Left: The team of Kunstverein in front of their new location on Pieter Baststraat 35H. From left to right: Brianna Leatherbury (PR & Communication), Vincius Cardoso Witte (mediator),  Mehmet Süzgün (mediator), Jung Yeon Kim (mediator), Isabelle Sully (Assistant director-curator), Katerina Lymar (Photographer), Zhizhong Keen (Mediator) Front row: Yana Foqué (Executive Director - curator). Photo: Yana Foqué; Right:“Verein/ Vereniging”. Detail of the final leg of the renovation. Photo: Yana Foqué

“Like light switches” – director Yana Foqué on the many different aspects of Kunstverein’s programme

Issue no5
okt - nov 2022

Today Kunstverein opens its doors at their new location in Amsterdam, with an exhibition by Polish performance artist Barbara Kozlowska. Danai Giannoglou spoke with Kunstverein’s director Yana Foqué about the move and the institution’s mission for the years to come.

While waiting for Yana Foqué, director of Kunstverein Amsterdam, outside a building on Pieter Baststraat I already peek through the holes in the newspapers covering the shopping windows. Foqué tells me that this is the work of designer Marc Hollenstein, who was inspired by the cartoon detective who is following its subjects through the holes in a newspaper. In the same way, during the renovation period the aim of these holes was to allow for the curiosity of the neighbors, the passersby or the Kunstverein regulars that the institution is now welcoming at their new space.

Prompted by the institution’s recent move, I meet Foqué to ask her about Kunstverein’s ambitions and mission. “Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ maintenance Manifesto from 1969 forms an important inspiration and reference for Kunstverein”, Foqué tells me as we start talking. “The Manifesto describes two types of basic systems: Development and Maintenance. Development stands for the pure individual creation, the new, the excitement, while maintenance is a system that makes sure that there is space for this development to perpetuate: it’s the framework that keeps the dust of the pure individual creation once it’s there, that sustains progress, renews excitement… It’s not a system that has ‘fast’ and ‘next’ in its vocabulary; it’s basically a mission statement for what we are trying to achieve. In the new space the goal is to have all the aspects of Kunstverein versatile program under one roof, but I hope that we will make them work like light switches. They are all in plain view: when one goes off, another one goes on, sometimes all of them will be on - in any case: the future looks bright!”

'Development stands for the pure individual creation, the new, the excitement, while maintenance is a system that makes sure that there is space for this development to perpetuate'

Washing the Kitchen Floor from Private Performances of Maintenance Art (1970), Mierle Laderman Ukeles for Kunstverein, 2022. Published in Artforum 9, no.5 (January 1971):  Jack Burnham, "Problems of Criticism, IX. Photograph by Jack Ukeles Copyright: Mierle Laderman Ukeles, 1970

In the past years Foqué, who has been the director-curator of the institution since 2019, has been actively looking for ‘a space that would match Kunstverein’s ambition and that would be able to host the entirety of Kunstverein’s multifaceted program under the same roof’. In the midst of an escalating housing crisis that is hitting Amsterdam particularly hard, this quest found its end at a two-floors space in Oud-Zuid that has been renovated with the help of Stano Renovations and the architectural guidance of Wim de Vos. “We want to resist the circumstances that ‘push’ cultural venues to the peripheries of big Dutch cities leaving the heart of the urban fabric only affordable to commercial or established spaces”, Foqué explains. As Kunstverein often explores overlooked practices and voices that are already not easy to access, Foqué sees it as a duty towards the artists they exhibit to offer them a presentation space at the core of the city, both literally and symbolically. Kunstverein’s move and their 10 year stable planning is a hopeful development in an otherwise grim scape of institutions struggling to cope with rental prices and space shortage while the help from subsidies and the municipality is at the end of the day minimal. The obstacles that Kunstverein had to face in this process - indicative of the situation of the general cultural sector - have interwoven the basis for the institution’s upcoming program.

