Fresh off The Broad’s Cindy Sherman retrospective, the peripatetic Philipp Kaiser takes on a new role in Miami Beach, curating Art Basel’s Public sector.
Curator Philipp Kaiser at the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in May.
Philipp Kaiser describes his whirlwind year of projects as a “full-circle” experience. “I’ve never focused so much on Switzerland before,” says the Swiss-born, Los Angeles-based curator, referring to his work on the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale this past summer and an upcoming show on Swiss artist and curator Harald Szeemann, in addition to heading the Public sector at Art Basel in Miami Beach. Though he now lives in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood, Kaiser was selected to helm the Swiss Pavilion, marking the first time the country has appointed a single curator for its exhibition. For that show, “Women of Venice,” he unearthed the little-known story of Alberto Giacometti’s refusal to exhibit at the pavilion, a story involving topical ideas about nationalism. Kaiser has become known for such highly specific shows that seem to occur in just the right place at just the right time.
Now, in his new role as curator of the Public sector for Art Basel, Kaiser brings his focus to the annual sculpture exhibition in Collins Park. Titled “Territorial,” it references recent headlines as well as art history. “It’s about claiming territory and the psychological notion of being territorial,” he says, also noting the trajectory of land art in the 1960s. “I wanted to do something with fewer artists and bigger contributions.” He cites Cyprien Gaillard’s film in the rotunda building, in addition to new work by Abraham Cruzvillegas. Kaiser also describes the reinvention of Allan Kaprow’s Fluids at Art Unlimited at Art Basel 2005 as a major reference point for its “meaningful impact.”
Born in Bern, Kaiser wasn’t predisposed to an art career. “My family background wasn’t opposed to art,” he says, “but it wasn’t the thing to do.” Nevertheless, he went on to study art history in Basel and Hamburg, and at only 29 he became a curator at the prestigious Kunstmuseum Basel. In 2007, he moved to LA to become a senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where he worked for more than five years. “I had to leave Basel to realize how extremely privileged the place is,” he says about his experience in the U.S. At MOCA, he curated breakthrough exhibitions such as 2012’s “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974” and eventually secured the directorship of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany.
An installation view of “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life” at Columbus, Ohio’s Wexner Center for the Arts, an exhibition that Kaiser organized for The Broad in Los Angeles.
Just a few years ago, Kaiser returned to LA, where he has established himself as one of the city’s most sought-after independent curators. In a short span of time, he has curated shows at LA’s brand-new Marciano Art Foundation (its inaugural exhibition) and downtown LA’s Broad (“Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” which then traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio). Up next, Kaiser will mount an exhibition (co-curated with the Getty’s Glenn Phillips) about Szeemann for the Getty Research Institute and a restaging of a 1974 show by Szeemann at the newly reopened Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
“There’s lots of opportunity here because everything is so young,” Kaiser says of LA’s nascent art scene. Though he visited and fell for California as a teenager, he says he couldn’t have predicted that his career would land him there again: “I wasn’t so ambitious to think, ‘I’m going to work there one day.’” It’s one more relationship that has come full circle.