Meet Bettina Korek

  • What’s something surprising about your job, that other people might not realise?

 

While my role is dedicated to Serpentine’s mission, vision and execution, what people might not realise is how very many hats museum leaders wear. I interact with so many different stakeholders, from artists and curators, community representatives, foundations and civic leaders, individual collectors, and of course our audiences as well. Everyone has different passions and priorities that draw them to the art and ideas we exhibit. These interactions bring unique opportunities and different perspectives which enrich our strategies and decisions. The fruitful discussions keep me on my toes and everyone’s opinion, especially our teams, is important to direct a path for progress.  

 

  • Can you share how you got here?

 

I started as an Economics major at Princeton and spent a summer in NY in investment banking. I was always interested in arts and quickly decided to refocus my studies on Art & Archaeology. My mom was a graphic designer, and after I graduated I moved back to LA and worked at LACMA where we used to visit together.

Moving through the curatorial, development and communications departments gave me an appreciation for how museums are organized—and siloed, and thus an interest in more integrating forms of institutional collaboration.

I founded ForYourArt in LA in 2006 as an experiment in patronage whose mission is to make art a bigger part of everyday life. Its website and weekly mailings have served as an information hub for the region’s different art worlds—those rooted in the museums, the galleries, artist-run spaces, community initiatives, and beyond. ForYourArt has also produced a wide range of events, public art works, and research projects with different stakeholders, from artists and presenters, to local governments, media companies and brands.

My last big project prior to joining Serpentine was directing the first two editions of the Frieze LA fair, which I suppose was my first chapter of bridging London and Los Angeles together through art. Los Angeles is famously spread out, and I took the fair as an exciting opportunity to develop a citywide commission. We were able to invite organizations representing LA’s many art communities into the fair itself through a festival of non-profits on the Paramount backlot, while at the same time introducing so many art world figures from abroad to the city by establishing a tentpole week on the international calendar. I honestly didn’t see myself leaving LA until the opportunity arose to lead Serpentine with Hans Ulrich. During these unprecedented years it has been an honour to be at the helm of such an exemplary artist-led institution.

 

  • Tell us about a day in your life.

 

I go to the office everyday when I’m not travelling for conferences or meetings. I generally start my day at 6.30am, read the news and my emails, go to the gym and then walk to Serpentine South, arriving by 10am. I then review the order of the day with my amazing team, Mayumi and Coco, and jump straight into meetings or catch up with Hans Ulrich Obrist to discuss general strategy, programming and other ideas for the future. He also has a playstation in his office, for research.

This brings me to lunchtime, I often see important donors, artists or journalists at The Magazine, located at Serpentine North for an hour. It’s so nice to be able to enjoy the regenerative food served at the incredible Zaha Hadid designed restaurant surrounded by the beautiful garden—I especially enjoy our special menu designed by the artist collective Cooking Sections which proposes sustainable culinary alternatives.

At 1pm I text my dad in Austin, Texas, as he’s just waking up at 5am (we are a family of early risers). In the afternoon I spend significant time dealing with my correspondence, jump on a Zoom with our teams or supporters of our Americas Foundation on the West Coast before getting ready for the evening.

My role involves attending Serpentine’s private views, public activations and dinners to cultivate the Serpentine community. I try to get home before midnight to read a few lines. I’m currently reading Build by Tony Faddell and Takedown: Art and Power in the Digital Age by Farah Nayeri. I adore all kinds of genres, although lately I’ve been especially interested in topical non-fiction with innovative points of view on creating and sustaining culture and community amidst such a quickly changing global landscape.

 

  • What’s your proudest moment so far?

 

I’m grateful every day for the opportunity to support artists. I’ve had so many proud moments at Serpentine so far. One that stands out is Portraits for the Future, an event we hosted in celebration of British-Ghanian photographer James Barnor in the Counterspace Pavilion designed by Sumayya Vally last summer. The event brought together leading voices in visual culture with our Serpentine Studios group, a platform for younger generations to encounter and respond to the work of more established artists. It was humbling to play a part in honouring Barnor’s legacy and to create a space for reflecting on this influence that is still so relevant and inspiring today. I’m really focused on building communities around Serpentine and reaching out beyond the Parks. In that respect, presenting Radio Ballads, an exhibition staged both at Barking and Dagenham and Serpentine North from March 2022, Sun&Sea with the Albany and We Are Lewisham, fragments of Sumayya’s Pavilion across London, expanding virtually through Fortnite earlier this year, and in the Metaverse are key to my vision for the future. 

