Saturday, October 1

Goodbye to Karin Ohlenschläger, the manager who changed Spanish contemporary art

Karin Ohlenschläger was an outstanding cultural manager. She passed away on Wednesday at the age of 63. She had a degree in Art History from the University of Kassel (Germany) and was a key player in the export of Spanish artistic value since the 1980s. The last project to which she was linked, in a career as long as it was decisive, was the direction of La Laboral de Gijón, from which the political class eliminated her in 2021, after almost five years of work in an absolute shortage of means and resources. . It was another time, another commitment, another political class when she founded the project that would open contemporary art to the technological experience. We are referring to MediaLab, the project that she created in 2002, together with Luis Rico, for the Conde Duque Cultural Center, then directed by Juan Carrete. In 2007 she moved to the Plaza de las Letras in the neighborhood of Las Letras, with the rehabilitation of the old Serrería Belga building.

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An unprecedented program of training, research, production, reflection and exhibition activities was born whose mission was to bring art, science, technology and society into dialogue. “These activities served to promote the emerging digital culture in the area of ​​Madrid and to establish relationships between different actors in the local community and favor their connection with national and international circuits”, recalls the official history of a place that was key in the first decade of the 21st century.

“The figure of Karin is crucial to understand the history of our cultural institutions”, says Manuela Villa in reference to the beginning of Medialab. “It was an institution that represented the most absolute modernity and opened the artistic world to digital. The history of contemporary art in Spain cannot be understood without MediaLab. It is a pity that it is in the state it is currently in”, indicates Villa, Secretary of Culture and Sports of the Federal Executive of the PSOE and deputy in the Madrid Assembly. Manuela remembers the exhibition Feast. metabolism and communication (2003) and Feast. Evolving Communication (2005). “A lot of people Banquete turned our heads”, adds the cultural manager about the exhibition that brought together 60 creators, who reflected on the relationship between food and culture. The media got hooked on “a futuristic kitchen powered by solar energy”.

An official and alternative reference

Ohlenschläger has been present on the Spanish art scene since the 1980s. He was always there, investigating new formulas, asking the artists, without stopping looking and making known. What is striking is that he did not recognize his decisive role, but was silent about it. “She has never been well treated,” says the artist Concha Jerez, Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, National Prize for Plastic Arts and Velázquez Prize. Ohlenschläger was the curator of several exhibitions in Jerez and they created a friendship since the years of the mythical Espacio P (a benchmark among alternative spaces self-managed by artists in Madrid), which has been maintained until the last day.

“She never complained, she always added up”, summarizes Jerez to Ohlenschläger. He believes that the most important thing about MediaLab happened in the training cycles, when foreign specialists came to promote the use of new technologies among the youngest. “From there also came a pool of young curators specialized in new technologies,” says Jerez, who acknowledges the support of Ohlenschläger in its expansion beyond Spain.

He is an exponent of the internationalization of contemporary Spanish art. We have not come to recognize him, he has not been treated with the respect that his rigorous work deserved

Martha Perez Ibanez
President of the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC)

Also demanding recognition, albeit posthumous, Marta Pérez Ibáñez, president of the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC). Together they formed part of the Nebrija University faculty. “He is an exponent of the internationalization of contemporary Spanish art. We have not come to recognize him, he has not been treated with the respect that his rigorous work deserved. Not only with the artists, but with all the agents of the art system, including the market. I believe that he has left a great mark”, says Pérez Ibáñez. Why hasn’t he been more present? “Because she has been a very discreet woman. And she is very constant in her work. She was always elegant”, she insists.

independent and generous

Ohlenschläger represents the struggle of independent cultural managers with the budgets of the administrations and the interests of the rulers. He is always the weakest part, the one that disappears if he aspires to build a long-term legacy. “She has not been allowed to stay long enough, like other museum directors, to see the fruit of the programs they launched in the institutions,” says Pérez Ibáñez.

Precisely, the Association of Directors of Contemporary Art in Spain (ADACE) has lamented the death of his partner with a statement in which they point out that “it is not possible to carry out a genealogy of Spanish art without recognizing his great contribution and approach to different scenes and contexts. Museum directors remember her for her “closeness and humanism”, for her ethics and principles, “reasons that have always pushed her to improve the conditions of the art sector in Spain”. And like Concha Jerez, her generosity and tireless work stand out. “Her generosity of hers and her limitless open-mindedness,” says Jerez. Those who have worked with her for thirty years, such as Marcelo Expósito, have highlighted her perseverance, tenacity and perseverance. “She is one of the professionals who has done the most for the legitimacy of electronic arts in our country,” according to Expósito.

“Freedom is what one does with what has been done to it”, wrote Jean Paul-Sartre and it is the phrase that Karin herself has chosen to say goodbye to her children, her family and her friends, in an emotional letter. “Feeling very lucky to have been able to share unforgettable moments with you, personally and professionally,” Karin wrote. “Thanks to our meetings we have learned, we have suffered, we have enjoyed and we have grown”.