Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Curating One's Own Self

Yesterday I gained a whole new respect for curators. Oh, I appreciated them before, count some good ones among my acquaintances, but it has gone to a brand new level of awe. You see some art writers I can totally do without, and some gatekeepers could be kicked to the curb, but a good curator that is worth the name, creates a memorable experience with an exhibit. That one, that one makes the exhibit breathe, come to life, and sometimes changes the audience's perception. And that is powerful. Even if it is done in a subtle way.

I owe the late J. Carter Brown at least a half a dozen debts of gratitude for impacting my work in a huge way. One mark, one sequence in presentation, one tidbit of unexpected context, that kind of brilliance is priceless to me. Or the mounting of a particular show at a particular time and place. Sometimes it seems as if that show was meant specifically for me. I learned a lot in school, but I learned more by going to some incredibly well done exhibitions and museums. Some of them changed my life. One mark on a Cezanne "Bathers" canvas created the foundation for most of my work. A show that Brown fought for, sued for and produced, changed my way of looking forever. It happens.

And this week, I find myself in the awkward position of curating my own self. Artists do this to a certain extent when doing a show, creating press materials, doing those gallery presentations. There is usually a message, a core theme. But this time the theme was escaping me. Everything is so, so unsettled. There's the before the storm, the during, and now the seemingly endless adjustment, the after. I was looking for a finite, closed presentation. A nice neat tied up in a bow kind of thing. And that just wasn't happening. That is until I realized I was actually trying to curate my own self. So I started nosing around. I began to look at what exactly a curator does. I read some interviews with some of the greats. And before I am done, I know I will research some more on my favorite, J. Carter Brown. Maybe email David Houston at the Ogden for his view on his role there.

But here is a nugget that I got from a world renown curator Hou Hanru after his shows in Beijing and in Paris:

Exhibitions first and foremost have to be experimental, and should do their utmost not to repeat things that people have seen before - they should give people a new visual experience. That said, a purely visual experience is not enough, there should be new experiences for the mind and body as a whole. Perhaps the most important element in any successful exhibition is its orientation to a certain time and place, its cultural backdrop, its significance within its locale. For me, an exhibition is a special activity, a special event. It is not simply a matter of taking existing works and hanging or installing them. From the choice of theme, artists, and artworks to the actual realisation of the exhibition itself, all of these things represent a living and breathing process.

Well. There. No neat and tidy necessary. In fact that lack of neat and tidy might even be the theme, because that is the truth of the matter. There it is again... the things I don't know, the random, and uncertainty. Seems counterintuitive for a tight piece of presentation, something meant to impress, but it seems like an idea that has become more of a constant. Hm.

I was safely tucked away in my neighborhood, living a life that I so cherished for its cultural richness, the people I saw everyday. I don't know a lot of things. I don't know what's next. But I do know that I am an artist and that's the way, I''ll figure it out. I always thought the work itself should stand alone. And it should. But relevance, meaning, those huge things in the art world, that comes from the context as well. So here we go again. More stories, more writing. Sheesh. We used to save that for talking, over beverages, or dinner...or at a gathering. Storytelling to go with the paint? Who knew?

Have you ever been to an exhibit that just knocked your socks off? Changed your perspective?


Kelly said...


Barnett Newman, years ago. But that wasn't the curating, that was the work. His stuff floors me.

I LOVE the quote you put in here, and I'm certain that I agree completely with his philosophy of putting a show together (printing out right now), yet when you ask about seeing it in action... doggone it I can't name a show where the production of it was the thing for me.

I think maybe it's like what a good film producer does—shape the thing, create a progression that I can identify with and be moved by. Maybe I can't name one because when it's done just right, I don't notice that I've been guided through my own thoughts, my own life and times, by the way a show's been chosen and set up.

So maybe (?) many of the shows that have really wowed me, or rattled my cage, have had a lot more to do with how they were curated than I think.

Great food for thought.



Janice C. Cartier said...

Kelly- It's very much that I think. The curator's hand, or mind can be very behind the scenes, but is exactly the HOW and what you see. And as I was reading your comment and the quote again, I thought of how much what you do for businesses is VERY much like curating an experience. Only it's an ongoing one. A performance installation maybe. Like directing a show perhaps. And everything in that supports the theme, the underlying "it" of what they are about.
There was a long ago Matisse Retrospective that absolutely stopped me in my tracks by the time I got to the end of it. It was the flow, the build. I experienced Matisse. I ddin't just see some cutouts.
I am going down to the Nasher again soon. Not only is the Renzo Piano Building great, but the layout of the sculpture garden "reveals" the work in bits. Right downtown, but quite an oasis.
I loved that quote. I'll have some more later.

ParisBreakfasts said...

If you don't paint these pretty sitll lifes I will!
Truffles anyone..?

Janice C. Cartier said...

OMG! It never occurred to me. Duh, thanks!!!

A Brush with Color said...

I saw a Picasso/Matisse exhibit once that was astounding, and I went to the very last day of the Barnes exhibit at the National Galleries once that was amazing. I think I could live in the midst of a good exhibit or in a good museum and be very content...

Janice C. Cartier said...

Ooh, you reminded me of a Picasso/ Bracque show at MOMA that made cubism come alive for me. The Cezanne mark I mentioned was from the Barnes Collection at the National Galleries which was phenomenal. There was also a Wyeth exhibit in Houston once that showed his work in progress. I practically had my nose to his drawings.

I feel beyond at home in the Courtyard at the Met...LOL. Or within any room at the Phillips.