Monday, April 25, 2011

artist as curator...calling all comments

I'm in the midst of curating a show that will open in a Philadelphia gallery in September. I'm well into the fun part of the project: fulfilling my vision, contacting artists, having them respond (at least some of them) and putting together the show, at least on paper. I haven't gotten to the nitty gritty beyond having the venue, the date, and several other arrangements in the works. Now that I have most of the artists for the show, I'm about to step into the next phase of working more directly with the gallery owner, coordinating tasks, writing the essay and putting together the publicity, etc.

I'm interested in hearing from artists who have had the experience of curating a show...Here are a few of my questions:
  • did you include your own work? or do you consider that strictly taboo? (I've had some interesting conversations with both artists and folks who put together shows...there are some rather strong opinions about that one.)
  • what about setting and meeting deadlines? i've often felt that organizing artists can be a bit like herding cats...was this your experience? or was it easy as pie?
  • how did you find the venue for the show you curated? was there administrative help? someone available to help schlep, hang, and light the show, or were you on your own?
  • what "advice" would you offer a first-timer (like me) about this kind of enterprise? (i.e.: what did you learn that you feel might be helpful to others? is there a list of do's and don't's you're willing to share? 
  • was your curatorial experience within a "curator-in-residence" program, did you pitch a proposal for a call, or did you just wing it and approach a gallerist or director of a venue?
Feel free to share your experiences in general about participating as an artist in a show curated by an artist as well...or maybe you're an artist who has always wanted to curate a show but didn't quite know how to proceed. Please respond in the comments section. If you wish to remain anonymous, use that option...  

From my own recent experience, I can say that participating in "Conversations" (see previous blog post) was a very positive experience. It was curated by artist Joanne Mattera and artist Laura Moriarity. Laura happens to be the gallery director at RF Handmade Paints...From the start to opening night, this was a very coordinated, smoothly run event.  I suspect both Joanne's and Laura's considerable experience in curating played a major role, as well as a shared vision, clear expectations and communication...a very positive model for me to reference.
In the comments section, Susan Schwab, Rachel Citrino, Joanne Mattera, and Nancy Natale offered their words of wisdom. And Susan, and NN, I appreciate your generous offers. Don't be surprised if you hear from me somewhere along the line...

Here's a little background about my previous curating experiences... When I was an undergrad at Mason Gross, I had the curating itch pretty strong: I participated in a group curatorial project along with 3 other students; curated a group show of ceramic sculpture by a range of participants from Mason Gross; and volunteered to arrange/install the BFA Senior Thesis show. Stressors were minimal; projects were successful, or at least that's my recollection. (Maybe curating is like childbirth; somehow the memory of the pain subsides with time.)

Later in my career, I co-curated an exhibit of encaustic work at Morpeth Contemporary, the gallery where I have been represented for the past 6 or 7 years. It was a joint project, and I had a number of pieces included. 

Since then I put together, with 2 Philly artists, a 3 person show, the (dark) show, at the indie gallery Stratasphere, in Kensington. This was not really curated, since we were each selecting our own bodies of work, though there was dialogue about placement of the work. 

So, this show is my first solo-curating project. I'm enjoying the sense of freedom that comes with the process of making the vision happen....and so far, embracing the uncertainty about what is yet to come. I'll update further in a few days about the decision to include my work or not in a few days.


Susan Schwalb said...

I would have lots to say about an artist curating a show as I co-curated "Re-inventing Silverpoint" for the Kentler International Drawing Space two years ago. So if you want to talk, perhaps on the phone email me. Writing up all my experiences is very time consuming but I am more than happy to share.


Hi Pam. Nice blog.
I have curated several shows over the years and have made it a practice not to include my work because I approach curation as a work in itself. If I should organize a show with a group, then the democratic process takes over and I am a part of the group.

Joanne Mattera said...

I love to curate. In fact in my next life, I plan to come back as a curator. It's very satisfying to have an idea, find the artists whose work supports--or ideally, expands--the concept, and then bring all of those artists together. A good show becomes so much more than the sum of an initial idea. In fact, it's thrilling when it all comes together.

Sometimes I include my work, sometime not. I think if an artist curates and always includes her work, you have to examine the artist/curator's ulterior motive. On the other hand, sometimes the fit is right. For the "Conversations" show that I co-curated with Laura Moriarty, which you mention in this post, including our work made sense because the concept sprang from a Facebook conversation between the two of us.

And when I curate a blog post, I almost always include my work, because that's part of the personal nature of the blot format.

But in 2007 I curated a three-gallery, 14-artist show for the Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta, "Luxe, Calme et Volupte," a meditation on visual pleasure. I did not include my work. Here's a link to that show:

And for a big curatorial project in 2012 in the New York City area, I will not include my work.

. Deadlines: I am not quite tyrannical, but very serious about them. If artists cannot deliver the requested information and material on time, then I have no qualms dropping them from the roster. There are many talented artists who would jump at the chance to show their work in a curated context. I want to work with them, not the person who can't be bothered to return my emails.

. Location: Curating is hard enough. I'm not going hunting for a venue. I want to work with dealers, curators or others who have the space and embrace my idea--and who have the organizational infrastructure to pull it off.

. Advice: Trust your eye. Listen to your instincts. Organize your time well, be clear in your expectations for the artist and for the gallery. Allow yourself some flexibility, but don't put up with any shit.

. And for any other artists reading: Always, always, credit the curator on your resume. Your work didn't magically appear in a show. Someone determined that your work would be a good fit, made the effort to invite you (possibly fighting hard to get your included) and shepherd your work through the process. The curator very likely took the time to write about your work in an essay and discuss it with an interested public.

Now I can't wait to hear about YOUR project.

Nancy Natale said...

I have had a fair amount of experience with curating shows on a particular theme in my former life in Somerville, Mass. Putting shows together is always much more work than you think it will be. Getting artists together IS like herding cats and there's always at least one who's a pain in the ass for one reason or another.

Overall, it's fun but after you get through with it, you won't want to do another one any time too soon. Also, pick your artists not only by their work but by their professionalism. Joanne's right: give them the boot if they can't respond or meet deadlines. It's not worth it as there are many more fish out there.

As for including your own work, you can do it but then you will probably find yourself going to great lengths not to promote your own work over the rest of the artists'. On the other hand, it's nice to make a context for your own work and you'll get some great exhibition shots.

Good luck and if you want any more specific advice, I'll be glad to assist.

Pamela Farrell said...

Thank you Susan, Rachel, Joanne, and NN, for your helpful comments. I will respond by updating the post...

Elizabeth Sheppell said...

I will be very interested in knowing how your curating experience works out. I had the idea also to curate a show. I have been thinking about taking the "Sunday Selection" posts and creating a group show with artists who would like to participate. I am wondering if I could pull it off....
Good luck and I will be in touch soon about SH.

Shelley Whiting said...

Your work is very magnificent and epic. I love the textures and layers of paint and marks. Beautiful and stunning work.