Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Curator of the Month (February 2006)

My first strong impressions of Isolde Brielmaier were formed while sitting in a park in Madrid with a group of curator/writer/artists friends...all playing hooky from the ARCO Art Fair for a day to enjoy the city. I had just met her, but immediately liked the way she studied the rest of us as, after days of brutal networking and partying, our conversation descended into a fairly gossipy review. Here, I thought, when I began to notice her quiet reaction to the bitchfest, was a true non-judgemental student of humanity.

Indeed, Isolde seems more open to more people of all walks of life than just about anyone I've ever met (she does a delightful impersonation of her father explaining how their family is like the United Nations). With the sort of classic elan that makes one think of movie stars, she seems to relate to whomever she meets almost immediately. This remarkably open attitude is apparent in the exhibitions she curates as well. With an obvious love for popular culture, her bleeding-edge exhibitions tend to explore social issues of identity and desire from a global, mostly metropolitan perspective. One she co-curated with Trevor Schoonmaker (her co-founder of the nascent
Brooklyn Institute of Contemporary Art (BICA) –, slated to open in 2007), was hosted at Jack Shainman gallery in Chelsea last summer. As Holland Cotter noted in his review of the exhibition, though, Living for the City was striking for "how completely unlike anything else in Chelsea the show itself looks" (see installation view above).

Based in New York, Isolde is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art at Vassar College and holds a Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University. In addition to co-curating the marvelous Co-Dependent exhibition in Miami during the art fairs there, she has curated or co-curated the CityScapes – New Territories Exhibition Program at ARCO with Kenichi Kondo, Simon Njami, Christopher Miles and Nelson Brissac (Madrid, Spain, 2006); the Panorama Program at Eyebeam with Tumelo Mosaka and Mahen Bonetti (Fall 2005, NYC); Engaging the Camera at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art (October 2004, Atlanta); and Salad Days, a group exhibition at Artists Space (July 2004, NYC).

Here are a few links to other exhibitions she's curated:

As always, I emailed the Curator of the Month my questions. Here are some of Islode's responses:

EW: Robert Storr recently ( argued that curators are not "artists," despite an increasing chorus of art world types insisting the contrary. Do you think curators are artists? Why?

IB: There is obviously a fair amount of creativity involved in curating – in thinking through and conceptualizing how artworks relate to each other and how that “conversation” can be articulated visually and spatially. But are curators artists? Not sure about that one. I curate because I love working with artists and I very much enjoy collaborating in the creative process of presenting art to the broader public in a way that honors an artist’s vision. Not really because I fancy myself an artist….

EW: How do you most frequently end up doing a studio visit with an artist? Is there an approach or set of circumstances that dominates in the way that happens?

IB: I very much enjoy doing studio visits and I learn so much from the experience! Studio visits are about exchange – of information and ideas – and are very much a learning experience. I am interested in getting a sense of an artist’s history, creative progression, thought and work process, how they see themselves, their work and it place within the broader world. But these visits are also very much organic. There is no formula for me. I simply go and remain open because I never know what might unfold and what work I may see. I love suspense!

EW: Who is most underrepresented in gallery exhibitions today? In museum exhibitions (if that is different)?

IB: I would say that although we’ve come quite a ways, artists of color and women artists are still ghettoized. Hard to say when this will fully change, because the “art world” very much mirrors broader society and this is still very much the case.

EW: What are your thoughts about the state of art criticism today, especially withregards to the curator's role in shaping it (if any exists)?

IB: In addition to being focused on artists, I am also very much concerned with audience. Artists make work to be seen, consumed and engage and I am very interested in how this process of presentation occurs particularly when we have such varied kinds of audiences today. And how do we broaden that audience? To whom are we as curators really speaking? Art enthusiasts and collectors? Students? Academics? Other curators? The general public? I still grapple with these ideas when thinking through a show from start to finish and they are very important to me. It’s all about continuing business not as usual….


Anonymous bamibno said...

One of my favorite curators in New York. Very lovely, funny, educated, smart, ambitions person. Love her personality, work. Wish you all the best and good luck.

2/01/2006 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

Isolde seems nice, but let's argue about whether curators are artists. Sounds like fun. Gallerists/Directors are artists too -- they curate don't they? (Well, to be fair some actually are artists, but not because they're gallerists).

