A cutting edge office: In our conversations with current personalities, we examine some of the claims, clichés and ideals that circulate about our workplaces. This time, we speak with Edek Bartz, an Austrian art expert with Polish roots, a curator and connoisseur. He the artistic director of the international Vienna Art Fair from 2005 to 2009, is a lecturer at the University of the Applied Arts in Vienna, and is also a music aficionado and co-editor of the recently published book "Secret Passion - Artists and their musical desires". Brigitte Schedl-Richter met Edek Bartz in his favourite Vienna café for the interview.
Mr Bartz, one of your trademarks is that you work on multiple projects at the same time. Do you do this from a "central" office?
No, definitely not! I have a place for every project; otherwise, I can’t discipline myself and keep my mind focussed on the task I’m working on. For me, switching topics and changing locations go hand in hand and enable me to work on a project.
Of course I have a space at home that’s a kind of office, where I manage my chaos. But all that’s really in my home office are my computer and "filing system" in the form of a big box where I archive all of my materials, notes, magazines and whatever other interesting inputs I collect or am given. This system may not be the most modern one, but it works. And if I’m looking for something, I know where to find it.
Does this mean that you have several offices?
What I mean is that it’s more efficient to be where things are happening. In the world of art and culture, which is mainly project-based, it is completely typical to work from home or to secure an atelier somewhere and get to work. But this doesn’t match my work style. I have to be near the people with whom I’m working on a project. I want to know how and why things happen the way that they do. What the patterns of thinking and decision-making processes are. I want to be part of the atmosphere and I want to be able to talk to someone immediately and directly if necessary; I don’t want to have to look for the right contact person by telephone or mail.
... for example during your time as the artistic director of the Vienna Fair?
Of course. That was also the reason why I wanted an on-site office at the trade fair - to have the opportunity to get to know the everyday operations.
In today’s art business, nothing is more dangerous than losing your grounding in reality. It’s a really intense and complex job in which numerous economic, political and social factors play a role. You can’t just retreat to a nice and cosy atelier and hope that everything works out as you imagined. This is why I’ve always sought out the "structure" instead of privacy.
But that was also the case, for example, when I worked together with Wolfgang Kos in the 1980s to start up the avant garde music festival, "Töne – Gegentöne" ("Sounds—Counter-sounds"). Or at the University of Applied Arts – here I have a functional office that I share with other lecturers. That's enough.
But now, in the realm of cultural production, the "places where things are happening" are strewn over the entire world. Not to mention that everything is happening all at once...
That’s why communication and contacts are so important. If you are heading up a project such as an art trade fair, you must be incredibly open to new things and constantly underway, listening, following up on exciting developments. A personal network is enormously important for this, even if you have to keep in mind that relationships based on friendship should not be leveraged automatically into business relationships. Outside observers don’t always want to see it that way. But you have to accept that. Nevertheless, on the short walk from my flat to Café Prückel here, for our interview, five or six people talked to me. And you talk to them and hear about interesting things from all of them. That’s also what I mean with the "place where things are happening".
What kind of working environment inspires you?
Two things. First, whenever I am working on a project in an organisational capacity, I can’t work in a creative way at the same time. For me, these two things are mutually exclusive. As a rule, whenever I’m working in a business or administrative capacity, I have neither the time nor the mental energy to work for a couple of hours on a music project.
Second, I have always worked together with young people, and that was and remains very inspiring. That was the case in 70s and 80s, when I was primarily moving in music circles. That’s also the case at the University, where I’ve been teaching for about 15 years, and whenever I work today with galleries or young artists.
If you had to furnish an office for yourself, what would it look like?
That would be a challenge (laughs). Because I wouldn’t leave anything to chance. Not a single detail. I’m rather obsessive about this. That’s why I can’t understand how managers sometimes let someone else design their offices. And I’m truly horrified by how ugly the offices of public representatives are sometimes. On the other hand, I’m convinced that all of the people that I value have arranged their workspaces with a special style and quality. Because I believe that our surroundings shape us. That’s why it’s important to exercise influence on our surroundings.
I do admit, however, to being very "perception-driven". This infuriates my wife all the time. Going shopping with me is torture – I can’t buy just any sugar sprinkler. It has to be "the" sugar sprinkler. And although I don’t lift a finger in the household, I like to buy – after an intensive process of selection, of course – the things that a household needs. I really like things that are special and independent. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a work of art, an office, a CD or a new shirt... And I also think it’s good that design, style and visual quality have made a major entrance into our everyday culture.
Mr Bartz, many thanks for this interview!
P.S. Listen to the Office.Playlist by Edek Bartz.