2013.09.02 Mon, by Translated by: 陈婧婧
Parkett Then and Now, an Interview with Dieter von Graffenried, Publisher

With a PhD in economics, Dieter von Graffenried founded Parkett magazine in 1984 in Zurich, and has been its publisher ever since. Always deeply involved in Parkett’s projects with artists, he has also been co-Chairman of the Swiss Institute in New York, among other roles. As one of the very first bilingual art magazines to have attempted to bridge the art worlds of Europe and in America and with an in-depth approach in close collaboration with top international artists, Parkett now stands as an essential archive of contemporary art and, with the commissioned works (‘editions’), a musée-appartement that tours museums and institutions worldwide.

The Concept & Founding Members

Sylvie Lin: What was the motivation for creating Parkett (launched in 1984 in Zurich)? Why did you adopt an artist-oriented approach, taking artists and their works as a focus? [1]

Dieter von Graffenried:In greater Europe at the time, we felt there was a lack of quality and of content-driven writing about art and artists. What was plentiful were reviews in daily newspapers, weeklies and monthly magazines, but not in-depth texts. We had very short reviews on exhibitions but there was no real reflection of an artist and their overall work.

Parkett invites artists to produce special issues, designing the layout and even the spine. The image shows the spines of the magazine designed by artists. Courtesy TFAM

Besides, whereas now the contemporary art world is so enormously large and decentralized, at that time, there was a lack of bridge-building—mainly between Europe and North America. So we decided to publish bilingually (German and English) and to open an office in New York. There was no magazine with the same idea language-wise, no magazine that adopted a language that is spoken more globally. You had French, German, Italian and English magazines, but they were all embedded in the national background.

SL: Who are the founding members of Parkett? Can you tell us about their respective backgrounds?

DG:The founding team is composed of five people from different backgrounds. I worked with films at the time. Regarding art, I grew up in Basel, a small but very exciting city on the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland. It has one of the oldest public museum collections in the world. I saw my first performance of Joseph Beuys when I was fifteen. Franz Meyer, the director of the museum in Basel, was the first museum director in Europe that built the first collection of Post-war American art in the late 1950s. There were people who did very visionary things.

Dieter von Graffenried during his lecture in May, 2013 in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM). Courtesy TFAM

Other founding members include Bice Curiger, a critic for a daily newspaper in Zurich., and Jacqueline Burckhardt, who studied conservation and art history. There was also Peter Blum, who worked in a gallery in Basel; now he runs his own gallery in New York. Walter Keller served as Assistant Professor and teacher in the European Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology Departments at the University of Zurich; after founding Parkett, he was involved in photography and art in the publication and museum fields, etc.

I think it holds true that if you want to do a project like this, it’s about a certain passion—a vision that the team members share.

The Project with Liu Xiaodong

SL: Which Parkett issues are particularly memorable or interesting for you?

DG: In the last issue (no. 91), the project with Liu Xiaodong is one of the projects that was really special because it ended differently from what we expected at the beginning. He had a project where he visited a Muslim minority in Xinjiang Province in the West of China. This is one of the last groups of people that still live off jade-mining. He was extremely interested in the situation that had challenges on several levels. Normally, he does large-scale paintings. But he couldn’t make such paintings there. After a long process, he thought of taking photographs and over-painting them. In his diary, he also described the moment where he hit on the idea (he always writes diaries for his projects along with photos, videos, etc.). So it is with Parkett that Liu Xiaodong left the canvas and painted on photographs for the first time. Because the project was so special, we also made an e-book, which is a separate collaboration with Liu.

In his ‘Hotan Project’ in collaboration with Parkett, Liu Xiaodong left the canvas and overpainted on photographs for the first time. (Courtesy Parkett)

The Art Objects

As a publisher of magazines, you also produce art objects with artists. These are very different activities and require different conditions.

DG: In fact, it is one whole. It’s one project we do with the artist: the book, the texts and the edition project. The texts are about the work of the artist. We work with artists very closely and directly for weeks or months. The process includes talking about possible authors, exchanging manuscripts, selecting the images for the texts and even looking at the layout. In essence, to summarize this collaboration, the artist contributes a work—an edition. We have a budget that allows us to cover an average production. After finishing the work, we inform the subscribers. That’s the basic group of potential collectors. We have also few museums around the world that acquire the works. For example, the MOMA in New York has the complete collection and is buying the works.

The Parkett editions reflect changes and evolutions in contemporary art?

