Saturday, October 6, 2018

Essential Questions: Who's Curating and Why?

The Seattle-based curator and scholar Sharon Arnold wrote a piece on curating that closed with this lovely paragraph: "In curating art, we are not just caring for art and nurturing artists, we are incubating a space for critical thinking and intellectual rigor. We are making space for moments where empathy, insight, philosophy, and culture can intersect and impact. Curating locates itself within the act of thinking. Curating makes perception possible."

Edited by Jane Guthridge

Carol Pelletier The beginnings of my curatorial work happened at a small liberal arts college gallery space that had a modest endowment. My perspective has always been centered around educating young artists about contemporary issues, but also engaging a conversation between a young artist and an established artist, so I focused on that dynamic. When I first started curating in 1997, I was mostly working with individual artists on solo shows but today I prefer group exhibitions in order to bring more breadth to a particular vision.

Full panorama of the first incarnation of Organic to Geometric: Investigations in Structure and Surface, which Carol Pelletier curated for her institution, Endicott College, in 2015. Catalog link is here. (The second incarnation took place this past June/July in Provincetown and is reported on here)

Jane Allen Nodine I curate the exhibitions for my university galleries and for our outdoor sculpture collection. I have a mission for each entity that I work to encompass, while selecting work that will challenge and bring new information to viewers. I consider the work first and foremost, but also seek artists who may not have had large exposure. I work directly with artists on planning the exhibitions and invite them to speak about the work.

Dorothy Cochran For 23 years I curated with the final approval of my exhibition committee for a New York City office building with two wonderful gallery spaces. Because the agencies in residence were all non-profits, education and workplace enhancement were critical to my tasks. I selected artists, usually in solo exhibitions, did studio visits, selected work, prepared catalogs and mailings, and arranged lunchtime demonstrations if appropriate. As an artist myself, I loved supporting other artists and exposing them to the community. There was always excitement in the air at the opening of a new show with lots of dialogue and opinions shared, sometimes in the elevator or the building cafeteria. Sales gradually increased through the years as employees felt it was already a vetted situation.

Wendy Haas When I had my gallery, curating became my canvas as I didn't have the time or energy then to create my own work. I loved the interaction of pieces, seeing the dialogues they created with each other and the personalities and even petulance that a work could have. I could have the show laid out in my mind, but it wasn't necessarily up to just me.

With her Cervini Haas Gallery, Wendy Haas brought a curated selection of work to a  SOFA Chicago fair (SOFA is the acronym for Sculptural Objects and Functional Art)

An artwork could fight me, resist, and demand—and yes, it pretty much always won. Now, I don't curate very often because it's hard to curate for a space that I haven't necessarily seen. When I do, I will draw from artists that I've represented, but I also explore their contemporaries and professional peers by looking at professional associations or who else is showing in the galleries that represent them. I still look for that potential for conversation between artworks.

Joanne Mattera I like to bring ideas, images, and artists together for conversation, visual and otherwise. My painting practice is solitary and inwardly focused. In curating I flip that focus to work with a group of artists, sometimes with a co-curator, to explore an idea that can only be realized with others. I find curating personally and professionally rewarding, every bit as exciting to me as the opening of a solo show. Including work in encaustic within a larger conceptual context allows that work to be seen as part of the contemporary mainstream.

Politically, curating by artists is a way of taking control. You can sit around forever waiting for the chance to show in a museum, or you can come up with a good idea, develop it with wonderful work, and find the museum that will be thrilled to take it. The good news: Curating creates opportunities for other artists. In addition to selecting good work, I try to select artists who understand the idea of the artist-created opportunity. The opportunities I offer to others often return in the form of opportunities to me. It's a reciprocal and respectful way of participating in an art world that puts artists first. The bad news: Curating is a huge amount of work, both big-picture and detail oriented; it takes organization, administration, writing ability, and did I mention, a huge amount of work. And artist curators do not typically earn much, if anything, for their efforts.

Panorama of A Few Conversations About Color, which Joanne Mattera curated for DM Contemporary in New York City, 2015. While encaustic was represented, the chromatic theme was amplified with paintings in both oil and acrylic, and sculpture in painted wood. Her walk-through of the exhibition is here

Sandi Miot I curate exhibitions, sometimes by myself but most times in committee for MarinMOCA. It usually involves everything from the selection of the work to planning the presentation and support materials. Supporting artists and educating the community are the things I try to keep in mind.

