Interview with Katelijne de Backer, Director at PULSE Art Fair

Interviews
By Katharina Wenzel-Vollenbroich
Image: MG Vander Elst Image: MG Vander Elst
What does a day in the life of Katelijne look like?
I usually get up at around 6am to get my son ready for school. After he’s out of the house, I practice Transcendental Meditation, which I do twice a day for 20 minutes. I then head to my office in Manhattan, where I’m currently deep into planning for the next PULSE Contemporary Art Fair! Sometimes I have lunch with a gallery owner, a collector or just with a Belgian friend who’s in town. I head back to Brooklyn at around 6pm, or I go to a gallery or museum opening.  
 
What’s your earliest childhood memory
To be totally honest, I don’t remember…But I have great memories of growing up with my two sisters in a small town near the city of Antwerp in Belgium.
 
Art fairs are commercial, busy and about VIP’s (most of the time): what’s the most human thing you ever experienced during a fair?
To me the entire art fair is human. It’s about human connection through art. It is indeed commercial, but that does not mean we have to exclude the “human” aspect. The fact that a piece of art is made by a person makes it human, whether in a commercial environment or not. 
 
This year, for example, we have Miya Ando as our PROJECTS Special Commission Artist who will be making a site specific installation at the entrance of the fair. Miya is inspired by Buddhist teachings, and her banners at the entrance of the fair will feature unique cloud imagery that creates an opportunity for visitors to become aware of nature and the environment while visiting PULSE. The installation explores the idea that what we see changes our state of mind and with the visual vocabulary of clouds, the artist intends to promote calmness, an awareness of inter-connectivity, and an attention to the viewer's relationship to time and the present moment.  The balance between the transparency, opacity, and form of the lightweight and sheer silk chiffon play with visitors’ perceptions of light and material, while also creating a contemplative environment. To me that is pretty human!
 
If you could change a thing about how the art market works what would it be?
In an ideal art world, people would buy art for the love and passion of it, and not for investment. I know that may be pretty unrealistic, but one can dream…. 
 
What characteristic does a woman need to bring in order to conquer the art market? (Just like you)
You need to love your job. You need to have drive and passion. You need to be a diplomat, firm but also compassionate. And, you need to be honest and smart.
 
What’s your advice for young people in the arts?
Following your passion and look for open doors. You might have to start with a less desirable job (as an intern or trainee), but keep at it, and at some point you will meet someone and say, “I want a job similar to that person’s job”. Then make sure to learn from him or her. You have to have patience and navigate your way towards where you eventually want to be. Don’t just keep a job or position for the sake of it, when you know that it’s making you unhappy. It’s a journey, you should enjoy it!
 
Given the choice of any artist past and present, whom would you want as a dinner guest & why? 
I would say, Francis Alÿs. I love his work, he lives in Mexico City, which I love too, and he is Belgian, which I am too! ;-)
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Image: MG Vander Elst Image: MG Vander Elst

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