VALENTINA EHNIMB: One might call you an all-rounder: you have been a curator and art critic, then publisher, actor, comedian and writer. Edition Patrick Frey, which you founded in 1986, has so far published more than 200 art books, while you continue to write regularly for theater, TV and print. How have you managed to handle as many different métiers, all of which share an interest in language, and more specifically, the written word?
PATRICK FREY: I think at one point in my career as an art critic, which went from 1977 to about 1984, I realized that this lonely job of writing on other people’s creative work would kill me one day. I didn’t want so much to apply a theoretical mindset on works of art and analyze them at a comfortable distance, as much as I wanted to immerse myself into the object of desire. By the end of the ’70s, I realized that traditional art critique had somehow come to an end, and that I had to find something different of my own. Something with less gravity. It also had to be something I wouldn’t have to do alone physically but was still dealing with language. So comedy on stage was that something. It saved me. Then publishing books gave me the opportunity of dealing with other people’s creative work in a productive way, make things happen, enable somebody to realize a project I found important or just fascinating.
VE: Edition Patrick Frey publishes around twenty books a year, mainly about and in collaboration with Swiss artists. What are your criteria for realizing a book project? How has this developed over the years?
PF: We started with artist books in the purest sense of the word: books as autonomous works of art, no commenting texts, no interference with professional graphic designers, all done by the artist himself, coached by me. The criteria were deep interest, exaltation, surprise. And most of the authors were friends. In a way, we stick to those principles to this date, even though we act far more professionally, with a team of talented editors and graphic designers. We still publish a book the way the artist wants it.