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As director of the Kunsthalle Bern from 1985 to 1997, Ulrich Loock had a reputation for showing the right artists at the right time. His exhibitions with Michael Asher, Matthew Barney, Robert Gober, and Raymond Pettibon are only a few of those that made a lasting mark on the Swiss art scene. Last September, Loock moved to the directorship of the Kunst-museum in Lucerne, where, in two years' time, he will inaugurate its new Jean Nouvel-designed space. There he will be responsible for a permanent collection that dates from the sixteenth century, which he hopes to present in a new light by confronting it with works of the latest contemporary art.

ELIZABETH JANUS: How will you inaugurate the Kunstmuseum's new building?

ULRICH LOOCK: The exhibition for the museum's inauguration is still in the early planning stages, so I can't give too many concrete detains. However, I do know that I'll attempt to define a relationship between the museum's permanent collection and specific works of contemporary art. This could mean inviting one or several artists to intervene directly in the museum and its collection of historic works, or creating nuclei of objects that are not necessarily grouped according to chronology, and that hopefully will facilitate unexpected encounters. I should also say that though there will be pressure on me to bring a lot of people into a new, signature building, I don't intend to make accessibility to a general public a primary concern. Rather, I'll make every effort to provoke people's curiosity about work they may not have thought interested them. As it stands, the museum's permanent collection is rather fragmented and uneven. It was formed, for the most part, by periodic donations or by acquiring one piece from an exhibition that the museum organized by an individual artist.

EJ: What about the interim period?

UL: In February and March I put together a show of photographs by James Welling in an old industrial building on the outskirts of Lucerne. I will be using this "Zwischen-Raum" or in-between space until the end of 1999. After Welling, we'll have a collaborative video installation by Thomas Struth and Klaus vom Bruch, then in May a two-day festival of dance and performance art, and in the summer, we'll show the last photographs taken by the Swiss artist Hannah Villiger, who died last year.

EJ: Almost every major Swiss city has its own Kunsthalle, and those in Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Zurich art, internationally known and respected for giving many younger and lesser-known artists major solo exhibitions. What were the advantages and disadvantages in running such an institution, and why do you think that Switzerland has so many?

UL: The purpose of a Kunsthalle is to make new discoveries. The obvious advantage of this is that one is able to take risks: to work with artists who are either young or unknown, and to give them a certain visibility by publishing what is often their first catalogue. On the other hand, the emphasis on discovery often precludes one from working again with a favorite artist, and makes it impossible to present the evolution of his or her work. At the Kunstmuseum I look forward to having a more ongoing relationship with certain artists. I am not quite sure why Switzerland has an abundance of such well-known institutions. One of my theories is that because it is such a small country, in the center of Europe and without its own natural resources, it has become a nation of mediators. Since this is obviously true where financial matters are concerned, perhaps it is also true of culture.

EJ: You studied art in Karlsruhe and Dusseldorf and then art history, before becoming a curator. Has your training as an artist had any effect on you as a curator and, if so, in what way?

UL: Yes, definitely. I have, so to speak, grown up with artists. 1 have had the great fortune to have been a student alongside or at least in the same environment as Harald Klingelholler, Thomas Struth,Thomas Schutte, and Reinhard Mucha, among others. This gives me a head start on other curators because I have known the work of these artists from the beginning. But 1 also think that if one has some experience as an artist, one develops a different attitude toward art objects themselves, and this knowledge will inevitably affect the way art is presented. But these things also change from generation to generation. For example, I often find it difficult to understand artists who are, say, twenty-five or thirty years old, particularly those using computers, video, and the Internet. For me, it is an art very much based on information and research, without getting one's hands dirty, whereas the generation of artists that I feel close to tends to work in three dimensions, or at least in more physical ways. This, of course, doesn't mean that I'm not interested in younger artists' discourse.

EJ: Has the fact that you are German rather than Swiss had any effect on your work here?

UL: There are some alliances my Swiss colleagues have with local artists that I don't, but obviously there are also a number of Swiss artists whom I like to defend whether I have (already) worked with them or not, such as Adrian Schiess, Silvia Bachli, Marie-Jose Burki, Dieter Roth, Franz Gertsch (who are more international than Swiss), and Hannah Villiger, among others, but on the whole I have never limited my looking geographically. And for the most part I have found the working environment here very welcoming.

Elizabeth Janus is a Geneva-based critic and freelance curator. Translated from the German by David Jacobson.
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Title Annotation:interview with art museum director Ulrich Loock
Author:Janus, Elizabeth
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Interview
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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