This Week in Art: We Make a Life by What We Give

I am back from a couple of months without writing, thank you to those of you who have mentioned that you missed the letters. One of the reasons is that my attention has been focused on the Institute of the 21st Century, the nonprofit initiative we are incubating to support Hans Ulrich Obrist's Interview Project. This summer, the Institute produced our first projects, the Now Interviews and Venic Venic at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice.

I was in New York on Saturday for the launch of Hans Ulrich Obrist's Interviews Volume 2 - the latest edition of his "infinite conversation" with some of the leading artistic and intellectual figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. It was an incredible event that was entirely the result of powerful acts of generosity. From Klaus Biesenbach and his team at MoMA PS1 to the artists Paul Chan, Joan Jonas, Terence Koh and Marina Abramović, who, when she could not participate in person created an "an intimate, knowing and hilarious portrait of curator extraordinaire Hans Ulrich Obrist...The video's first and last frames, incidentally, show a few words that play on the name of Abramović's retrospective, 'The Artist Is Present,' in order to explain exactly why she made the portrait in the first place: 'The Curator Is Present/ The Artist is Absent.'" (The video, by the way, was Klaus's directorial debut.)

We dedicated the launch to the great mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010) who died a few weeks ago and is included in Volume 2. According to the astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard, Mandelbrot was "an intellectual giant" who "bridged art and science with an ease that seemed unreal, and with a depth matched only by few in history, like da Vinci and Helmholtz." Hans Ulrich conducted a new interview with Dimitar, who explained to an audience almost entirely made up of the artworld that while the universe is limitless, it is not infinite (you can watch Dimitar's TED talk here)

The event concluded with yet another example of generosity, a collective booksigning organized by our other partner, ARTBOOK/D.A.P. The participants were joined by other New York-based people interviewed in Volumes I and 2: Tony Conrad, John Giorno, Jonas Mekas, Israel Rosenfeld, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Frederic Tuten, and Jordan Wolfson. Afterward we moved to a warm dinner down the street, where I had the great honor of sitting with EDGE's John Brockman. Finally, we ended up at the Boom Boom Room, where Dimitar kindly drew a picture of the universe on the back of a menu for some of us who were still struggling with his ideas.

Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." Artists and museums rely heavily on the generosity of patrons to sustain their livings. Most - but not all - patrons have made or inherited their fortunes outside the art world, and many enjoy the sophisticated global ecosystem that exists around the presentation of culture. They have the luxury of a life enhanced by traveling, parties, and, most compelling, access to artists and curators. The generosity of these artists and curators, who often work without payment for a collective, greater, unspoken commitment to art for art's sake is largely unsung, but this evening was to celebrate all of them. 

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