Text: Dr. Elke Backes, Photos: Natascha Romboy
Anybody travelling in the Rhineland and visiting the upcoming artists exhibitions, is very likely to have come across his name. Whether the Antichambre in the Hotel Friends in Düsseldorf, Malkastenpark, MMIII Kunstverein Mönchengladbach, Quartier am Hafen Köln or Krefeld Kunstverein, you will find: Curated by Wilko Austermann.
Above left: Malte Bruns (Malkastenpark Düsseldorf); above right: Hugo Lami (Antichambre/Hotel Friends Düsseldorf); below left.: Christian Theiss (Kunstverein Krefeld); below right.: From Oral to Aural over Cereal to Serial (Quartier am Hafen Köln).
What exactly does a curator do? Or, to put it more accurately: How does Wilko Austermann personally define his responsibilities?
We meet at MMIII Kunstverein Mönchengladbach, where he uses the example of Yoana Tuzharova’s Plasma soil exhibition, that he conceptualised, to talk about his main ideas. It becomes immediately obvious, that here we have a classic case of being able to differentiate between profession and vocation.
“The architecture of this old industrial building is simply sensational for responding artistically to the space. As far as the Kunstverein is concerned, we can experiment to our heart’s content, thus continuously rising to new challenges”, Austermann enthuses right at the start of the meeting. “My suggestion, not to pause the program over the winter, but to use the time to present video and light works, found a positive response. When I discovered the light sculptures by Yona Tuzharova at the academy walk-about in Münster, I immediately thought of this place and contacted her.”
In conversation with Wilko Austermann in MMIII Kunstverein in Mönchengladbach.
E.B.: Which takes us to the first important function of a curator: the selection or discovery of artists. How did your network come about and where are you travelling to expand it?
Austermann: I travel mostly in North Rhine Westphalia because I live in Düsseldorf. But many international contacts were made during the time of my semesters abroad in Rome and Leeds and during my internship in Naples. These lead to completely different projects.
Irrespective of where I happen to be, I make contact with the art scene, because, to me, this is a marvellous way to get to know the culture of a town or country.
E.B.: Are there certain events which you attend regularly?
Austermann: The walk-abouts in the academies in Düsseldorf and Münster, the Academy of Media Arts Cologne and the Folkwang University of Arts in Essen are just as much part of my diary as the exhibition openings of all the different galleries and museums.
E.B.: And do you often develop concrete ideas at these occasions – as, for instance, at this exhibition by Yoana Tuzharova?
Austermann: Yes, particularly when I suddenly discover thematic connections to other artists and the idea of a group exhibition begins to form. From a curator’s point of view, I always find that exciting and challenging.
Austermann: Because my concept demands to convey exactly that content-related connection in the presentation, which I saw in it. Or, to put it differently, to use the presentation to invite a dialogue, which makes the re-questioning of the presented works possible.
E.B.: To what extent does the exhibition venue influence the concept?
Austermann: The architecture and sense of space have a decisive influence on the concept. It is not by chance, that this exhibition is being developed by Yoana, taking the site specifics into account. For instance, this light sculpture hangs not without reason at right angles to this part of the room. The work invites the viewer to look at its formal construction from the side while being able to perceive the many different light reflections. All in all, the work plays with geometric shapes and light and darkness, which combines architecture and art and allows the rooms to appear literally in a new light. This holistic communication approach is always important to me in my exhibition concepts.
Wilko Austermann explains the details of the light sculptures by Yoana Tuzharova.
E.B.: What are your responsibilities other than the presentation?
Austermann: A text about the exhibition and artist needs to be compiled, the opening speech prepared and delivered, and then, of course, all the public relations work and the social media.
E.B.: Am I correct in thinking that social media marketing and communication now form a new part of a curator’s responsibilities?
Austermann: Definitely for me. But it is also a valuable new tool for me to discover and directly communicate with new artists – also in the international field. The same applies in the opposite direction. I get many enquiries from artists who approach me with concrete ideas for projects. I feel this is a fabulous new network tool that, on top of it all, enables me to draw attention to exhibitions via short videos and also to open a live conversation with the audience. I simply love the direct exchange about art!
Wilko Austermann during his Palastgespräche at the Kunstpalast Museum in Düsseldorf.
E.B.: Do you work exclusively as a freelance curator?
Austermann: No. Since the beginning of this year, I am permanently employed as the curator of Museum Haus Opherdicke in the Unna District. I prepared the “FACE TO FACE” exhibition there – portraits from the “Frank Brabant & Gäste” Collection. To be able to work with such a high-quality collection is simply phenomenal. Juxtaposing works of the classic modern period with contemporary works I was able to the show the development of portrait painting and also the influence of the classic modern period on contemporary art. That really made my art historian’s heartbeat faster.
E.B.: Presumably, with this exhibition, you fell back again on artists in your network?
Austermann: Well, sure. That’s inevitable. The community is growing [laughs]. After, all, I do want to contribute to their art being shown and therefore promoted. Or, to put it differently, that added value is created to their art via my exhibitions.
This answer too made his eyes shine. There is no mistaking Wilko Austermann’s passion where providing artists with an exciting stage is concerned.
And how does he answer the final question about his responsibilities as a curator?
Networking, exchanges on art, nonstop travels of discovery, are the essential part of his responsibilities. After all, these inspirations form the basis of ideas for his exhibitions.
In the next step, the idea becomes a concept, for which he brings artists and exciting exhibition venues into dialogue, with the guiding idea of the holistic communication approach; he then coordinates and accompanies the set-up, before it is finally a matter of communicating the new insights gained through the concept and attracting as many visitors as possible.
If you would like to know more: Simply subscribe to his Instagram account and visit his next exhibition. It’s worth it!