I tend not to respond well to the entire genre of curated "theme" shows. It's a good way to find out about new artists, but I'm more of a fan of the solo exhibition -- where the individual artist has total control of the exhibition environment. Maybe it's just personal taste, but I find that curated shows either weaken great art or deceptively strengthen bad art.

2/01/2006 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I tend not to respond well to the entire genre of curated "theme" shows.

I think they have a role in the overall dialog. The job of the curator IMO is to connect the dots, anticipate the future/analyize the past, and teach the rest of us how to see what artists are/were doing. Sometimes that's not possible with work by only one artist.

2/01/2006 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

teach the rest of us

I'm certainly not arguing for the irrelavance of curating, but I think "teach the rest of us" may sum up why I sometimes respond negatively to thematic shows. I prefer to see the work in as close to its intended environment as possible and then connect the dots myself. Heavily-curated exhibitions often create an artificial environment that pushes artwork far away from its creative intention (which is what I'm most interested in when looking at art). Work in group shows always feels sort of 'dislocated' to me, but I agree that these types of shows definitely have a role in the overall dialog.

2/01/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

I have to agree with Art Soldier.

I'm seeing more and more "curated" shows these days that are really nothing more than a judged or juried group exhibition.


2/01/2006 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Are curators artists? I always wonder when I read a question/statement like that, whats wrong with just being a curator that it needs that kind of propping up, and what's so special about being an artist that other people would want to seem like one?

I think we hashed this out a few years ago. Curators now, appropriately, get some star buzz of their own. The boundaries we are working on in this decade are between artists and collectors. Art fairs have brought collectors new prominence and celebrity. Resulting in increased power to guide the development of art.

I was kind of stunned, last Thursday at the artLA opening, to see the collectorati stride through the hall, like black clad gods, bestowing their blessings on deserving gallerists and artists.

2/01/2006 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Tim,

"I was kind of stunned, last Thursday at the artLA opening, to see the collectorati stride through the hall, like black clad gods, bestowing their blessings on deserving gallerists and artists."

Get a trademark on "Collectorati" - I love that word!


2/01/2006 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

And are artists curators?

2/01/2006 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Sure, the "theme" shows can get a bit annoying, but when the theme is well thought out, the connections clear and relevant, and the impetus more about exchanging ideas or asking questions than adding another line to your curatorial resume, these exhibitions can be quite good.

Juried exhibitions, on the other hand, are usually monsters. (Not too suggest I don't try to get into these all the bloomin' time, whore that I am.)

2/01/2006 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

[I would say that although we’ve come quite a ways, artists of color and women artists are still ghettoized. Hard to say when this will fully change, because the “art world” very much mirrors broader society and this is still very much the case.]

I'm not sure I agree with this statement at all. What about artists from the South (many of whom are black) who have been been marginalized for decades by being classified by the art world as "outsider", "folk", "naive" or, my personal favorite, "unschooled" artists?

These are marketing terms defined by the art world, not society at large. Where are the curators today that are attempting to knock that false wall down so that these artists can be appreciated by a broader audience outside of the ghetto of Raw Vision Magazine?


2/01/2006 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

the theme is well thought out, the connections clear and relevant, and the impetus more about exchanging ideas or asking questions

I guess I don't want things oversimplified for me; I don't want art's difficulty to be made easier; and I don't want someone other than the artist her/himself to affect the content (which can be radically changed through curating). Besides, I don't think art is about exchanging ideas or asking questions -- that's what seminars, talks, classrooms, and blogospheric comment boards are for. Art can be an impetus for such discussions, but doesn't communicate directly. Curators create an environment of forced connections -- in a way, this explains why all art museums are full of dead art (or, at least art that is a shadow of its former self); its original context and impact has been stripped away.

I can't think of a single curated exhibition that supplied me with a lasting 'art' exerience. But I do think they're necessary, because these shows provide an opportunity for exposure to a larger number of artists at one time -- which usually leads me to experience the work later in a more suitable environment for art.

