Interview

with Annette Kulenkampff

Annette Kulenkampff

Annette Kulenkampff
Managing director of Hatje Cantz

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Acoustic and visual enjoyment of art

Dr. Susanne Kaufmann, arts editor at SWR Radio, in conversation with Annette Kulenkampff, managing director of Hatje Cantz, discussing the new series, Art to Hear.

Actually, one would think that art is primarily visual. So how does Art to Hear work?

Art to Hear goes back to those audio exhibition tours that have been popular for years. Museums have asked us again and again if it's possible to do something with them, and that's how the idea for the Art to Hear series came about. First, the audio guide is edited a bit to fit the publication's needs. And because, as you pointed out, art is not audible, we produce a compact volume containing high quality illustrations, to go along with the CD. So Art to Hear fits into the trend for audio books, with pictures as an added feature.

So you're producing an illustrated audio guide that's been altered for use at home?

That's right. If you've been to an exhibition, you can recapture the experience at home, but if you missed the show, then Art to Hear offers a good opportunity to learn something about the artist and the exhibition theme. It works very well. This kind of audio guide is usually about eighty minutes long and covers about thirty-two to thirty-five pictures, most of them major works in the show.

Do you spend more time, then, looking at the pictures, when you're listening? Or, to put it another way: Does listening help you see?

There are two different ways to approach art. First, you can look at it and make your own discoveries, and second, you can have things pointed out to you. Paul Klee put it nicely: "One only sees what one knows." You become aware of many things that you would not discover on your own. If you look at art without any additional information, then you see something else. Our new series is an attempt to unite the two in a way that can be easily understood, without overwhelming most people who have a general interest in art - something that can occasionally happen with catalogue essays. For instance, we produced the catalogue and the audio book for the Master of Flémalle exhibition at the Städel Museum. The catalogue is an opulent, extensive book, containing essays that reflect the latest research. It's a real eye-opener, very absorbing, and of course, it performs an important task. But it won't be read much today, except by experts, or in bits and pieces. Art to Hear, on the other hand, will point an interested audience in the direction of further discussions, but it's also another way to approach the work.

So does that mean that Art to Hear is something like a "light" version of the catalogues? Rather than weighty tomes, just fifteen ounces - yet with the essential pictures and crucial content, instead of the complete scholarly discussion?

Art to Hear is a supplement. It is not a replacement for a catalogue, and it is not intended to be one. Our experience so far with the exhibitions that have offered Art to Hear shows that catalogue sales have not dropped off. Maybe it's a better way for younger people to approach art, or to even begin thinking about the fact that art involves background information, or that paintings tell stories, and that it's worth it to discover them. Art to Hear is a good opportunity to do these things.

So you're reaching out to new sales sectors: the reader/listener sectors, so to speak.

Yes, that's been our early experience with Art to Hear.

The texts on the CDs tend to stick to the facts only, and relatively little music is used, so they're not really like radio features. How is this kind of CD prepared? In order to be a good edition, what kind of information do they have to provide?

The descriptions have to be clear and easy to imagine. Of course, we learn something with every new production. We just finished an edition of Art to Hear on Gerhard Richter. It has music by John Cage and Bach - music that is important to Richter and his art. It's a very beautiful addition, which also makes sense. We would like to vary the CDs more in the future, with music or alternating speakers. We're working on refining and expanding these new ideas.

And who is responsible for the texts and the production?

The texts are written in close cooperation with each of the firms that commission the audio guides on behalf of the museums. Frequently, the curators themselves are involved.

So are the volumes intended to help prepare listeners to see an exhibition, or do they function independently?

They also function independently of the shows. It's not necessary to actually see a show in order to enjoy Art to Hear. The CD on Gerhard Richter, which deals with his great abstract paintings, is a good example of this.

Up to now, the CDs have all been devoted to great artists in great museums. What are your criteria? Which exhibitions will be included in the new series?

We are considering a variety of exhibitions, covering ancient to contemporary art, which is in line with our publishing program. In July we're bringing out a CD on the Bauhaus - so, architecture and design. In the fall there will be an Art to Hear volume on Georges Seurat, the inventor of Pointillism, and in June we'll present a CD about Alberto Giacometti, one of the most important classical modern artists. The selection focuses on better-known artists, so that we can reach a broader audience. Production is relatively complicated, and we have to meet certain sales figures. There will be German and English editions of most volumes, so in that respect, the international market is important.

In marketing terms, it's very attractive for every exhibitor to be able to offer an Art to Hear guide. Do you solicit museums, or are they lining up to work with you?

We look for what will fit into our program. We have a very good and varied selection of themes in 2009. All of the museums we've approached so far have been really excited about the idea and were very willing to collaborate. There have also been a few museums that have asked us if we would produce an edition of Art to Hear for them, even though we haven't published their catalogues. I can imagine doing that, too. Most importantly, though, the theme has to fit into our profile. Then everything is possible. Every year, we'll publish about six new editions.

With Gerhard Richter, the Art to Hear program now features a living artist. Has he actually commented on his CD?

At the beginning, he was skeptical and couldn't imagine who would be interested in it. But when he saw the first sample, he was very pleased. I think it convinced him.

Did you consider including an interview with Richter on the CD?

Of course, that would've been great, and we would have absolutely wanted to do it, but it in this case, it didn't work out, unfortunately.

Have the artist speak, too - not just the pictures.

That would be wonderful, especially for the most recent art. Or have the curators talk! There's a lot of room for development - we're still in the early phases.

June 26, 2009

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