Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Real (Art) World Opens Tonight

A few days ago I was invited to talk to the student curators participating in Jack Rasmussen’s innovative curator class at American University.

At the same time that I met, talked to and then spoke to the class, I was fortunate enough to not only get inside the focus and purpose of the five student curators, but also received an early peek at the installation process of the show itself, which opens with a gallery talk tonight, Thursday, June 29 at 5PM, immediately followed by an opening party from 6-8PM.

The exhibition, with the most modern youthful title (somewhat borrowed I imagine from MTV’s "Real World" series) of "The Real (Art) World: 5 Curators. 5 Artists. 1 Museum," has the fore mentioned cast of five students in their first curating assignment; the students are: Bernard Birnbaum, Nicole Ferdinando, Meg Ferris, Roxana Martin and Daniela Rutigliano.

The assignment's starting point was somewhat the same for all the students: review artist submissions and proposals and slides sent to the Katzen since it opened its doors a while back, and select an artist for each curator to showcase in the exhibition.

Birnbaum selected Dave D’Orio, Ferdinando selected Marie Ringwald, Ferris selected Jiha Moon (who seems to be everywhere at once these days), Martin picked Genna Watson and Rutigliano picked Ariel Goldberg.

Of the above artists, I was very familiar with Ringwald (a Trawick Prize finalist and an artist whom I included in Seven) and Jiha Moon (a Trawick Prize winner); the others were all new to me.

Meg Ferris passed the first test of my "why did you select blankety blank?" question, as she answered that she had selected Moon based on her visual impressions of Moon’s elegant work and her statement about her work.

When I saw the work, Ferris had already hung it on the wall, and was preparing to add some wall text. We spoke for a while about “textitis,” that fatal disease of most postmodern minimalist art, where the text is often more interesting than the artwork itself, and Ferris seemed to agree that in Moon’s case the artwork should be allowed to carry the exhibition’s focus, rather than text about Moon’s art.

I also asked her about conservation issues, as Moon uses a variety of inks and pigments to create her deceptively complex works, and the longevity of artwork is something that art dealers often worry about, but seems to be generally ignored by museum curators (unless they are acquiring the work for the museum).
Genna Watson
Roxana Martin was busily working on the massive task of installing Genna Watson’s larger than life sculptures, and she was next on my walk-through the exhibit. "I selected Watson because her work spoke to me as soon as I saw it," stated Marin, who clearly identified with Watson’s discernible attempt to deliver a set of powerful messages through her large, organic sculptures.

In the center of the lower floor gallery, Watson has a superb spot for her work, and this exhibition should bring her work much well-deserved visibility.

Martin and I then discussed art and artists who create work specifically aimed at a museum audience (rather than a gallery audience).

In this case, by the sheer size of the sculptures, and their “display needs,” it is clear to me that the artist is aiming to have her work displayed in large public spaces, rather than the more intimate scale of most commercial art galleries.

This was of interest to Martin, who I think had not seen the work from that point of view. It is a thought (I think) that rarely crosses the mind of museum curators.
Marie Ringwald
Next I talked to Nicole Ferdinando, and confessed to her that when I first stepped into the Katzen, even though I am very familiar with Marie Ringwald’s work, I initially thought that the work that first faced me was that of area sculptor Janos Enyedi, a reasonable mistake considering that the work that I am referring to is clearly within the family of faux metal wall constructions of barns and metal sheds that Enyedi has been making for years.

However, as soon as I noticed several of Ringwald’s better-known freestanding sculptures (also sheds in this case) – and was corrected by Rasmussen – I realized that the work was a natural progression for Ringwald’s shared obsession (with Enyedi) for constructed structures. I was also pleased to see the four red pieces that I had selected and exhibited at Seven be part of this show, and shared this curatorial selection with Ferdinando.

I also managed to discover some new (new to me that is) set of elegant prints by this talented artists, and these were my favorite from her diverse canon of works selected by this young curator.

We then all sat down and discussed the whole environment of curating a show, and some of the points that I had earlier pinpointed with Ferris, Martin and Ferdinando resurfaced.
Ariel Goldberg
Like her fellow curators, Bernard Birnbaum and Daniela Rutigliano shared an acute interest in the work of the artist that they selected, although is Rutigliano’s case I got a sense that she was previously familiar with the artist that she selected, Ariel Goldberg, and Goldberg’s photography.

It was very clear to me that what Rasmussen is doing with this class is having an important and lasting effect on these students, and I would dare say a profound footprint on both their artistic development and appreciation of art, and the complicated web of multi-layered work that goes into assembling an exhibition.

This is an important test for these students, and an event more significant development in the art curriculum of American University; this new ingredient that Rasmussen has added to the complicated soup of being the director and curator of this magnificent art museum will continue to grow and develop, and I think will provide an excellent breeding ground not only for new, budding curators, but also for new artists, perhaps for the first time showcased in a museum environment.

Keep them cooking Jack!

"The Real (Art) World: 5 Curators. 5 Artists. 1 Museum" opens tonight with a reception for the curators and the artists at the Katzen Arts Center. The exhibition runs through August 20, 2006.

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