I see curators as performing more of a public service than any sort of artistic act (except in cases of artist-as-curator, such as Fred Wilson). Let's not confuse 'being creative' with 'making art.' Curators make art easier to digest for the public by 'teaching', 'connecting dots' or 'asking questions' -- but probably don't serve art's purpose as an autonomous emodiment of truth. I know this sounds a bit harsh, but viewing curators as artists is a disservice to art.

2/01/2006 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Curators are creative in the same sense as are movie directors. Both bring together, sometimes disparate, talent and attempt to form a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of it's parts. This "show" is a "showcase" of individual creativity that, when it comes together with the vision of the curator/director, hopefully entertains and/or informs.

2/01/2006 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

Curators are creative in the same sense as are movie directors

I strongly disagree. Great Art never needs to be made whole from a sum of its parts. Perhaps good curating performs more of a service to bad art, who needs a little extra kick of relevance to have an impact. Works of art are not pieces of individual creativity to be put together in service of a curator's vision -- they are separate entities that stand alone. Curators are more like movie-house directors than movie directors.

2/01/2006 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Art Soldier, most of the objections you cite could equally be applied to personal collections of art, leaving nowhere for one's art to be seen except solo exhibitions or the artist's studio. Surely you're not advocating that???

2/01/2006 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

"Besides, I don't think art is about exchanging ideas or asking questions -- that's what seminars, talks, classrooms, and blogospheric comment boards are for."

God how I agree with that statement. If I hear one more artist say "My art is about asking questions, not providing answers" I think I'll go postal. This statement has long sounded to me like something found buried deep inside the owner's manual of a Ford Pinto - in fine print right below the chapter they left out advising their customers what might happen if you're rear-ended with a full tank of gas. I'm not suggesting that art's "role" is to provide all the answers to all the qeustions; but a few answer bones thrown to the ground every now and then would be nice...and different.

But, I do fully understand and appreciate the fact that a lot of artists, I guess, don't wear halos - they wear a crown of question marks. :)


2/01/2006 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

It's possible that I've been listening to the audio archive of Hullot-Kentor's talk ("forgiving art/unforgiving nation" at New School last week) way too much and have become consumed by Adornian rhetoric (I've also been reading selections from A's "Aesthetic Theory", so go figure), but I'm simply making the case that the curator's role in the contemporary artworld is currently overvalued in its service to art.

I think Art is most vital in an environment intended by the artist, and is actually diluted by a curator's manipulations (unless the artwork involved was lacking to begin with).

This doesn't mean that art should only be shown in certain situations. I'm not advocating destroying art museums just because they show art that is, in a certain sense, dead. Curated exhibitions, museums, collector's houses, etc. all serve a purpose -- but I don't think it's a purpose that necessarily contributes to art's vitality -- it's too removed.

2/01/2006 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

art soldier said "Great Art never needs to be made whole from a sum of its parts."

Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. Just as an actor or a musician doesn't require a director of conductor to create neither does an artist need the curator. The 'whole" I was talking about was the show not the individual pieces. The symphony and not the solos.

2/01/2006 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

j.b. -- but an actor does need a director in order to create (as well as a script, among other things). I'm suggesting that an artwork is already complete in its individual state, and therefore cannot be added to through a curator's direction. That, by creating a 'dialogue' or 'teaching' through an environment that offers up an easy and artificial comparison, something is actually lost instead of gained. To use your analogy, I'm saying that the single artwork is already a symphony -- not a 'solo'. A group show is like a cacophony of symphonies in the same room -- wait ... that's not right ... that would be pretty cool actually. E_: sorry for highjacking your comment board. ;]

2/01/2006 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

i am with art soldier 100%.

2/01/2006 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

E_: sorry for highjacking your comment board. ;]

Not at're very much on topic.

2/01/2006 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Joseph and Art Soldier,

I think you're both right in many respects.

The idea that a single work of art is its own symphony is something I very much hold to heart.

The idea that a curator can assemble symphonies to create a new work of music is also something I believe.

I believe that great curators are good at "sampling" or "appropriating" works of art in such a manner that the symphanies of the individual artists can be clearly felt in the presence of the new piece of music, the curated show.