DG: “Change” is an impassioned thing. For example, one can observe changes in the format. At the very beginning, the editions were more traditional and two-dimensional, such as lithographs and etchings that were bound to the magazines. Their sizes were smaller in order to fit into the size of the magazine. Then, at one moment I suddenly realized that more than half of the works artists do are three-dimensional. One of the first three-dimensional works include “The Double” (a hammer with two heads) by Rebecca Horn for book no. 13. Also, Richard Prince made a vinyl record (“Good Revolution”); Martin Kippenberger made an artist book (“80 Unique Books”); Jeff Koons made a signature plate with his portrait and the pin (“Signature Plate”).

Regarding the editions, the whole concept from the beginning had the element of a musée-appartement [2] , of something smaller in scale. And in some cases, the dimensions of Parkett became a sort of benchmark. Artists make works that refer to the size of the magazine: Günther Förg’s  “Four Bronze Reliefs,” Liam Gillick’s twelve-part installation consisting of Plexiglas plates (“Literally No Place”), Franz Wes’s “Pouch for Parkett.” They all correspond to the size of the magazine. With these smaller-sized works, we organized exhibitions divided into living spaces, reflecting the idea of a musée-appartement—like the Parkettshow in Taipei.

Richard Prince’s ‘Good Revolution’ (1993) for Parkett no. 34 – one of the Parkett editions made with a non-traditional medium. Courtesy TFAM


Parkett shows have been held in many places. Please talk about some examples and highlights.

DG: The first one was in the Pompidou Center in 1987, only three years after Parkett was created. Three times four, so twelve artists. It was a small but nice exhibition showing books and artworks on the ground floor of the Center. These were exciting times in Europe. It was the first time that there was a certain acceleration: there were bigger shows. We also had a show in the Portikus in Germany, also very early, in 1988.

The very important show was at MoMA, New York in 2001. That was the first time a Parkett show was realized with curatorial approaches. Collaboration with the MoMA curatorial team meant that their curatorial approach provided us with a fresh look at what we did from the outside. Also, before that, there were not so many editions of Parkett on display. With the MoMA show, there were 120 works and 50 books approximately. Now, the show in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum has 221 works and 90 books.

SL: Among the Parkett exhibitions, what was different about the Parkett show in Taipei?

DG: In the show in Taipei, we added a section called “Reading Room” that included five projects. I think it will facilitate a dialogue with the local community, artists, institutions, audience, visitors, many of whom don’t know about Parkett yet. Among the five projects, four are collaborations with the local art community: the Cube , the TCAC (Taipei Contemporary Art Center), the “Open Editorial Board” with Artco monthly and Char-Wei Tsai’s project with the books. The fifth project is with TeamLab from Japan.

Parkett exhibitions are sometimes divided into sections corresponding to certain living spaces. The image shows the ‘Studio’ section in the recent Parkett exhibition at Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The work in the foreground is ‘Untitled’ (2003) by Anish Kapoor for Parkett no. 69. Courtesy TFAM

The Internet, Digitalization and the Evolution of Parkett

SL: In the age of internet and digitalization, how will Parkett integrate or adopt related tools in its content-making and art-making practices as well as its diffusion?

DG: We launched a website that allows us to have very broad and constantly uploadable content. The website will contain elements of Parkett: texts, the editions… Not all the texts will be put online for free. Now, there is one text per artist accessible on-line. We also have the e-book on Liu Xiaodong I just talked about. These are things that are just being tested. The most important thing is to see opportunities to do something that makes sense. The source is always Parkett, the core book; out of that, there is the website, artist books in the format of e-books, artists videos….Eventually there will be a Parkett App giving access not only to information about the latest issue, but also to the universe of 220 portraits of artists with texts, their work and maybe documents showing the evolution of the particular projects.

Exhibition information: “Parkett ─220 Artists Editions & Collaborations Since 1984”

Taipei Fine Arts Museum (181, Zhongshan North Road, Sec. 3, Taipei, Taiwan) May 18-Aug 25, 2013


[1] An introduction to the Parkett magazine and the Parkett exhibition in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum starting in May 2013, see Sylvie Lin, “More Than a Magazine — ‘Parkett ─220 Artists Editions & Collaborations Since 1984,’” Art Taipei Forum Media, 2013/06/20 Update, http://www.atfm.asia/en/article.php?id=224

[2] As Deborah Wye describes, the idea originates from the work of Marcel Duchamp, “whose interest in reproduction found expression through designs and inserts for periodicals, and the publication of multiples. His “Box in a Valise” intersects tellingly with the Parkett project. In 1941, he issued his first edition of this carrying-case, containing a carefully-constructed display box packed with color reproductions and miniature replicas of his past works. The artist characterized this piece as a ‘portable museum’ and sold it over the years in various editions – a total of about 300 copies.” Wyer, “Collaborations with Parkett: 1984 to Now”, originally included in the eponymous brochure published by the Museum of Modern Art of New York in 2011.