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Obrist interviewing Sasselov

Obrist is strange. There, I said it. In an event that often felt like a coffee klatch at Obrist’s house, the art world power broker known as Hans Ulrich Obrist — he’s #2 on Art Review’s Power 100 — had a book reading last Saturday at MoMA’s PS1 in Long Island City for his newest publication, Hans Ulrich Obrist: Interviews, Volume 2. The event venue looked like a cross between a set for the Last Supper and a conference stage thrown together by Leni Riefenstahl and there were coffee and books being served on the periphery of the event.

Marina doing her best big brother impression. (click to enlarge)

The afternoon festivities began with a long introduction by PS1 curator Klaus Biesenbach, who tried to impress us with how far back the two art world titans go (from what I could remember it had to do with a train ride in Switzerland and some opposite-sex marriage), and continued with a YouTube-like confessional video by Marina Abramović, who was planning to attend but couldn’t due to a death in her inner circle (more inner circle than Obrist, I assume). In the video, Abramović rattled off words associated with Obrist, including “over-medicated,” which I appreciated since it explained why the curator wunderkind spoke so fast. Acccompanied by his thick European accent, Obrist’s verbal velocity forced me to concentrate on every word he said.

During another “performance,” Terence Koh wandered up to the table wearing his characteristic white and Klaus Biesenbach attempted to interview him with Obrist’s questions but the Chinese-Canadian artist shot back with ramblings about love, truth, and variations that combined the two. I was checking my watch at this point.

Artist Paul Chan was next on stage and as soon as he stepped onto the stage it felt like an adult had finally entered the room and the tone of the event changed. Chan did a solid job of interviewing Obrist and brought up some of the curator’s earliest influences, including the writings of Robert Walser.

The final act of this unusual book reading was Obrist’s interview with Bulgarian-American astronomer Dimitar D. Sasselov, who discussed things we usually don’t explore in the art world — it’s the first time I had ever heard anyone discuss the Mandelbrot Set. The interview was the most fascinating part of the Obrist event and revealed a level of intellectual curiosity on Obrist’s part that was a welcome change.

Everyone is eager to read Obrist’s new book, and if this event is any indication, it is because you never know what to expect.

Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Hans Ulrich Obrist: Interviews, Volume 2 is available at Artbook.com, Amazon and other online booksellers.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.