2018 November 10 / 17:00
Round Table
Dora Imhof

Islands are geographically localizable territories. In addition, they are spaces of the imagination that are as filled with associations and metaphorically charged as the woods or the Alps. As opposed to their occurrence in literature, they didn’t really begin to play a role in art until the eighteenth century. Visual art’s discovery of the island thus coincides with the advent of colonialism and tourism.

From the start, the artistic examination of the theme has spanned the disparate poles of ideal and utopia and real societies and economic power structures. Artists like Paul Gauguin in Tahiti or Walter Spies in Bali were thus always in highly ambivalent positions. At the same time, artists have been used to the present day for the touristic marketing of islands.

In art, nevertheless, islands still remain a privileged projection space and a potential realm for utopias and fictions. This is especially true if images or fictional characters are clearly associated with them from the start.

Based on Dubai World I–III, a series of photographs taken by Andreas Gursky in 2007, I will examine islands as territories of contemporary art.


Dora Imhof is an art historian and art critic. Since 2011, she has been a postdoc scholar and lecturer at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich. In 2005 she received her PhD at the University of Basel and later held positions as an assistant lecturer and lecturer at the Museum of Contemporary Art Basel and the Institute of Art History at the University of Zurich. She was managing director of the Luma Foundation and project manager at Ink Tree Editions. Most recently, she published Künstliche Inseln. Mythos, Moderne und Tourismus von Watteau bis Manrique and The Private Museum of the Future (ed. with Cristina Bechtler), both in 2018, as well as Thinking the Contemporary Landscape (ed. with Christophe Girot), 2016.

Credit: Andreas Gursky, Dubai World II, 2007, photography, 307 x 223,3 cm, VG-Bild-Kunst