Late last night I saw the film Capote. I couldn't help but think about the film, as I was watching it while sitting in the theater, from the perspective of simultaneous reflections on the experiences and influences of having read the book, In Cold Blood, and having seen the film, In Cold Blood.

I clearly heard the sounds of several creative symphonies meshed into a new creative experience while watching the film Capote. This is this type of experience with a curated art exhibition that I seek.


2/01/2006 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

I really don't think outside of a movie, play etc. an actor needs a director to ply their craft. Neither does a musician, unless they are a part of a larger performance. I do however agree with art soldier, and with 100% martin, that deficient curating can ruin a show and reduce the "juice" of an artwork. But the opposite is also true. A curator can add to the understanding and appreciation of a single piece of art when that curator creates/composes a show. That's their art. I can have the same piece in two different shows and easily see the difference a curator can make. My piece is still the same piece in either show, but in a carefully composed context the viewing can be improved and the piece can take on new meaning.

2/01/2006 04:01:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Joseph, picking up on your movie director analogy, I have to disagree.

The various artists/artisans etc. that work on a movie are working for the director, and the director is, in turn, working for the studio (except in the case of truly independent movies, which are becoming increasingly rare). The director is the boss. Some of the work, like certain effects, gets outsourced to various companies, but they are by no means free to do what they want. Their work is work-for-hire, and ultimately it is the director who tells them what he wants, and who gets credit for the vision of the film (for better or worse).

(A good argument could be made that the screenwriter is the real author of the film, since without a script there is no movie, but more often than not the story you see on the screen is totally different from what was in the original script).

Anyway, I am certainly not trying to reduce the importance of what curators do, but comparing their role to movie directing reduces the role of the artist to that of hired help.

2/01/2006 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

I think I've got it:

Curators are anti-artists. They destroy vital art through reification.

Put that on my headstone!! Or, maybe not.

(Curators: don't take offense, I love you all, please don't hate me, I STILL NEED YOU!!!, love A.S.)

2/01/2006 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think you've gone and done it now, Art'll never be curated in this town again ;-)

by the way...consider decaf

2/01/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear David,

"The director is the boss."

As a friend of mine who works for the film industry (she's a graphic designer) once told me, "If your name appears on the movie poster credits, you're an artist; if it doesn't, you're just hired help."


2/01/2006 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Art Soldier,

"Curators are anti-artists. They destroy vital art through reification."

And that, my friend, is a beautiful opening line for a curated show! I would love to see a curated show that openly, and honestly, embraced that concept.


2/01/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think another good idea for a group exhibition is "biting the hand that feeds you." Curators work to HELP artists, not hurt them.

just sayin'...

2/01/2006 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Thanks for the info David. I have no real knowledge of what the hierarchy of a movie set is like. I stand corrected on this analogy. But it does raise another question about artists input to the curator. Have any artists out there had a say about how their work was placed during the curating of, say a group show? Not many by my guess.

2/01/2006 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

Curators are anti-artists. They destroy vital art through reification.

(am I allowed to quote myself?)

E_: All kidding (and exaggeration) aside, it's an interesting idea to at least consider, no? It seems to me that the point of curatorial practice is to provide an accessible context for elusive truth. Isn't reification supposed to be an enemy of vital art?

"biting the hand that feeds" -- funny, I get that a lot. ;]

2/01/2006 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...


There is that view out here in Hollywierd, the credits thing. But the director is still the one in charge. (In those cases where an actor with "star-power" starts demanding changes in the script, it's usually a good sign that the movie is going to stink.)

My day gig is doing digital effects for a major studio (I'm supposed to working on one right now, not writing this). But while my job title is "digital artist" and I've had screen credit on a bunch of films (no posters though), somehow what I do here all day doesn't feel a whole lot like art. I mean it's demanding and sometimes interesting work, and I certainly use many of my "art" skills to get the shots done, but it's still basically a service business. Feels very different from the work I do in my own studio when I leave here at the end of the day.

2/01/2006 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

[I think another good idea for a group exhibition is "biting the hand that feeds you."]

I'd go to see that show...but only if it's judged or juried by blind slide submission presided over by a panel of curators who would be required to pass a sodium pentathol test certifying that the selected artists, and their works, are completely unknown to them.

