OnCurating supports the artistic engagement of for you and your cus to mers with curators from ZHdK
Ronald Kolb (left) and Dorothee Richter. The minds behind OnCurating and the Postgraduate Programme in Curating at ZHdK.
Since its founding ten years ago, foryouandyourcustomers has continuously presented art at its 14 locations; with 44 exhibitions thus far, art fundamentally shapes the company’s corporate identity. Since foryouandyourcustomers is growing with new locations worldwide, the company is blazing new trails in curating art, supported by a partnership with the Postgraduate Programme in Curating at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) and in close collaboration with the students of Prof. Dorothee Richter and Ronald Kolb. In a conversation with Jonathan Moeller, we learn how this partnership came about and what we can expect from this collaboration.
While foryouandyourcustomers supports OnCurating and ZHdK, you in turn support the company by finding curators for foryouandyourcustomers locations like Amsterdam or Melbourne from your international pool of students. Were you surprised by the idea Jonathan proposed to you and what ultimately made you agree to the partnership?
Jonathan saw a spark of innovation in our course, and the idea of collaboration surprised but also quickly excited us. In principle, collaboration between companies and art curators is somewhat mainstream. Insurance firms or banks have long worked with art consultants, who mostly work in dual roles as curators.
“What is special about the partnership with foryouandyourcustomers is that we have the opportunity to promote and support young, up-and-coming curators through true collaboration and development in both professional and personal areas.“
But in these situations, the art is primarily procured for collection and seen as an investment with appreciating value. What is special about the partnership with foryouandyourcustomers is that we have the opportunity to promote and support young, up-and-coming curators through true collaboration and development in both professional and personal areas. Ronald and I find these facets quite brilliant.
That and, of course, the exciting corporate concept behind it. At every foryouandyourcustomers location, art is embedded into people’s day-to-day work, in offices that have to remain functional and are not the same as galleries or art houses – and yet the art still has a prominent place there. Taking these aspects into account and connecting them with art, developing and cultivating these spaces in collaboration with the artists and in consultation with foryouandyourcustomers pose both a challenge and an opportunity all in one for our students. In this respect, this partnership offers us something rather unique.
Question: Jonathan Moeller, you were quickly able to convince the Head of Study for Curating to agree to a collaboration…
…and it is wonderful what has taken place in recent weeks. Dorothee and Ronald found Ana Vujic, Anna Konstantinova and Ella Kriwanek for the Amsterdam, Melbourne and Stuttgart locations – talented graduates and students of the MAS Curating programme, who enrich our journey with art and the art with us through their dedication, their new ideas and their wealth of knowledge.
As a company undergoing strong growth, this is an important foundation for being able to present engaging contemporary art at all locations. Although they are not as visible, curators are more fundamental to the process than the artists. They are the ones who find the artists and work with them to create each exhibition. They create moments. They create spaces that surprise us, that we would never have dreamed of ourselves. That’s why this partnership is a godsend and an exciting experiment for us.
The MAS Curating programme at ZHdK is unique throughout Switzerland due to its approach to teaching, or rather, the way in which knowledge is imparted. Since it started in 2005, it has globally become a highly subscribed postgraduate programme. What do you think makes it so special?
A curator is often still seen as a gatekeeper, as the person deciding an artist’s fate, picking and choosing who will appear in an exhibition. This hierarchical element is thrust upon the curators by many artists themselves, and we are trying to break with this stereotypical image in our programme.
“Talented graduates and students of the MAS Curating programme, who enrich our journey with art and the art with us through their dedication, their new ideas and their wealth of knowledge.“
As we see it, contemporary curating is not a one-man show. It is more an exchange of knowledge, the willingness of the curator, the artist, the institution hosting the exhibition and the visitors to all cooperate. In our programme, we try to explore all this multifaceted complexity and convey that to the students.
We are interested in partnership. We are interested, as Ronald put it, in cooperation, in that aspect where everyone contributes their own different fields of knowledge and skills. We want to create platforms and collaborate there. The specific configuration of formats and works, each in a specific historical context, is what we see as the core of curating. You could say that curating is like producing a film: different people play different roles, but ultimately what makes the film a success or a flop is how well they all worked together. We have also been working intensively on cultivating international partnerships. Last year, for example, we worked with the Bucharest Biennial and the Taipei Biennial, with the Migros Museum and Tai Kwun Museum in Hong Kong. Our international network is certainly one-of-a-kind.
