The Way I Work... Serpentine CEO Bettina Korek
Bettina Korek is an art world juggernaut. She began her career in Los Angeles – where she was born – and quickly cemented a reputation as a cultural innovator at the forefront of growing public engagement with the LA art scene. In 2019, Korek established Frieze LA and a year later moved to London – right before lockdown. “That was an interesting time to get to know London!” But, she adds brightly, “it also gave me space to make really deep friendships.” In 2020, Korek was made CEO of the Serpentine, the free contemporary art galleries set within London’s prestigious Kensington Gardens. “Our mission”, she says earnestly, “is to make new connections between artists and society. We want to go beyond the gallery. We want to be a part of people’s daily lives.” She speaks to Service95 about her penchant for wearing black, The Row’s monthly music mix and the reading hack she swears by.
On Her Morning Routine… I am out most nights, so I am just not one of those 5am people – I cannot get up before 7! When I lived in LA, I would start the day going out to yoga, but in London I’ve started doing it at home. I also like to listen to podcasts – mainly the BBC and New York Times – but I also love the Interdependence podcast with Holly Herndon and Matt Dryhurst. They speak with some of the most incredible minds about ideas for the future and how artists are engaging with emerging technologies.
On Office Life… I love going to the office – it’s a half hour walk from home. The fact that it is in the middle of Hyde Park is one of the things I love most about it. The park connects our two buildings, so we joke that we have the best office hallway.
On A Working Playlist… If I’m working on a project that requires deep thinking and planning, I have to do that in silence. But if I’m just going through emails, I love the company of voices. I listen to a lot of mixes from Benji B, who has played at the Serpentine’s summer parties. The Row – yes, the fashion brand – also has a monthly mix, which I love.
On Inspirational Trips… A few years back, I stayed at [American sculptor] Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field in New Mexico with five friends. It’s a field of stainless-steel rods that have been installed in the ground in the desert. The rods are equal distance apart; the tops of them are totally level. It’s a work of land art that was commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation in the ’70s but at certain points in the year you can book to stay in a really simple cabin for 24 hours. It’s an incredible experience. You get a feeling of the infinite there.
On The Relationship Between Art And Entertainment… I love TV and films – I grew up in LA, after all. I don’t think art should be precluded from having fun or viewing to broad audiences. I remember a friend of mine, whose parents were in the entertainment business, saying, “The difference between art and entertainment is that in entertainment, they don’t try to make their audiences feel stupid,” and that really resonated with me. That’s the absolute last thing that I want people to feel when they come to visit the Serpentine. We want to be welcoming people in the same way that you can go online and just watch a Netflix show.
On Dream Artworks… I don’t really have a piece that I look at and wish I owned. I don’t know, I just don’t covet art in that way. It’s just not part of my ethos.
On Wearing Black… I was very tall, very young, and I think the combination of admiring my mum’s style and creativity, looking at the way that she always wore black and also wanting to be discreet about my body, is how my wearing of black began. I go through different phases in terms of shapes, but I try to buy things I know I will use for a long time. I like a lot of Prada, and another favourite is my Saint Laurent skinny suit. Ultimately, I wear things that look professional but are also comfortable, because I’m usually out from morning until after dinner, so I need clothes that can work in different contexts.
On Favourite Artists… Lauren Halsey is an artist I love so much as a person, but her art practice is also so inspiring. She makes immersive installations that explore the relationship between architecture and community building. She recently did the rooftop project on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is this structure that brings together Egyptian symbolism, utopian architecture and contemporary references to her community of South Central LA. She has really leveraged her practice to invest in her community and address pressing issues around education. She is extraordinary.
On Favourite Apps... Google Maps! And I love Blinkist. I found myself buying so many books but had tremendous guilt that I wasn’t reading them all, so now I just look them up on Blinkist. I also love the Bloomberg Connects app. Museums around the world can use it as a platform to upload content, images and video about their shows. It’s like having a guide when you are going around a show, and even if not, you can just see what museums all over the world are doing.
On Favourite Instagram Accounts… Ha! I love [Serpentine Galleries artistic director] Hans Ulrich’s Instagram. He is one of the most curious people I know.
Her Best Career Advice… A few years back, I was getting frustrated and being hard on myself and an amazing book editor told me, “A career is like a painting, the small strokes add up to the big ones.” It’s so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, so this was such generous wisdom.
Funmi Fetto is a Contributing Editor at Vogue, a columnist at The Observer and the former Global Editorial Director of Service95