 

  • How would you compare the art scene in LA vs. London?

 

I’m definitely still learning about London’s scene considering how much time I spend at Serpentine, and how many months I’ve spent in lockdown since arriving in London. But one thing that stands out when comparing LA to any other art city is that LA’s scene really revolves around its artists, more so than its institutions, or galleries, etc. We see Serpentine as an artist led institution and let this spirit guide all that we do—so in that respect, perhaps Serpentine is a kind of bridge between London and LA, and between our incredible community of donors and collaborators and the brilliant artists with whom we are so lucky to work. I’m always amazed by how vibrant London is, and how dynamic and pioneering the cultural sector is, from the best art universities in the world to the most risk-taking galleries. There’s always something new to see, engage with and discover in London.

 

  • Who is your favourite artist right now?

 

I don’t think I’ve ever had a favourite artist, but an incredibly reunion with an artist that’s fresh on my mind was seeing Raymond Pettibon in New York during Frieze this spring. His heart, his intellect and his graphic style are each inimitable. Raymond was the first artist I ever produced a project with, back in 2005 at LACMA, and through this  I met Shaun Regen who would become dear friend. Raymond contributed an incredible drawing to our Back to Earth exhibition and wrote “at Serpentine” - my dream come true.

 

  • The Serpentine Pavillion is one of the highlights of the summer: can you tell us more about this year's installation?

 

Theaster is known for weaving materials and rituals from daily life into his work, in his hometown of Chicago—where he has proven on a historic scale how artists can impact community—as well as here with this remarkable structure. This pavilion, our 21st, builds on a rich history of commissions, as well as the spirit of Serpentine’s own architectural history as a former tea house in the park 

Black Chapel is a site not only for communal gathering, but also personal reflection and contemplation. True to Theaster’s work, it is a striking demonstration of how art can come alive to change and enrich society.

This is the first year a contemporary artist has led the design of our annual Pavilion and in Serpentine fashion Black Chapel is the product of groundbreaking collaboration

Black Chapel will be the hub for Serpentine’s live programme throughout the summer. Like our galleries, the pavilion is free to visit and open to all, and is a platform for forging new connections and experiences for Londoners as well as visitors from across the UK and the world. 

 

  • What do you think about the art offering London has?

 

Needless to say, London’s art offerings are nothing short of incredible. The city is so diverse, and so geographically sprawling, that there are so many distinct communities and neighborhoods London has a strong network of schools drawing such talented individuals from around the UK and the world, not just in art but in architecture and fashion as well—and the music scene in London is storied as well—all of this makes for seemingly infinite possibilities for dynamic friendships and collaborations, which are some of the most important ingredients for robust art offerings.

 

  • How do you think social media has affected the world of art?

 

Social media opened so many new portals to the world of art simply by popularizing visual culture and individualized experiences. Now as Web 3 technologies are gathering momentum we will see what the next chapter of this will be like.

 

  • What are your thoughts on NFTs in the art world?

 

We all know that there has been a lot of speculation over NFTs in the past year, and market speculation is typically of greatest interest to the commercial side of the art world. That aside, there is so much excitement stemming from NFTs and from Web3 more broadly. For one, we have thousands of new people engaging with the very concept of art in new ways. For another, the smart contracts that make NFTs possible are powerful new technologies for fundraising and community building. While much of the hubbub we’ve seen in the media has portrayed the landscape as something like a gold rush or tulip craze, there is substance to these tools and I’m hopeful that they will continue to be harnessed by more artists, institutions and communities to channel resources to meaningful ideas and projects. 

 

  • What advice would you give someone who wants to learn more about art, but does not know where to start?

 

Engage with exhibitions, both physically and online to train your eyes and learn more about artists and ways of looking. Nothing will ever replace the physical engagement with art so come to Serpentine! Watch films and TV about artists: Art 21 series, Warhol diaries, interviews with artists - of course I’m partial to my colleague Serpentine Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist’s many tomes. There is no better medium than an interview with an artist to learn about art directly from the source, and Hans Ulrich has conducted thousands. Each one can leave you with many references to chase down the rabbit hole—a rewarding adventure, I promise! I would also recommend other titles (which are available on our website) such as Luchita Hurtado: I Live, I Die, I Will Be Reborn or Suzanne Treister: From SURVIVOR (F) To The Escapist BHST (Black Hole Spacetime).

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