How To Sell Overpriced Handbags
with Raoul Zoellner
‘Around 10 years ago I had my mid-term presentation as a student at the Dirty Art Department and decided to take the tutors to the center of Amsterdam to introduce my work — a conceptual tour through an upscale department store. It didn’t work. Nobody was impressed. I wasn’t feeling it myself. But somehow the idea of a tour was something I would keep coming back to. Inspiration came from men in hoodies trying to sell fake Prada handbags on the streets, guides equipped with flags followed by mobs of tourists and real-estate developers marketing overpriced no-mans-lands on huge advertisement boards as vibrant neighbourhoods charged with history and heritage. What’s the difference between the man on the street corner trying to sell a fake handbag and the plotted text on a museum wall trying to sell the idea that 8 shopping bags on the gallery floor are conceptual? I still can’t tell, but in both cases language changes the way you look at things.
After many years of taking on complex projects that proved to be too ambitious, I started from scratch and worked as a guide. In the art field guides are called mediators. And as a mediator your main tool is language. Institutions have entire mediation departments in order to introduce their visitors to their current exhibitions. Most mediators are still students. It’s a job you do for a bit, on the side, until the next opportunity comes up. And it’s a practice that has been overlooked for a long time. Little has been done, to play with the possibilities in this field, but those who do might change the course of exhibition-making and the way we produce art in the years to come.
In this lecture, I want to take some pressure off your shoulders, zoom out to look at the zig-zagging course that life can take you on after graduating and explore the paradoxical question that has been raised by generations on the forefront of artistic production: Do you have to be an artist in order to be an artist? And how do you sell overpriced handbags?’
Raoul Zoellner grew up in Berlin, studied at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, and is Director of the Boros Foundation. He explores various forms of art mediation and works in this field for KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the 12th Berlin Biennale.