Interview with Scripps’ New Art Professor

By Natasha Piñon ‘19
Staff Writer

This fall, Kasper Kovitz, an art professor from Austria, joins our staff. Previously, he has had art exhibits in Munich, Vienna, Los Angeles, and Austria. With his first solo exhibition in 1993, he is a bit of a veteran in the art world. Currently, Kovitz splits his time between Los Angeles and the American University in Beirut where he is an assistant professor. Some of his most recent work (on display in the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2013) consisted of sculptures carved out of jamon iberico-a type of cured ham. His bold and unconventional choices make for thought-provoking art. 

TSV: What initially prompted you to move to America? (and become a professor)

KK: I came to Los Angeles from Vienna, Austria  in 1996 through the MAK/Schindler Scholarship, an artist residency/grant.  I was attracted by the diversity of L.A. and intrigued by the sense of being anonymous, just one among many, with no history attached. That suited me at that time, I felt that I wanted to find out who I was, not who I was meant to be according to my background. I fell in love with California and stayed in America. I have never regretted this choice.

Serendipity brought me into teaching. I did not enjoy being in school very much and was also underwhelmed by my higher education experience. At that time, art education was trying to be anti-academic, which meant that teachers wanted to end the oppressive way art was thought about and taught. The consequence of this noble rebellion, though, was that a lot of good traditional knowledge and technique was thrown out as well. In 2011, I received a call from an old colleague from my university days who asked me if I’d be interested to teach studio arts at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. For eleven years I had been supporting my art career working as an art technician, a job that took me around the world to a wide diversity of art environments, including a project immediately following Katrina in New Orleans. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to revisit art education and see if I could provide a better educational experience than I had. I taught in Beirut four years and it was a very challenging and rewarding experience.

TSV: What do you enjoy most about teaching college students?

KK: I especially enjoy teaching at a liberal arts college. I believe that this environment, where many students taking art courses do not necessarily want to become artists and have many other interests besides, furthers an interdisciplinary approach to art and makes it necessary to look at art in a fundamental way. Questions such as “Why do we make art?”, “What is its role in contemporary society?”, etc., arise in this diverse environment and I find that very interesting.

TSV: Are there any differences between the students you teach internationally and the students you teach here?

KK: The main difference, I think, is that most of my students in Lebanon were young women who chose art as a major because their parents didn’t object to art as they might have to another discipline. Theywould object to their sons studying art because they thought it was not a real occupation. But they expected their daughters to get married anyways, so it didn’t matter what they studied.

I tried to undermine this assumption by showing that art is a great vehicle to promote individualistic and critical thinking.

TSV: Do you have a favorite artist?

KK: I have been disturbed, moved, and encouraged to re-think previous assumptions, by many artworks and examples of individual practices of artists from all times and cultures. And this is still continuing. Over time, some artworks or artistic approaches that were dear to me became less interesting and new ones emerged. All of these experiences have entered and altered my own practice.

TSV: Some of your art focuses on border, violence, and identity. Do you see a possible collaboration with the Core classes that focus on similar topics?

KK: I am still interested in these topics and would love to expand my conversation about them. I will be part of the next Core circle and am looking forward to discussing what the next theme will be. I would like to propose to look at humans’ relationship to nature and especially the notion of “wilderness.” I believe this is an incredibly timely and worthwhile theme, but I am of course open to see what other proposals for the next Core cycle will be made.

TSV: Do you believe you can teach creativity? Is it your job to try?

KK: I am not sure that creativity can be taught, but I think one can create an environment that promotes creativity. I see my job as promoting such an environment and in providing the basic parameters of a language for that creativity.

TSV: At times, you've been frustrated that people do not take your work seriously because of the presentation (for example: carving sculptures out of meat). Do you have any tips for college art students who are not being taken seriously?

KK: Learn from your experience and try to improve. I found that, rather than blaming others for a lack of interest, that energy is better spent on trying to understand where they are coming from and finding a bridge that enables a productive communication.

TSV: Much of your earlier art focused on the American West. Do you have a favorite aspect of the West Coast (or Los Angeles)?

KK: Yes, I was most impressed by the wide-open landscape of the South West. It made me feel so small, which in turn made me look at our natural environment with more awe.

Kovitz's piece, Carnalitos (2010) courtesy of

Kovitz's piece, Carnalitos (2010)
courtesy of

TSV: Did you have an art teacher growing up that inspired you?

KK: I had a family friend who was a poet. I think his way of seeing the world and interacting with it deeply inspired me and I am very thankful for that influence.

TSV: How do you see yourself changing the art program at Scripps?

KK: I just joined the department and my goal for now is to live up to and further the high quality of the program.