Work in Progress: Biennale de Lyon 2013. Interview with Curator Gunnar Kvaran.

For several years, you ran the Reykjavík Art Museum, then its counterpart in Bergen, Norway. Since 2001, you’ve been the director of the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo. What’s your current project?

On 28 September this year, the Astrup Fearnley Museum will move to a new building, an architectural masterpiece by Renzo Piano on the Tjuvholmen peninsula in the Oslo fjord. This new building is characterised by its sail-shaped glass roof, which defines the shape of the exhibition rooms and the visitors’ spatial experience. This is a real challenge for the curators when they are arranging the exhibitions! To mark the museum’s inauguration, we’ll be staging an exhibition of pieces from our own collection. These works, acquired over the past thirty years, are by the most groundbreaking contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Paul Chan, Trisha Donnelly and Nate Lowman. Together, they offer a cosmopolitan urban vision that spans various cultures and historical eras, and addresses themes including politics and religion, violence and sexuality, identity and memory, beauty and art – all of which contribute to our common experience of contemporary life.

What does the Biennale de Lyon mean to you?

I must first say what a great pleasure and great honour it is to be chosen to curate the next Biennale de Lyon. Thierry Raspail, its initiator and artistic director, has established the Biennale as one of the world’s most respected art biennials. It’s a biennale d’auteur, which always has a strongly-defined concept and theme and a clear profile, and which has already had internationally-renowned curators such as Harald Szeemann, Jean Hubert Martin, Nicolas Bourriaud, Jérôme Sans and Hans Ulrich Obrist. I’ve already had opportunities to work with Thierry Raspail and his team in other contexts, and these experiences have given me a good idea of how skilled and creative they are in managing big, complex projects like the Biennale. I’m delighted to be collaborating with them again.

How’s your 2013 Biennale project shaping up?

For the moment, I’m working on a fairly broad notion of narrative structures, and looking for contemporary artist who have a special interest in the formal articulation of their visual stories and in developing original narrative systems. Over recent decades, as we have entered the so-called post-media or post-conceptual age, artists have grown more concerned with creating new narrative structures to communicate their stories, whether real or imaginary, and their experiences, whether large or small. Their starting-point is no longer the material and technique of painting or traditional sculpture, but a concept, idea or story to which they will then give material expression. Up to a point, one can even say that the originality of their artistic gesture stems from the originality of the narrative constructions, which can involve extremely diverse materials and novel spatial organisations.

Do you already have a title?

No, not yet. There’s no hurry. The title will come to me during my search for, and contact with, the artists and their work.

Gunnar Kvaran: Born in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1955. PhD in Art History from l´Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France, 1986. Director of The Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland 1983-1989 (Incorporated into the responsibilities of Director of Reykjavík Municipal Art Museum since 1989). Director of The Reykjavik Art Museum from 1989-1997, Director of The Bergen Art Museum, Bergen, Norway from 1997-2001. Director of The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway since 2001.

Kvaran worked as an Art Critic for Dagblaðið Vísir daily, Reykjavik from 1981-1985.

Commissioner/curator for the Icelandic pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990. Chairman, Icelandic Exhibitions Abroad, 1986-1990. Chairman, Association of Icelandic Critics, 1984-1986. President, Icelandic branch of A.I.C.A. (Association International des Critiques d’Arts) 1986-1991. Curator of 2nd Moscow Biennale, 2007.

12th Biennale de Lyon: 12 September to 29 December 2013.


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