Ronald Kolb at the opening of Small Projects for Coming Communities, Stuttgart, 2018.
When you work with a trained curator, the result is just on another level. Curators have broad theoretical knowledge, which is also based on social and societal issues. This makes our students stand out from someone who is not a professional, but instead fell into the role of curator because of a friendship or through a relationship. And our students have greater background knowledge, more experience with the international art landscape, they are better informed and have more in-depth knowledge about the different art scenes.
Another unique aspect of the programme is that we work very closely with the OnCurating Journal, which covers curating in theory and practice. www.on-curating.org The English-language magazine has an international readership and different publishers oversee the individual magazine issues. The approximately 100,000 visitors to the website per month confirm the international relevance of this digital platform. Printed copies of the magazine issues can also be purchased.
What criteria should a potential curator for foryouandyourcustomers meet?
When it came to the curators we’ve chosen thus far for foryouandyourcustomers – two students and one graduate – we considered where these individuals were in their professional and personal development, whether they had a good feeling for the space, whether there was a large network of artists as local as possible for their work at the location in question. We considered whether they were capable of utilising an office as an exhibition space (and possibly even going against the grain) and whether they would be interested in entering into a discourse with the company.
We know our students very well and know who is suitable for this type of task and who might be interested.
Let’s take, for example, the curator Ella Kriwanek. She graduated from the MAS Curating programme two years ago and has organised exhibitions in Johannesburg, Tokyo and Zurich, to name a few locations. She may be young, but she is a curator capable of creating very beautiful, very precise shows that are simply extremely well curated. And her cultural background alone makes better visibility in Australia a fantastic thing for her: she comes from Melbourne and will now be curating the first exhibition for foryouandyourcustomers in Melbourne.
How does a partnership between one of the world’s largest art universities and foryouandyourcustomers work in practice?
Jonathan tells us the location for which he would like to have a curator’s assistance. Then we choose potential candidates from our pool of current students and graduates. We approach them with the opportunity. If they are interested – and thus far we’ve never received a “no” – then they present us with a shortlist of potential artists. We discuss the results and then present them to Jonathan. If we all agree, then comes the implementation stage. We carefully inspect the spaces in advance, such as the office in Stuttgart. Our curators receive photos of the spaces along with floor plans, they work with the artist to find the right works for that specific space, or the artist creates works specially for the space.
“As we see it, contemporary curating is not a one-man show. It is more an exchange of knowledge, the willingness of the curator, the artist, the institution hosting the exhibition and the visitors to all cooperate.“
The curators are also on site when the works are installed, of course. We start this process together, but we are very certain that the artists will respond with extreme interest, that the works will not only deliver great aesthetic qualities in each case but will also present new and exciting perspectives.
You both choose the curators, who then suggest artists to you. There must be organisational possibilities to consider here as well.
We organise everything with the young curators: which artists will be considered for the spaces in question, whose work fits with the context in terms of its content or form. Someone who is at the start of their career or an artist at the midpoint of their career who catches our eye. It’s not part of our overall concept to approach artists who are exhibiting or have already exhibited their works in large collections or at big events. We look for artists whose works are currently getting more attention, works that sort of play off something in the room. Artists whose works are gaining in relevance. In any case I am already 100% certain that the employees and customers of foryouandyourcustomers will be impressed. I also think it is a very special opportunity for the employees to be able to get to know art this way and even collect it.
The book Corporate Philosophy and Art by Robert Josef Stadler.
Just how strong of a role art plays in shaping the corporate philosophy of foryouandyourcustomers can be seen in the book Corporate Philosophy and Art by Robert Josef Stadler. The book contains pictures of the works of 58 artists, written pieces about the opening of previous foryouandyourcustomers exhibitions and chapters entitled “The present”, “Mature employees”, “Values, attitude and maturity” and “Integral corporate philosophy”. Like training a muscle, perseverance and community spirit – that is, willpower and a supportive network – are required on the journey to developing as a human being. This book is an instrument for that purpose, both for employees and companies.