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The new kid at KW: Krist Gruijthuijsen

Dutch 36-year-old Krist Gruijthuijsen has taken over Mitte's modern art institution KW as director. We asked him about his "make or break" philosophy, being a fresh face on the scene and the Benelux presence in Berlin.

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Ali Kepenik

Like everything worth its salt in Berlin, the KW is still partly undergoing renovation, but new director Krist Gruijthuijsen has already thrown open the doors. 

Aided by a recently doubled subsidy from the Berlin senate (it’s now a cool €1 million), Gruijthuijsen was appointed the formidable task of redeveloping an artistic programme that has always been considered progressive. The new KW will now operate independently from, but often in partnership with, the Berlin Biennale, and an expanded curatorial team will run a programme of interlinked solo exhibitions with new openings every month. We met him in the KW courtyard just before the January 19 reopening to talk shop.

How is KW going to change with you in charge?

I wouldn’t say that we’re drastically changing KW. We’re here to display and promote provocative and necessary positions, and I think that doesn’t change. Institutions like ours, the non-museum or the art centre, need to take a much more critical, provocative, in-depth, dedicated position to society, to subjects, to artists… Give them the opportunity to do whatever the fuck they want and defend them. That’s why we’re opening now with a very young artist [32-year-old Hanne Lippard] who’s getting an enormous amount of space. It’s make or break, and I love that idea. I love that risk! Whether it becomes a masterpiece or a piece of shit, it doesn’t matter to me. I believe in you and we invest in that.

Have you had any opposition coming into the Berlin scene as a non-Berliner?

So far, in all fairness, it’s been mostly embracing. I think that Berlin is ready to have some foreigners come into the city with different ideas and energies. And maybe also to embrace a certain kind of naivete. I think that’s very productive, instead of coming from certain roots and then [directing] based on those roots. I mean, you see that in Berlin. There’s a few foreigners stepping into directorships. 

In particular, there’s been quite a few from Belgium and The Netherlands… I don’t know if [the senate] particularly looked for someone from outside of Germany, but I do feel that they wanted some different sort of energy around. Take someone like Chris Dercon, who’s a Belgian but worked in Germany, then moved to the Tate, and now to [the Volksbühne in] Berlin. Those are different sorts of experiences that Berlin could benefit from. And the same applies to me, I guess, in the sense that I worked in a German-speaking country, in Austria. I think maybe the idea of bringing in people from “Benelux” is trying to step outside Germany, but not too much! You know what I mean? We all speak German and if we don’t, we understand it. It doesn’t feel so faraway.

You’re also a relative youngster – have you had any blowback regarding your age? Not so far, no. I’m not that young! [Laughs] I mean, it’s true, but it’s sort of a signature for KW that they want to take a risk, that they want to embrace a new generation. I think that you need to have a certain kind of energy and enthusiasm to do so. Not that you can’t have that at the age of 45, but you know, you’re probably at a different point in your career.

How would you like to see the scene in Berlin change?

In the past, when I went to Berlin I’d go somewhere and think, “Oh, now this is the shit”, and I’d go the year after and think, “Oh no, it’s closed.” So there’s too much pop-up for me. I love initiation, it’s beautiful, and there’s no city that initiates more than Berlin. But I also think it’s good to invest longer and not just be the talk of the week.