art side of Art Basel Miami 2017.
Public is always one of the most dynamic, exciting elements of Art Basel Miami. What is your vision for Public 2017?
I titled it “Territorial” because I felt it is interesting that one of the ontological qualities of sculpture is territorial. Sculpture always claims space. It doesn’t just sit there, it transforms a site. I found it important to have this land-claiming theme running as a loose thread throughout the show, therefore, I wanted “Territorial” to be more site responsive.
There are 11 artworks in the show…
Yes. One of the key pieces is going to be a reinvention of an earlier Daniel Buren piece that originally was exhibited in 1982 for documenta 7. It’s critical but beautiful. We will reinstall his works in the heart of Collins Park, right in front of the Bass Museum. The Ugo Rondinone sculpture is permanently installed in the park and it felt crucial to respond to its presence.
What was your experience with Art Basel public prior to being installed as this year’s director?
I have been going to Art Basel Miami since the very beginning. I remember the first year it was cancelled because of 9/11, but I’ve been going on a regular basis since 2002. I was very happy to be asked to curate Public as I’ve always felt it’s essential for an art fair to have a less commercial section where art can be integrated into the environment. Collins Park, right in front of the Bass Museum is an ideal platform for this effort.
Public art by its nature is less commercial than work being sold inside a fair, but some items from Public have sold in the past.
Yes, that is always part of it. For example Glenn Kaino’s Invisible Man found a new home last year. Nonetheless, most projects are for sale. It is usually the gallery who has to cover the costs. When you look back over the history of art fairs, there is a famous one called Prospect that started in Düsseldorf in 1968. They invited the most cutting edge international galleries to present a small selection of pieces by a single artist and created this interesting hybrid between a fair and a thematic exhibition. Every year at Prospect they focused on a different thematic or media specific aspect. I feel Public is rooted in the same tradition and therefore offers interesting perspectives beyond the commercial realm. This is probably also the reason that all the artists I contacted and I am working with were very enthusiastic about “Territorial”. The exhibitions in Collins Park also have an educational component and engage to a certain degree with the community.
Are there any other works in Public 2017 that you are particularly excited about?
The French artist Noël Dolla of Supports/Surfaces. He is realizing a new environment based on his late 1960’s work. I’ve always been impressed by how he tried to contextualize and expand painting in the landscape and so now he will be creating a vast, magical forest environment for us.
How did you collaborate with the artists? Through galleries?
Some galleries did submit proposals. But as a curator I also approached certain galleries. This was the case – for example – for the Daniel Buren piece. Some artists did travel to see the park and the location. There’s a Cyprien Gaillard video piece that will play in the rotunda that talks about displacement and territorial shifts and addresses the refugee crisis that is going on in Europe in a metaphorical way. But less than half of the artists actually visited the site. Nowadays with digital media, Google Earth and computer programs like SketchUp, it has become much easier to get a sense of place without doing a physical site inspection.
The artists you have chosen are from multiple generations, but all are so relevant to the present moment. Was the choice to represent multiple generations intentional?
Thank you for noticing that! Yes, I feel it is more about attitudes than generations. For public art, it is mostly the site that dictates what makes sense. Some of these artists are the perfect voices for this moment. Daniel Buren is a prominent figure in Europe, but to my surprise, he is still underrepresented in the United States. He has been around for more than 50 years and is crucial to our understanding of institutional critique and conceptual practice, and I am extremely happy to have him in Collins Park.
Usually bands also perform at Public. It has kind of a party atmosphere. What is your plan for the performance aspect of Public this year?
I didn’t want to put performances in between the artworks. So instead of having multiple bands playing, I decided to invite Jim Shaw to do one major performance. Jim has played with his best friend Mike Kelley in the legendary band Destroy All Monsters and has been working on a prog-rock opera for more than ten years. So, I’ve invited him to premier his opera, which is titled The Rinse Cycle, and he is going to present the first two acts with his band, D’red D’warf in the SoundScape Park (at New World Center, a few blocks south of Collins Park) on Wednesday.
Has this experience brought anything into focus for you about the differences between independent curating and working in an institutional capacity for a museum?
I have to say what’s really interesting about freelancing is that you can work on multiple levels at the same time. In an institution you often have to serve a given format and schedule. I’m glad I have had the opportunity to work in different positions and different countries; it is really amazing to be forced to change your point of view with every new project.