Susanne Kilgore Arnold In the past I worked through institutions as their paid director or curator, so I had a location first, usually a university. I kept an eye open for artists whose work I felt needed to be seen, which was also an educational match to the university/department. If an art history department was studying a certain period but didn’t have access to seeing real work in that period, for instance, I would research collectors, museums, other galleries, maybe one who had curated a loan show I could bring to my gallery. I kept up with art journals, other curators, artists, and kept records of possible shows I could bring or create.

I co-curated one show freelance. This was a show we felt needed to be seen. We made a proposal to the art center, it was accepted, and we worked out a budget. We then sent letters to possible artists whose work fit our theme, represented different aspects, used different media but fit together as a group. In this case, artists who worked with an archaeological theme or process, a subject that we both utilized in our own work. We did not include our own work in this show. We took no fee, and did all the work and installation, with the art center paying for transportation, catalog, invitations, opening and a small travel fee for the artists. It turned out to be a very timely, successful show with a good partnership between curators, artists and art center.

Nancy Natale I have enjoyed curating group shows as a means of assembling works that resonated together and that extended my own interests or inclinations. For example, in Thinking Sideways, a show I curated under the aegis of the Conference Curatorial program in 2016, I had the concept of bringing together artists whose work emphasized the horizontal. Of course there was much more meaning to be derived from the horizontal orientation of their work and from the various ways they expressed their ideas, but they had a common bond of horizontality that I expressed in my own work.

Cover for Thinking Sideways. Click here to view the entire catalog

Perhaps artists who curate use their own work and interests as the starting point. But then appears the gorilla in the room: Should the curator’s own work be included in a show? 

Joanne Mattera  Good point about curators putting their own work in a show. I've done it both ways. Some institutions don't allow it, which I appreciate, because it takes the away the should-I-shouldn't-I dilemma. Others have no proscription against it, which is always tempting. I mean, who wouldn't want to be part of a well-conceived project, even if it's a project one conceives oneself? I think it depends on the venue, the artists, the situation. My take: Curate as much as you want, just don't put yourself in all the time.

Debra Claffey I love arranging work whose textures, color, rhythm, and content complement and contrast each other. I’m in love with a juxtapostion of intent. The opportunities I’ve had to curate have been hugely satisfying.

I would be happy for more opportunities to curate. I do like including my work in a supporting way. The work of others that most interests me is that which resonates with my own theme or issues. I’m attracted to the conversation we create together. I curate as an artist, rather than a museum or gallery professional. I’m only interested in the visual conversation. Leaving my own work out of the mix would be like starting a conversation and forcing myself to keep mute.

Postcard for Debra Claffey's exhibition, Natura Viva, which she produced under the aegis of the Conference Curatorial Project of the 7th International Encaustic Conference. A link to the catalog is here

Jane Guthridge I think every artist should curate an exhibition just to see the other side of an exhibition. You will learn how difficult it is when the artists don't communicate, don't get you their information or work on time—or worse yet behave like a diva!

Christine Shannon Aaron I curated Memory and Materiality as a Fantasy Curation for Vasari21. It was my first attempt at curation. I wanted to highlight immersive and intimate, not necessarily painting-based work, and started by thinking of the kind of work that stilled me and commanded my attention, allowing me to surrender with it. 

I am drawn to materiality in work so my choices began there. As I gathered images and started imagining the work laid out...the work really started to speak up. I removed certain artists whose work and what it said might've already been represented elsewhere in the group, changed the pieces I chose according to what they would be next to, so as to create conversations and juxtapositions that would create a flow and natural progression throughout the show, playing with scale, color, intimacy. It took a great deal of time, but I ended up diving more deeply into the work and imagining this in reality.

Screen grab from Christine Aaron's conceptual curation in Vasari 21. Click here to read the entire article. (Curating online is a great way to test your curatorial wings, or to fold conceptual curating into your studio practice. Deborah Winiarski has curated for many features for this publication.)  

Deborah Kapoor I've curated three shows and my motivation has been to share work I want people to know about, to bring attention to it. It's a lot of work. Mine have been unpaid. I am passionate about bringing awareness. So far it has been in my local community, but I am branching out now to write a book about dimensional encaustic, which is essentially another kind of curated show.

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You will find more on artist curating in this ProWax Journal article from 2016

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