Hans Ulrich Obrist runs London’s directional Serpentine Gallery as co-director, advises a galaxy of museums and just ranked number two behind Larry Gagosian on Art Review Power 100 List. He seems to be pretty much the human Super Glue of the art world.
Sticking to that theory, the 42-year-old opted recently for a collective book signing/multiperformance program at MoMA PS1 that also celebrated his own book, “Interviews, Volume II.” Going strong since 1993, his Interview Project so far consists of 875 culture vultures. (Cindy Sherman was the latest to get the grilling in late October.) Obrist’s Institute of the 21st Century is now digitalizing and tagging the 2,000 hours of interviews he has done. The Herculean undertaking is part of “a protest against forgetting,” a raison d’être gleaned from historian Eric Hobsbawm — in one of his interviews, of course.
WWD: Why do you think you care so much about artists?
Hans Ulrich Obrist: When I was a teenager, I was magnetically attracted to art and went to see lots of shows in Switzerland. I went to see Giacometti at the Kunsthaus Zurich, got sort of obsessed and that brought me to art. At 17, I met [Peter] Fischli and [David] Weiss, who were about to do “The Way Things Go,” a wonderful film. That’s when I decided I wanted to work with artists. It was then a question of “How?” and “What will curating be?”
WWD: How did you envision your life as a child?
H.U.O.: Before art, it was literature. I was obsessively always reading. Books were always superimportant.
WWD: How many books do you read a month?
H.U.O.: I have a ritual — I buy a book every day and I try to read it. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes not. As Dostoevsky said, “In 18 hours’ time, we have less and less rituals so we need to be introduced to new rituals.” So one of my rituals is to buy a book no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
WWD: Do you still subscribe to what Doris Lessing told you, that self-censorship sometimes inhibits people from doing challenging things?
H.U.O.: Yes, unrealized projects are something I find quite interesting. A lot of practitioners have unrealized dreams which they would like to realize but of which they never talk. I’m very interested in this idea. “What actually are our dreams?” Because that can make them happen. That is the only recurring question in all my interviews.
WWD: What is yours?
H.U.O.: My one unrealized project is to have a palace of all these unrealized projects. It is sort of an irony because whenever I get close to realizing it, something goes wrong. It is almost as though in the nature of the project it will not be realized.
WWD: What do you do to unwind?
H.U.O.: I go to other fields. Coming from art, I go to science, architecture — more work is the answer [laughing.] That’s extremely relaxing.
WWD: So do you sleep four hours a night?
H.U.O.: Now I sleep five or six hours. I used to do the DaVinci sleep rhythm, staying awake for three hours and then sleeping for 15 minutes. The trouble was after three hours, I needed to sleep for 15 minutes wherever I was. It was very effective but not very good for social reasons.