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A colloquy between Aashna Abrol and Dr UTA RUHKAMP

Updated: Feb 22

My interest in Dr Uta’s work has grown over the past few years while I kept a close eye on her curatorial journey, exhibitions, books, etc., generally, her oeuvre. My conversation, this time around, with Dr Uta fueled my artistic endeavours to share her ideas with all those who are usually intimidated by the unknown in the arts. Dr Uta Ruhkamp is, currently, a curator at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg and has been for over a decade now!


Dr Uta Ruhkamp Image Credit: https://www.kunstmuseum-wolfsburg.de/museum/team/

Our dialogue began with the genesis of her journey into the art field. She explained, “When I was young, I was a creative spirit and my parents used to take my sister and me to museums, castles etc. and travelled with us. After my A-Levels, I lived in Paris for a year being an au pair, learning French and figuring out what I truly wanted to do with my future. Due to my amateurish drawings and paintings, I was naturally drawn to all the museums and exhibitions happening in Paris. I dived into art history, visited studios of artists like Antoine Bourdelle or Ossip Zadkine and went to all the famous places where ‘the Bohème’ used to meet when Paris was the place to be for artists and intellectuals. This had quite an effect on me and I decided to study art history, languages and cultural anthropology (ethnology). What followed is a long journey into the art world.”


Further, we delved into a conversation about art and her inspiration. Dr Uta mentioned, “I think it was Louise Bourgeois who said that art is her way of coping with life. For Pablo Picasso, art was the best way to understand the culture of the world. Both are very much true for me.


“Art keeps me on my toes and offers a steady change of perspective on life and how to perceive it. With each artist I get to know, each exhibition I see, each project I have the privilege to curate, I am learning. Art offers me constantly new impulses and input. Not at least looking at a good artwork is still extremely pleasing for me.”


AA: Were you always certain about being an art writer and curator? What inspired you to take on these roles?


UR: Honestly, when I decided what I would like to study, I wasn’t sure where my university years would lead me to. Being an art historian is not a job with a proper description, it’s something you study, and at some point, you have to decide which path you want to choose after graduation, what you would like to do with your knowledge and your skills.


Between semesters I tried to get international internships and I worked in different fields of the art world to finance my Master's Degree and PhD. For me, this was a good way to figure out what I wanted to do and to establish a network. I worked at the university, I got an internship at the Musée D’Orsay, I was a travel guide taking groups to Belgium for the weekend to introduce them to cities like Gent with its very famous altarpiece etc.


A decisive step was the internship at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Department in London that made me realize that I would like to concentrate on modern and contemporary art. Having figured this out and having worked for commercial art galleries for many years, I concluded that, for me, it had to be a contemporary art museum or at least one for modern art, favourably both. I enjoyed working with living artists, discovering new ones, seeing how issues of today’s society are mirrored in art and how they cause new forms of artistic expression.


“Not to forget that being a curator, you get the chance to write and publish what I enjoyed.”


AA: What change would you like to bring about in the way art is viewed and discussed? What kind of conversations would you be interested in?


UR: These are two big questions. Well, first, I am a museum curator. From my point of view, it is and it has always been our task to bring artists, artworks, content, research results and new impulses to the attention of a broad public and not only to an intellectual and privileged minority. This is something we are supposed to do in our very best way through well-curated exhibitions, exhibition catalogues and books. Sometimes, I feel that for some curators, as brilliant as they might be, exhibitions have become more about themselves than the other way around.


“So, I am interested in conveying knowledge and I think, sometimes, the best way to guarantee this is dialogue.”


Talking to artists, colleagues, and visitors is very important. It is fine to have an opinion even if you do not come from the art world, and even if you don't have any art education at all. It pleases me when I am able to reach the latter. It is immensely pleasurable when someone tells me at the end of an exhibition visit that he or she is touched somehow and will carry something home!


As for the content, I’m very interested in the whole global art discussion – whatever this highly discussed term might mean – encompassing post-colonialism, gender questions and feminist effects on art production. Most probably due to my anthropological background, I have always been drawn to 'non-western' art positions as well as to female artists in general. I think we must learn that perception and aesthetic standards are linked to cultural contexts. Once a year, I try to explore new parts of the world to get a glimpse of the local art world. This is, for example, how the idea for an exhibition with female artists from India was born; a show that took place in 2018 at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.


"I was able to transport a lot of new content and impulses in the form of excellent artworks to Wolfsburg and to broaden the horizon of our visitors – and my own."


Dr Uta Ruhkamp speaks about her experience of an exhibition titled 'Facing India' in 2018.


Press conference for Facing India, 2018. Image Credit: Marek Kruszewski, https://www.kunstmuseum-wolfsburg.de/kunstmuseum/fotos-and-videos/facing-india/

AA: Talk to us about each of your books - it's genesis, the journey, the learning, the unlearning, the art, the artists, the coming together of all these experiences.


UR: I think it is wise to pick out some examples. All my books have been published on the occasion of my exhibitions apart from one, which is a commemorative volume that I edited in 2013 after the director of the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg sadly passed away. Some ideas come from academic research and you might carry them with you for years and others from travel research, visiting exhibitions, art fairs etc. For example, in 2015, did a solo show called This Way with the Danish artist Jeppe Hein, whose social minimal approach to art is very particular. I watched his development for years. We had shown one of his works before in an exhibition called The Art of deceleration. Motions and Rest in Art from Caspar David Friedrich to Ai Weiwei. I had to wait four years to make a solo exhibition with him happen. It was a very personal project, an early retrospective as well as the story of his burnout and how he transformed his recovery into art. For Jeppe Hein, art is a tool to bring people together, to cause communication and interactions. We transformed our big exhibition hall into a labyrinth, people had to find their way and they had to interact with each other and with the art exhibited. It felt quite revolutionary, people were laughing, were talking, and were touched. This was a change of temper in comparison to the usually much more silent atmosphere in the museum. For the exhibition catalogue, we had a very personal vision and published a long conversation between the two of us. Jeppe Hein talked about his burnout and his art. We added other contributions by authors not coming from the art world like the well-known writer Peter Høeg and all exhibition images included visitors experiencing the show. People could relate to this. It was all about finding your way. He introduced me to a new field of literature and paired with our conversations the entire experience got me to think about my way of life and my choices. I’m deeply grateful for this experience and everything Jeppe Hein shared with me.


Jeppe Hein, Breathe with Me (with Dr Uta Ruhkamp) Link to Video: https://vimeo.com/336805833

One year la