Issue 2: Nicolaus Schafhausen

1. You curated the German Pavilion in Venice in 2007 and 2009. What goes through your head when you learn you have been appointed as curator?

Portrait of Nicolaus Schafhausen © Kunsthalle Wien 2014, photo: Sabine Hauswirth
Portrait of Nicolaus Schafhausen © Kunsthalle Wien 2014, photo: Sabine Hauswirth

Nicolas Schafhausen: I was not overwhelmed by the prospect, at first. I knew I was being considered for curator. Of course, I was very happy when the call came. For me, it was also a return to Venice.

I was invited to Venice for the first time in 1993, then as an artist for "Aperto", a former exhibition format, which was later replaed by the central exhibition. When I was appointed as curator in 2007, I directed the Witte de With Museum in Rotterdam, so it was particularly exciting to be responsible for the pavillon from a non-German, and perhaps even more independent, position.

2. Both times you showed single and not group exhibitions: 2007 Isa Genzken, 2009 Liam Gillick. What makes a good artist-curator relationship?

Biennale Venice 2009, German Pavilion, Liam Gillick © Natasa Radovic
Biennale Venice 2009, German Pavilion, Liam Gillick © Natasa Radovic

Schafhausen: In the case of Venice above all, the greatest possible trust. One is in a direct, very close and dependent relationship for a year. It is important to accept the other's position: the artist is not the curator and the curator is not the artist. You help each other, but the tasks and the visibilty are different.On the face of it, the artist is the one on show, even if we share the uncertainty in terms of the reactions. You can control the communication in advance, but not the reception.

 

 

3. What is the biggest challenge when curating the German Pavilion in Venice?

The German Pavilion in the Giardini of Venice © Natasa Radovic The German Pavilion in the Giardini of Venice © Natasa Radovic
The German Pavilion in the Giardini of Venice © Natasa Radovic

Schafhausen: The Venice Biennale is a global event with a great symbolic value. Venice is a ritual. The expectations of the media and the art scene concerning the artist and curator are enormous. One must be aware of this and be able to withstand it- especially considering the historic legacy of the German Pavilion. In my case, the entry was strongly criticised by the German media both times: in 2007 the artist was maligned; in 2009 the criticism was aimed more at me. The media reception does not necessarily correspond to the perception of the visitors. Many go to Venice to see something new, and not just to confirm their expectations. For me personally, the international visibility has influenced my curatorial career in a very productive and positive way. Not necessarily financially at first, and not always to my advantage with regard to the media. Let us not forget that the curator at that time worked for a lower compensation. In 2009, the conditions were more difficult because the financial crisis was felt in both the public budget as well as the sponsorship fees.

3 1/2. What was your favourite place in Venice to recharge your batteries?

Venice; Photo: CC0 Public Domain
Venice; Photo: CC0 Public Domain

Schafhausen: I used to like to go to the Lido and take a swim there. I still do today whenever I am in Venice. My advice is not to go to bed too early to get to know the city at night and to take it as it is- with all its different facets: the masses of tourists on the one hand and the local scence, the inhabitants and seasonal workers on the other. I always find it fascinating how the city recaptures itself after the mass tourism ebbs away, and constantly questions the balance between general tourism and art and culture tourism. Venice is a place of exchange, especially for artists.

With that in mind, I do not believe that the Biennale will ever become outmoded.

Issue 1: Florian Ebner

Florian Ebner, curator of the German Pavilion 2015 © Museum Folkwang
Florian Ebner, curator of the German Pavilion 2015 © Museum Folkwang

Issue 4: Udo Kittelmann

Udo Kittelmann curated the German Pavilion in 2001 © Juliane Eirich
Udo Kittelmann curated the German Pavilion in 2001 © Juliane Eirich

Issue 3: Susanne Gaensheimer

Susanne Gaensheimer, curator in 2011/2013; photo: Renato Ribeiro Alves
Susanne Gaensheimer, curator in 2011/2013; photo: Renato Ribeiro Alves

Issue 5: Julian Heynen

Julian Heynen, curator in 2003 and 2005; photo: Jeanne Hofer
Julian Heynen, curator in 2003 and 2005; photo: Jeanne Hofer

Nicolas Schafhausen is director of the Vienna Kunsthalle.
He was artistic director of the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart and director of the Frakfurter Kunstverein, curator at the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art in Helsinki (NIFCA) and founding director ot the European Kunsthalle. From 2006 to 2012, he directed the Witte de With, Center of Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. Since 2011, he is the strategic director of Fogo Island Arts, an initiative of the Canadian Shorefast Foundation. In 2007 and 2009, Nicolaus Schafhausen was the curator of the German Pavilion at the 52nd and 53rd Venice Biennale.
He was co-curator of the 54th Octobersalon in Belgrade in 2014, member of the curatorial staff of the 6th Mosocw Biennale in 2015, and curator of the Pavilion of the Republic of Kosovo at the 57th Venice Biennale.