The theatre director on the art of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Most of the pieces in Chris Dercon’s art-filled apartment were bought decades ago because, he says, “as the director of a museum I wasn’t allowed to buy art and now that I can, it costs so much that I can’t afford to”. A few of his most beloved pieces sit in his favourite corner, where he likes to read. There’s Verner Panton’s light installation “Spiegel Luminous Elements”, Aldo Tambellini’s “Videogram” series and the Meschac Gaba sculpture “Aimé Césaire”. “It is an amazingly relaxing space for me.”
Dercon sees his apartment on Berlin’s edge as an antidote to the busy centre. “Berlin Mitte is a kind of hell,” he says. “Look at all the tourists and the cafés where you can’t even order in German – the English they speak is awful!”
Being a man who excites controversy among Berliners, it is understandable that Dercon enjoys the anonymity of living far from the centre of town. The new director of the Volksbühne theatre faced resistance from Berlin’s cultural scene when he took up the post earlier this year. Many were suspicious because, as the former director of the Tate Modern, Dercon came from the world of Big Art; people thought he endangered the spoken-word legacy of one of Germany’s most famous theatres.
Dercon concedes that he’s had a rocky start at the Volksbühne. “The hostilities were incredibly grave,” he says. “But I accept that theatre is different from the arts. Since the 20th century theatre has been all about antagonism and protagonism. Now I have to be a protagonist.”
Ironically it is the commercialisation of the art world that drove him away from the Tate Modern. Dercon sees in Berlin – and especially the Volksbühne – a place where new types of art can flourish. “The best artists in the world are living here,” he says. “And so many of them are in between things – dance, theatre, art, music, media, performance.” He adds: “The big thing for tomorrow is that people will not say, ‘I’m this artist’ or ‘I’m that artist’ but ‘I’m an in-between artist’. Something new will happen.”
1958 Born in Lier, Belgium
1988 Named programme director at New York’s PS1
1996 Becomes director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam
2011 Named director of the Tate Modern in London
2017 Starts as director of the Volksbühne theatre in Berlin