INTERVIEW WITH DR. THOMAS GIRST
Forthcoming: our latest book, The Sense of Movement: When Artists Travel, a richly illustrated compendium about art and artists in motion. The publication explores artists’ destinations, as well as the various reasons why artists throughout history have traveled. The Sense of Movement: When Artists Travel is the first book in the BMW Art Journey series. In early 2015 BMW and Art Basel started the art initiative BMW Art Journey to support outstanding artists from the young gallery sectors, “Discoveries” and “Positions,” at Art Basel in Hong Kong and Art Basel in Miami Beach. The award comes in the form of a “mobile studio,” which allows the artist—who is selected by an international jury—to do creative research in a place of his or her own choosing, in order to work there, make contacts, and realize new works of art. The first volume, The Sense of Movement: When Artists Travel, tells the stories of iconic artists’ journeys. The following book will focus on the journey of the first winner, Samson Young. Our publisher, Dr. Cristina Steingräber, met with Dr. Thomas Girst, the head of BMW Group Cultural Engagement, to talk about the special program:
The artist as traveler, a wanderer between the worlds, is a popular theme. Here, the perception of the artist as journeyman—the old working title of our book—is often glorified. Now, however, you’re offering young artists the opportunity to undertake an art journey, while documenting it creatively. What was the original idea behind this particular art initiative?
We wanted to do something special and unique. Instead of awarding the hundredth prize, we joined forces with Art Basel to help artists work without the restrictions and demands of the art world. Rarely do artists have the means and the time to work comprehensively and explore outside of their studios. This led to the idea of the mobile studio, the BMW Art Journey.
There have always been books about traveling artists, from Dürer to the Tunis journey. How would you distinguish The Sense of Movement from these art historical explorations?
The Sense of Movement doesn’t try to offer a complete overview of artists’ journeys throughout the centuries. That’s not the significance or the point of this publication. What’s exciting about this book is that we show eclectic examples from all continents, independent of the artist’s own creative process; in the best case scenario, they make you want more, inspire you to think about traveling yourself, so that when you buy the book, you might possibly get on a train, hop on a bicycle or into the car, or buy an airline ticket and take a journey yourself—on the search for more knowledge.
I imagine an artist’s journey to be a mixture of journeyman’s year and Grand Tour. Was it your idea to provide new impulses for this kind of creative process?
There have to be minimal parameters; for example, the trip has to last a minimum of two weeks. You have to travel at least one hundred kilometers—not necessarily in a car, by the way! Trips to the moon and the center of the earth would not make the cut, I’m afraid. The most important thing is that the artist can take the time for a project, for inspiration, for meeting people, for discussion. And yes, there are certainly many new impulses.
In his travel journal the first-prize winner, Samson Young, vividly describes his experiences and discoveries, both personal and artistic. Following his posts awakens curiosity, makes people want to know more about him. How do you accompany the artist on this kind of intense journey?
I’m glad that he wrote about how much our networks, our global cultural partnerships, have been able to help him. For instance, we tried to make sure that he would be able to ring Catherine the Great’s famous peacock clock, which is in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, after hours. In the Auvergne I held him by the ankles on old church spires in villages of just fifty people set amid magnificent nature. At dizzying heights, I held him so that he could crawl underneath the bell to decode inscriptions on the other side. He found what he was looking for: That certain bells are rung in order to drive away thunder. In 1831—not in the Middle Ages, as you might think—farmers in the region were still shedding each other’s blood arguing over whether the ringing drove the thunder away, or attracted it. That’s just one of the many endlessly fascinating stories that Samson Young learned during his research around the world.
In our book readers gain some insight into the creative process of traveling artists. Do these reports about various artistic visions over the course of art history take you very far into another state of mind?
Credit goes to you and your team of editors for the fact that the book has turned out so well in terms of the illustrations, the design. The texts aren’t too academic or heavy, but accessible. It’s a highly intelligent publication. The theme is complex, and we’ve managed to present it in an interesting way, also thanks to the authors. To be honest, I also have to admire the artists’ courage in being able to carry out their ideas, often in the face of enormous resistance—it’s enriching to read about that. You really have to believe strongly in your own creativity for this adventure!
With Mika Tajima, Trevor Yeung, and Samson Young you had an outstanding, exciting short list for the first bestowal of this prize. What convinced the jury to select Samson Young?
It’s a little rough to announce a short list and then choose the artist who’s going to be allowed to make the journey. Still, it makes sense. First, a jury of internationally renowned museum directors selects three artists from the “Discoveries” and “Positions” sectors at Art Basel in Hong Kong and Art Basel in Miami Beach. Then the selected artists present a proposal for a journey. In a second step, these proposals are examined. All of them were wonderful, and we wished we could have sent them all on their art journeys. Samson won for his thoroughly planned concept, his work-intensive vision of his breathtaking project.
The Sense of Movement: When Artists Travel is being published in conjunction with the BMW Art Journey at Art Basel in Miami Beach, December 3 – 6, 2015.