What Does Success in the Arts Look Like? - Interview XIX with Tina Sauerlaender

Tina SauerlAender - Curator, Berlin

Tina Sauerlaender is a curator and writer based in Berlin. She focuses on the impact of the digital and the internet on individual environments and society. With her exhibition hub »peer to space« she has been organizing and curating international group exhibitions in various institutions, e.g. Pendoran Vinci. Art and Artificial Intelligence Today (curated with Peggy Schoenegge, NRW Forum, Dusseldorf, 2018), Deep Water Cultures (Goethe-Institut Montréal, 2018), The Unframed World. Virtual Reality as Artistic Medium for the 21st Century (HeK Basel, 2017), Sometimes You See Your City Differently (Feinberg Projects, Tel Aviv, 2016), PORN TO PIZZA—Domestic Clichés (DAM Gallery, Berlin, 2015). She is the co-founder of »Radiance«, an international online platform for artistic Virtual Reality experiences. And she is the founder of the SALOON, a network for women working in the art field in Berlin, Hamburg, Paris and Vienna as curators, artists or journalists, as well as in galleries, museums or universities.


What are your thoughts on fame in the arts?

Fame in the sense of public visibility is important for me, because it means that people see what we are doing and become interested in it. They want to know what our shows and the artists’ works are about. This is the key for communicating and conveying our exhibitions to an audience as broadly as possible.

What is your approach to rejection as a site of success?

When I was a child, my mom used to say “Who knows what it's good for,” or "When one door closes, another one opens." I found this quite annoying and frustrating at the time, but today I often think about it when things don’t work out the way I want them to. And, I have to admit, it helps. Rejection, failure or setbacks are part of life, in every realm. You can’t always win. It is all about not surrendering, it is about getting up again to pursue what you really believe in and what you think makes the world and the society you live in a better place.

Any thoughts on income and financial stability and success?

I traded financial stability for a very self-determined life style. It is OK. But sometimes I wish that there would be more understanding in society that a curator, or any other cultural worker, should be paid properly in order to pay for living, taxes and a pension plan – just like any employee. Further I wish that all employees at institutions who are responsible for processing fees, would do so in the agreed upon time frame, because they respect the financial situation of freelancers.

Tina Sauerlaender and Peggy Schoenegge, peer to space. Photo: © Jonas Blume, 2018

Tina Sauerlaender and Peggy Schoenegge, peer to space. Photo: © Jonas Blume, 2018

How do you define success in the arts?

Success is defined as the achievement of set goals or a positive outcome of an effort. To me, there are many big and small successes every day. It can be an exhibition review in a renowned newspaper or the packed opening of the first big show in New York, but it can also be the new update on one of our websites or an inbox that is finally empty, even just for a few minutes. I also consider it a success whenever I can bring people together and help to create awesome new projects. To me it is very important to take time every day to appreciate these successes and be thankful for and proud of them.

Do you have role models for success and who are they?

I chose my role models because of their mindset, their approach towards life and human living conditions. There is Chris Dercon who showed me how unconventional thinking and networking brings people together and those are crucial keys to meaningful and successful exhibitions. There are the books by Sherry Turkle which encouraged me in my belief that my ways of working, thinking and seeing the world are ok, the way they are, and ultimately my key to success. And there is the artist Thomas Schütte with his wonderful works on paper entitled Deprinotes that taught me that failure and crisis are a part of the game and can also lead to success and happiness. There is the psychologist Verena Kast with her books about understanding and embracing the so-called dark sides of a human being. And of course, there is Sailor Moon, who made me understand that I can be a hero, even if I am clumsy and bad at math, as long as I trust in myself and I am surrounded by awesome friends aka. Sailor warriors. Together we fight for love and justice, two truly important values for me.

Installation shot,  Speculative Cultures. A Virtual Reality Exhibition  (2019), curated by Tina Sauerlaender, Peggy Schoenegge, and Erandy Vergara, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons/The New School. Photo: Marc Tatti

Installation shot, Speculative Cultures. A Virtual Reality Exhibition (2019), curated by Tina Sauerlaender, Peggy Schoenegge, and Erandy Vergara, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons/The New School. Photo: Marc Tatti

Which advice on success would you give your 18-year-old self?

In terms of success: Learn to state your opinion and to fight for yourself and your own value. Ask for help, if you need some. More general: Learn about feminism, gender, race (things that are not at all taught at school in a patriarch country like Germany); learn about histories and languages of non-Western cultures; travel; interrogate your grandparents about their past.

Your thoughts on success in the arts and race/ gender

Success in arts for non-white-males is harder to achieve, facts and figures prove that. Just now the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, that opened in 1994, presents their acquisitions in a show called NOW IS THE TIME with 76% male and 24% female artists. And in my field the situation is very similar. In 2018, of 6 group shows in Germany and Austria on the topic of Virtual Reality or Immersion, 30% of the artists were female and 70% male. And of course, there are great VR women artists out there, if you take a look at our equally balanced platform RadianceVR.co.

However, there are many reasons for this imbalance, but one crucial one, which derives from history of inequality and is still palpable today: Society puts more trust in men than in women, which happens mostly unconsciously. By asking ourselves every day in different situations “Would I have reacted/judged/decided the same way, if this person was a male/ female/ POC/ LGBTQ?”, we can foster change in ourselves and society. In terms of success in the arts for women another reason for the imbalance is evident. Women, due to their inherited social role, are not as good as men in making themselves visible and advocate for their value. Women should be much more confident and practice that. Success for artists with diverse backgrounds in the Western realm seems in particular short term, rather than structural. For example, I can see that non-Western artists are invited to Western biennials or the Documenta, but then I don’t see so many shows with them afterwards. It seems like just a fleeting performance. I wish for more institutional shows of non-Western artists. Museum curators, google art museums in different continents and send an email and start establishing a new network for structural change, please.

Links for more information on the projects of Tina Sauerlaender