‘I have a deep mistrust in theory’
Interview with Tim Voss

Issue no3
June - July 2020
Troebele waters

Meet Tim Voss, brand new director of W139. He talks about his career, the new programme of ‘the W’ and the do’s and don’ts in his policy as a director.

After running an exhibition space for ten years Tim Voss (1968) was asked to direct Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof in Hamburg. Now, five years later, the Amsterdam-based institute W139 has attracted Voss – an outsider – for its next directorship. Before he was invited to apply, Voss had not yet heard of the institution, nor did his friends from the art world. That is why he is determined to open up the institution to the outside world.

—Jolien VerlaekCan you tell me something about your experiences at the Kunstverein in Hamburg?

—Tim Voss‘The Harburger Bahnhof is the second Kunstverein in Hamburg and a lot smaller than the first. When I started there in 2005, we had to really raise a need for it. There was this amazing space, one of the most beautiful rooms of contemporary art in Germany really, but there was absolutely no structure behind it, no money at all, no paid directorships or other employees. Everybody was doing it for free. There were fights because people were disappointed about bringing something in and not getting anything back. We had 160 members with an average age of sixty years old. The small group of members and all the old people surprised me. I guess they thought: “Let’s take this freaky guy from the art academy who is building up this gallery space. He will bring in young artists and that won’t cost us anything”. I became very successful in raising money and therefore I was able to bring other people in. After one year I could share the directorship with another curator, Britta Peters. By bringing in young un-established artists we developed a need for a second Kunstverein. We became more and more different from the first Kunstverein, more experimental, more into progress, less established artists. The main difference between the first Kunstverein and this one is that we approached it from the production side, which is very different from a curators approach.’

—Jolien VerlaekWhy the decision to leave the Kunstverein and come to the Netherlands after such a successful period?

—Tim Voss'Well, I still wasn’t paid that good, and I now have a family I have to support. I had to raise all the money myself – including my salary. It worked out, which is fantastic, but we still had to do everything by ourselves. After four years I was exhausted, and I quit without having something new.'

—Jolien VerlaekThat worked out well. You are now director of W139.

—Tim VossYes it did. They invited me to apply, because they had heard that I was ‘free’.

—Jolien VerlaekAt this moment you are still an outsider in the scene of W139. Will the programme become more German-orientated?

—Tim Voss'The programme will stay very much orientated on the scene in Amsterdam. But for the first exhibition I will bring my German connection Gernot Faber – a fictive artist created by Sebastian Reuss and Lutz Kruger. The exhibition will be in response of the last four years of W139. It is an ironic comment on the artist always being the heart of W139. After that, there will be an exhibition with the artist group Jochen Schmith. We want to clear the architecture, with certain interventions as a reset for the upcoming structure of the program. I will bring interesting young artists from outside, but it must make sense to something existing here. I will not search the world for artists.'

—Jolien VerlaekMost directors of W139 – like Gijs Frieling – were artists themselves. They tend to emphasize the production side of an exhibition and the creative powers of artists. Ann Demeester was the first non-artist head of the art institution. Her direction was a more conceptual and theoretical one. What is your direction going to be?

—Tim Voss'First of all, like Gijs Frieling, I share a deep mistrust in theory. I am much more interested in creating the presence of an exhibition – the artwork and its visual expression - than in the representation of a theory, themes or content. But it is also important for me to bring this presence into a context that is raising social issues. In that way I think I am more distant from art than Gijs. He believed in the freedom of art: “we should do art everywhere”. I like to keep distance. I am interested in construction and deconstruction and absolutely not in authenticity. W139 will stay as it is in the way that everything comes from the artists. I will always put the artists in the centre of the exhibition. But I am not that much interested in a single art position; I want to bring that single position into a context. That is my contribution. The context can be another single art position or a social issue brought up by the context of Amsterdam.'

—Jolien VerlaekIn what way are you going to continue the direction set by Gijs Frieling and what will be different?

—Tim Voss'I think the main difference will be that I can open up the closed circle of production in W139. Most of the people that have exhibited here were connected to W139. Don’t get me wrong: everybody should continue to participate, but I will try to open it up. Very concrete: we divide the rooms into two parts and we will have back exhibitions and front exhibitions. We will change the front exhibitions every three weeks and the back exhibitions every two months. Secondly, there is going to be a third platform, because we have a lot to communicate with a show opening every three weeks. We are getting rid of all the invitation cards and instead we are going to produce a journal every two months with the exhibition information and extra content. Also, I am not interested in group exhibitions. I never was. But I do like working with artist groups. They already internally reflect on the things they do. And, as a curator, when you dive into their existing communication, they will build up the exhibition in their structure. I certainly do not want to position myself against Gijs. I have the deepest respect for him and his programme and I do not know how the next four years are going to be. It is not about the greatest idea, it is about the artists that have participated.'

Now on show at W139: until 11-07: an installation of Cedric Bomford, Kom kyk na die wêreldbeker in die "w", every day live World Cup soccer matches. Until 29-08: Shop te huur, teaser on Gernot Faber’s Dark City exhibition.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2020