Questions for Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine | Limna

Questions for Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine

In the latest of our interviews with key art-world figures, we spoke to the arts advocate and leader Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine. Here she shares her insight and advice on the current state of the London scene and what we have to look forward to this autumn.

Bettina Korek at the Serpentine Summer Evening11-min (1)_11zon.jpgBettina Korek. Photo: Dave Benett.

How did you get started doing what you do?

My first job out of university was working at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where I worked in the curatorial, development and communications departments. I had a wonderful mentor there, Kevin Salatino (who is now at the Art Institute of Chicago), and learned a lot about how a museum runs. In particular, I learned that each of these departments conventionally is quite siloed. This gave me an interest in more integrating forms of institutional collaboration from the very start of my career.

Resized pavilion.jpg Serpentine Pavilion 2022 designed by Theaster Gates © Theaster Gates Studio. Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy: Serpentine.

What’s something you wish you knew when you first started in the art world?

I think I always had an inkling, but I wish I had known from the beginning just how powerful collaboration is as an ethos. There is no need for competition when we have collaboration.

Which painter are you currently really excited about?

I’m really excited about the Sudanese painter Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, whose work we are presenting at Serpentine this fall. Evoking the empowerment of women, Kamala’s vibrant, haunting paintings and drawings represent a groundbreaking intellectual challenge in the established artistic paradigm of Sudanese artistic education and thought, and we could not be prouder to be presenting this important work in London.

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag.jpg Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Blues for the Martyrs, 2022. Oil on canvas, 203 x 300cm. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Mohamed Noureldin Abdallah Ahmed. © Kamala Ibrahim Ishag.

What’s the last art-related Instagram post you liked or an account you follow?

Climavore @weareclimavore is a fantastic account maintained by the artist collective Cooking Sections, whose work challenges society to rethink food with regard to climate change. Serpentine is pleased to collaborate with Cooking Sections on a special Climavore menu every day at The Magazine, our restaurant in Serpentine North as part of the Back to Earth activations. As for the Instagram account, it offers regular dispatches from the group’s activities on Isle of Skye in Scotland, from foraging with local school groups and innovative uses of seaweed as a construction material, to historical reflection on food economics and the painstaking process by which empty shells are repurposed and ground into tiles.

Karrabing-Film-Collective.-Back-to-Earth-exhibition-at-Serpentine-North-22-June-–-18-September.-Installation-view.-©-readsreads.info_.-Courtesy-Serpentine.-min.jpg Karrabing Film Collective, The Family (A Zombie Movie), 2021. Three-screen colour video, sound. 29 minutes. Back to Earth exhibition at Serpentine North (22 June – 18 September). Installation view. © Courtesy Serpentine.

What upcoming exhibitions are you looking forward to?

In 2023 we are presenting an ambitious exhibition by Los Angeles-based artist Lauren Halsey bringing matters of community and civic engagement into dialogue with art and architecture while drawing out discussions on funk, hip-hop, and Afrofuturism. Lauren is one of the most exciting artists of her generation and we are thrilled to introduce her work to London in her first solo museum show in Europe. It’s especially meaningful to me as a native Angeleno to be building this cultural bridge between the two cities.

artist Lauren Halsey-min.jpegLauren Halsey, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project (Prototype Architecture), 2018 gypsum, wood, tape and acrylic, installation dimensions variable. Installation view, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Tell us about an artist who should be getting more attention.

Barbara Chase-Riboud is a fascinating sculptor and novelist now in her 80s who was born in Philadelphia and has been based in Paris since the 1960s. She is also known for her first novel Sally Hemings, published in 1979, which drew on the relationship and life of Thomas Jefferson’s slave of the same name. Since then, she has published over ten novels and collections of poetry as well as. Barbara has an expansive, seven-decade body of work influenced by her personal experiences of living in the USA and France and traveling throughout Europe, China and North Africa in the 1950s and 60s. Our survey will be Barbara’s first exhibition in the UK and will include a focussed selection of large-scale abstract sculptures and works on paper spanning from the 1960s to the 90s.

Barbara Chase.jpgBarbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939), Confessions for Myself, 1972. Black patina’d bronze and wool. 120 x 40 x 12 in. University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Purchased with funds from the H. W. Anderson Charitable Foundation. © Barbara Chase-Riboud.

What’s the best piece of art-world advice you’ve ever been given?

When I think of best advice, I have to think of my friend the late John Baldessari who was such a fount of practical wisdom. “Every artist should have a cheap line. It keeps art ordinary and away from being overblown.” I think this goes not just for art and artists, but for anyone working in the cultural space who wants to make an impact. Art is often extraordinary, and it’s incredible when it is. But it’s important for art and ideas to be ordinary, too, to be accessible, to permeate the culture, to travel far and easily transfer from one mind to another.

What gives you most confidence in an artist and their work?

Context is so important. When I not only learn about how an artist sees the world, but I can also understand something about what their world is like, it’s invaluable to have my experience of life expanded in this way.

HG_08618_11zon-266fd0.jpg Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Martial Galfione and Mike Gaughan, Metapanorama, 2022. Installation view, Alienarium 5 (Serpentine South, 14 April - 4 September 2022). Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022.

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