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An artful affair | Ulf Küster

For some, art is not a talent, but a calling. Curator Dr. Ulf Küster tells us how he staged operas as a child and how a love for art has shaped his life. It is a deep desire, the demands of the creative process that steer him.

For Ulf Küster, art has been a long-time companion. From painting to prose and poetry to classical music, the 48-year-old family man lives and breathes beauty. Born in Stuttgart, he wanted to be a conductor or an opera director ever since he was a child and drew stage sets for Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” and sang Bach oratorios as a choir boy. “That was the stimulation, an enthusiastic infatuation with Wagner, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Patrice Chéreau…” he says, laughing. His mother delivered the decisive hint for his future. “She asked me: Why don’t you do what truly interests you? Namely, art history.”

Today, Ulf Küster is responsible for organizing exhibitions in Basel, “something similar to setting up a stage. Both are productions.” It must be visually stunning inside his head. A never-ending flow of colours, notes, shapes and sketches which find their way into a composition. “As a curator, you develop concepts for exhibitions that are underpinned academically. Then you try to acquire a reasonable selection of pictures. You meet people, agree on cooperation.” There is a great deal of computer work for which he requires good eyewear. For some years now, he has been a fan of Silhouette’s rimless eyewear. “Because they are simply incredibly light and I like to keep the presence of eyewear on my face as minimal as possible.”

The question about a favorite artist, a preferred period, does not need to be asked. Küster brings up his love for the Realist Gustave Courbet, praises Louise Bourgeois about whom he has written a book, then moves on to the Old Masters. Fragonard was truly extraordinary, as was Robert, Hubert Robert. Not to mention Delacroix… Küster’s mind seems to be in a constant state of researching, associating and differentiating. Whoever leads such a life needs something to offset it, a kind of calm anchor, something to restore his energy. Küster thinks about it. Well, he does do yoga with his wife. And he lectures at the University of Freiburg/Breisgau. Additionally, the family man would like to learn to play trumpet or horn. “I already play the flute. A brass instrument would be interesting.” And he has a pronounced passion for collecting. “I’m becoming more and more interested in old books. Very old books,” Küster’s dark eyes sparkle behind his spectacles, “illustrated books from the 18th Century.” What does the curator himself think about art? What exactly makes his heart throb? “Art is the unlimited possibility of imagination. It is the possibility to have something that somehow exists outside your own existence,” Küster waves his hands about in the air to show how things seem to flow together and then apart again. “Art is off the beaten path.”

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