Dieter von Graffenried (1953–2021)
Dieter von Graffenried, publisher of the acclaimed international art journal Parkett, of which he was also a cofounder, died December 19 at the age of sixty-eight. According to the journal, he experienced a heart attack while cross-country skiing “on a glorious day in his beloved Upper Engadine.” Frequently characterized by those he knew as ebullient, outgoing, and tireless, Graffenried was instrumental not only in Parkett’s founding but in its sustained and expanded success. During his thirty-plus year tenure with the bilingual journal, it gained renown for its unique artist-oriented focus and for its reflective, in-depth exploration of the oeuvres of artists working across a broad range of media and representing a plethora of backgrounds and countries, including those in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and North America.
Born in 1953, Graffenried grew up in Basel. He would cite the experience, in a 2013 interview with Grandin’s Sylvie Lin, as formative, owing to the presence of a number of public museum collections in the city. It was thanks to Basel’s status as an art center that he was able at the age of fifteen to see a performance by Joseph Beuys. In 1979, Graffenried obtained his PhD in economics, history, and law from the University of Bern. He worked in the film industry for the next several years before founding Parkett in 1984 with editor in chief Bice Curiger and editor Jacqueline Burckhardt. Headquartered in Zurich, the journal appeared thrice yearly in both German and English. Each issue typically encompassed a collaboration with an artist involving a specially commissioned signed and numbered work, attended by several erudite essays on said artist’s oeuvre by carefully selected critics, curators, and art historians. Parkett additionally hosted numerous exhibitions across the globe, presenting its first one at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 1987, and going on to stage shows in such diverse venues as Frankfurt’s Portikus, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
Graffenried in 2000 took up the post of cochair of New York’s Swiss Institute; he would go on to hold the position until 2008. As digital media increasingly proliferated, Parkett ceased print production in 2017 with its hundred and first volume, having brought to the sixty countries in which it was distributed more than 1,500 essays by over eight hundred esteemed authors and 270 editions of unique artworks. Graffenried remained undaunted by the rise of digital media, telling Lin, “The most important thing is to see opportunities to do something that makes sense.” He continually sought new avenues to bring Parkett and the artists it championed to a broad audience, including apps, ebooks, and artist videos. The Swiss Library in 2018 committed to digitizing the entire run of Parkett, faithfully reproducing the journal’s double-page format. Just prior to his death, Graffenried composed a 360-degree digital tour of the exhibition “All Works Made for Women by Parkett,” which closed earlier this month at the Musée des beaux-arts du Locle, Switzerland.
In a statement, Burckhardt and Curiger offered a lamentation whose starkness and simplicity evoked the collective voice that elevated the trio’s publication to the heights it occupied for so long, writing, “His death has brought an abrupt end to all that we have experienced together, developed together, fought for and built up together, leading to a long and fruitful friendship and the audacious Parkett project.”