5 Minutes With... Bettina Korek

Words by
Andy Morris
Photography by
Dave Bennett, Via Serpentine Gallery

31st August 2022

The Serpentine's stylish CEO on her favourite LA interiors account, her all-black wardrobe and her plans for the gallery in 2023.

Bettina Korek CEO Serpentine Gallery

What are you looking forward to experiencing at Serpentine this autumn?
This Autumn we have two fantastic solo exhibitions planned. In my mind, they each continue in a programming trajectory of artists engaging with mysticism, like Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz before them. One is with Sudanese painter Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, now in her 80s, whose vibrant, haunting paintings and drawings reflect immaterial, real and imaginary connections between humans and nature. Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, attended the Royal College of Art in London between 1964 and 1966, then returned Sudan to teach, where she was a mentor to a younger generation of Sudanese artists. She was part of a school of thought called the Crystallist Group: they would see their own way, free from imposed ideologies. Kamala Ibrahim Ishag points out that women were making art in different ways in Sudan, in and around their houses, but the movement gave women new images in a male dominated society. Her attitude is that everything that is creation is art.

The other is Barbara Chase-Riboud—a fascinating sculptor and writer also in her 80s, who was born in Philadelphia and has been based in Paris since the 1960s. She’s best known as a novelist and poet, and she has led an amazing life. She was friends with the surrealists and knew Salvador Dali and Man Ray personally,  and the third woman in American history to have a show at a museum. Her earliest drawings were abstract, and with her sculptures she sought to shift towards levitation: the notion of getting the sculpture off the base. I love how this theme of floating is so important in her work, like the idea of things rising. Ultimately she combined wool - braided, knotted, with bronze to create “forms that unify opposing forces”—hard and soft, rigid and fluid. She points out that cord has a quality of water, searching for the turning point where abstraction turns to poetry. 

What are you most excited about for the gallery in 2023?
There are so many exciting Serpentine projects in the works for 2023. The solo exhibition which will coincide with Frieze Art Fair 2023 and the Pavilion’s closing will be Los Angeles-based artist Lauren Halsey. Lauren is one of the most exciting artists of her generation and we are thrilled to introduce her work to London in her first solo museum show in Europe. This show is more than two years in the making and will bring matters of community and civic engagement into dialogue with art and architecture, while drawing out discussions on funk, hip-hop, and Afrofuturism.

What's the most surprising thing you've found in the Serpentine archives?
Recently I made an amazing discovery of a Serpentine publication called Art+Care: A Future, from 2012, which considered possible future alliances between the fields of art and elder care. With essays from thinkers about ageing and the future,  it also includes case studies on Serpentine residencies that placed artists, architects, designers and researchers in elder care contexts—so given the connections to Radio Ballads ten years later, perhaps this isn’t the most surprising item from the archives, per se, but it’s quite meaningful.

What has been your most memorable celebrity encounter?
Wow…I did grow up in LA… there can be a fine line between the absurd and the everyday. Maybe it was seeing Milli Vanilli at Mr. Chow? China Chow absolutely freaked out.  

Can you recommend a good book?
Right now I’m reading Tony Faddell’s Build. As the designer of the iPod, he’s a true modern day inventor and it’s full of interesting insights from Silicon Valley and beyond.

Which other London galleries have impressed you recently?
I’m consistently impressed by The Chisenhale, which is led by Zoe Whitley. Chisenhale has been presenting dynamic, multi-disciplinary projects for nearly forty years, and their current commissions from the artists Rachel Jones, Nikita Gale and Ayo Akingbade span research and production in Lagos, London and Los Angeles. I believe several of our approaches to connecting art and society are like minded, especially when it comes to civic initiatives. 

What's been your best recent fashion purchase and why?
When it comes to fashion, I’m really a minimalist. I wear almost entirely black,  and nothing makes me happier than a garment that is both chic and utilitarian. With this in mind, I would say my best recent fashion purchase is a pair of Rick Owens Birkenstocks.

Favourite piece of technology?
I’m totally dependent on my Bose soundsport headphones. I wear them like a necklace, all the time. I ran into the CEO of one of our partners, Berenberg Bank, at the Magazine restaurant the other day, he had them too! 

What is your top interiors store?
The Instagram account @roleplay_LA is my favourite interiors store and discovery channel. Rare, special, and fun Vintage furniture—and sometimes art— the showroom is in Los Angeles but they can ship anywhere. Exquisite taste finding treasures in far reaches of LA County.

What is your favourite London restaurant and what do you order?
The River Café… With the visionary Ruth Rogers, and her incredible team, the menu is constantly changing but I’m always excited for zucchini fritte and spaghetti pomodoro, and the chocolate nemesis cake of course. 

What's your favourite hotel and why?
I stay at the Peninsula whenever I can! They have been an incredible partner to the Serpentine, and now that I live in London full time, it’s such a treat to feel like I have a second home when I’m back in Los Angeles. Staying at the Peninsula Beverly Hills makes me feel like a visitor in my own city.

What holiday destination would you recommend and why?
Positano for sure, and if you go, I’d recommend La Sireneuse— it’s like living in a dream, coming down the incredible staircase with Alex Israel palm tree mural and unbeatable view of the Amalfi Coast, and the world’s best breakfast buffet! (it’s a family business) Antonio, Carla and their incredible sons are also a dream - take a boat to eat at Lo Scolio in Nerano. 

What is your dream travel destination for next year? 
I would love to go to Morocco next year. I’ve heard incredible things about the food, the culture, the people, and until now the only desert I’ve visited is Joshua Tree. 1-54, the only international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora will be in Marrakech February 2023.

What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury is the opportunity to find meaning in the things and experiences one enjoys.