Always following its central guidelines, Foqué and her team will look into special (historical) spaces that existed in atypical places, under harsh circumstances and played an important role as anchors for their communities. This exploration will begin through and with the practice of Polish performance artist Barbara Kozłowska who ran Babel Gallery, an interdisciplinary exhibition and meeting space in her own studio in Wrocław between 1972 and 1982. The next issue of Ginger&Piss – Kunstverein’s in-house magazine - is also dedicated to the thematic of SPACE- “or rather the lack thereof” - and offers writers the chance to share their thoughts on the topic under the guise of a pseudonym. A book on the work of Christopher d'Arcangelo will also be part of the program.

As Kunstverein often explores overlooked practices and voices that are already not easy to access, Foqué sees it as a duty towards the artists they exhibit to offer them a presentation space at the core of the city, both literally and symbolically

Barbara Kozłowska during the Convention of Dreamers, Elbląg, 1970. Photo: Czesław Misiuk

Sneek Peek. The new facade of Kunstverein adorned with graphics by Marc Hollenstein. Photo: Yana Foqué

Kunstverein has certainly grown a lot over the past years- “from two shows annually in 2009 to nine new productions in all shapes and forms per year today, including exhibitions, events publications and everything in between” and is a self-proclaimed “curatorial office”. To my surprise, this doesn’t have to do with the experimentation around the curatorial form as a practice in general, but rather with the vertical examination of two very specific pillars that as Foqué explains to me are the core around which all of Kunstverein’s activities are organized. On the one hand there is the exploration of artists and practices that have been overlooked by contemporary art history because of their gender, social or geographical background or due to their difficulty to be defined in closed terms. On the other, there is the methodological question of “how do we mediate art, how do we mediate content in a way that the medium is actually the message?”. These two directions that function as guidelines that strictly delineate Kunstverein’s program have been in place since the founding of the institution in 2009 by Maxine Kopsa and Krist Gruijthuijsen. More than ten years after their establishment, the new space presents Kunstverein with the challenge to re-negotiate and understand them through renewed sociopolitical prisms and within an altered cultural and institutional landscape.

The two programming pillars frame a plethora of different events and activities that go beyond exhibition making. The in-house publications are shaping a different ground for experimentation and therefore are considered to be equally important to the exhibition program. Moreover, Kunstverein also has a collection that grows with two artworks per year. These artworks always belong to artists or practitioners who have worked with the institution and are either bought or donated. The collection, the existence of which is not widely known, together with Kunstverein’s archive, form a rather special methodology of “self-historization”, as Foqué puts it, in the sense that one can actually ‘read’ the history of Kunstverein, its shifts, interest, choices and surrounding community through this capsule that has been built. If the institution ever ceases its activities –“I hope not”, Foqué stresses- these artworks will remain together and be integrated into another collection that would embrace them as testimony of Kunstverein’s existence. In today’s cultural ecosystems where small and mid-scale institutions are experiencing draining working conditions that are rendering them exhausted way before arriving to questions of preservation and legacy building, this is a particularly interesting and alternative way of understanding and preparing one’s path towards integrating institutional history.

Left Advisory board member descending the stairs. Photo: Yana Foqué; Right: Details of the move: box with text by Mehmet Süzgün (mediator). Photo: Yana Foqué

Kunstverein has surely been dedicated to examining alternatives, not only when it comes to its self-historicization and cultural offer but also regarding matters of financial support. While the membership strategy that the institution has always been following is not exactly groundbreaking as a funding scheme, it is Kunstverein’s way to set a base for exploring questions such as: “What does it mean to be an institution? How do we not become fully reliable on subsidies and the demands they have of a program? How can we take a seat at the table and join the discussion while also keeping our own voice? How can we sustain ourselves and grow?” Ιn the new space, the possibilities and responsibilities for alternative answers and different hypotheses are growing the same way the institution does.

Danai Giannoglou
is een curator en schrijver

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