My point is this: I don't think the business of a curator is to feed an artist. The curator should be feeding the audience the new, the fresh and the cutting-edge.

Uhfortunately, far too many curators are content to recyle their favorite artists through the invention of a "new" show time and time again.


2/01/2006 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The idea of "vital" art is ripe for exploration as well, though.

I mean, what's the shelf-life of any "vital" artwork as such? Doesn't all work pass into some other state?

There's a quote by someone famous (brain is dead today) about art being "alive" for 50 to 60 years at most, or something like that. Anyone know it?

Isn't it cocktail hour???

2/01/2006 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

Cocktail hour?! It's cocktail hour 24/7 - even in our postmodern deconstruction reality - in New Orleans!


P.S. Edward, the word verification code for this post was zsyytcbp. Maybe it's the humidity down here getting to me, but I'm starting to think I can "read" some of these codes. I knew I shouldn't have read that essay by Derrida on the plane!

2/01/2006 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Maybe it's the humidity down here getting to me, but I'm starting to think I can "read" some of these codes.

it's not just the humidity...I start to think they're secret messages myself at times. And they sure do make me feel dyslexic.

Have a cocktail in NOLA for me James. Just not one of those silly crawfish martinis...whose idea was that?

2/01/2006 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

I have been in a lot of group shows over the past few years, and my experiences were not all the same. Many of these shows probably didn't provide much of value, really--Not to me or to the public.

However, there were several that were very valuable to me, personally (I mean to my art and how I think about it). A really good curator can provide a context for your work that is just beyond how you are viewing it, and this can be extremely helpful.

My experience might be somewhat different from the typical artist because I create site-specific works, which means I become a more integral part of the installation process. I observe the curator as he/she makes final decisions, see how are thinking of the works individually and as a group. I don't know if I'd call this process "art," but it IS creative, IMO.

2/01/2006 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

"Just not one of those silly crawfish martinis...whose idea was that?"

A reprobate three-time convicted felon wannabe Emeril chef from Texas who used to work for Enron, man!

The parasites down here (that's what we native New Orleanians call tourists) will drink and eat anything, as long as you can spin a tall tale about how it was inspired by your great great Cajun grandmother's favorite recipe!

The best real drinks I've ever had were at Nick's "The Best 'Lost' Bar In Town" Bar My favorite drink? The Black Velvet Smash.

Man, oh man, the memories. I once had an argument with Jim Garrison, former Orleans Parish D.A. who prosecuted Clay Shaw for the Kennedy murder, and author of On The Trail of the Assasins, at Nick's that went on until 3:00 am. Like a lot of people in New Orleans, I thought he targeted Shaw because he was a known homosexual. Garrison wasn't born and raised in New Orleans and never did really accept our libertine way of life down here.

But Jesus Christ, that dude Garrison could argue a convincing case. At the end of the night he almost had me believing that Richard Nixon's brain was controlled during his Presidency by Mao through a satellite in outer space!

And people think I have some weird theories! Garrison was an incredible story teller. I'm getting all sentimental here recalling all of this. Probably need to go out to the only place there's left to go...The French Quarter...and sit with my friends in front of St. Louis Cathedral and make jokes about what the parasites are wearing!


2/01/2006 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Besides, I don't think art is about exchanging ideas or asking questions -- that's what seminars, talks, classrooms, and blogospheric comment boards are for.

What?! Not only am I shocked that you feel this way, Art Soldier, but I'm further shocked that others seem to agree. If you really do feel art "doesn't communicate directly," why are you compelled to write about it so damned much...what of all the threads it has led you down?

A single, unconsidered mark sparks a question - or, if you prefer, an answer - and thoughtful people will run with it. Necessarily, then, art is about ideas, be they questions or answers.

Sure, I understand how someone might react negatively to the concept of the theme show, the didactic presentation of group show press releases and the like, but isn't it inevitable that we will try to assign meaning, even if art is supposed to be the silent partner?

2/02/2006 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

hh: I posted a response at Art Soldier (at the bottom). I hope it somewhat clarifies my position. Basically I would say that while Art can provoke questions, it doesn't ask them. When curators ask the questions for us, it mediates between art and viewer -- weakening art's role.

2/03/2006 02:12:00 PM  

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