Before our new show The Gleaners: Contemporary art from the collection of Sarah and Jim Taylor opened last Thursday, I was able to sit down with two of the student curators. Graduate students Samantha Carantit and Lindsay Smith guided me through their process for curating the show and how the pieces selected fit within their theme. Their insight really opened the show and the artists up for me and I think you will also find this interview very informative for the show. If you would like more information about the exhibition you can always purchase the exhibition catalogue prepared by the entire curatorial group, Carantit, Smith, Alexa Coulton and Laurel Wilkey for $15 in the art office.
MG: Katie Lees, Myhren Gallery Graduate Gallery Assistant
L: Lindsay Smith
S: Samantha Carantit
Interview from Wednesday, February 10, 2010
MG: Can you explain the overall process, in a nutshell, that you learned about curating a show?
L: Overall, it is a group project and involves lots of people. It’s not a one-man show.
MG: How did you go about the process of actually putting together a show?
L: We started by looking at Jim Taylor’s collection online. Saw what types of works he collected and what would be available for us to choose from.
S: At this point we already had some favorite pieces in mind. We then met with Jim at his art space and learned more about the collection, and his personal connection to it.
L: One thing that we did learn is the ability to throw a piece out of the show if it doesn’t end up fitting with your theme.
MG: What theme were you working with?
S: From the start it was about looking back at art history
L: At first we approached it from the idea of the counter-culture. It then became apparent first with Kehinde Wiley and then Iona Rozeal Brown, that the artists were citing imagery from the art historical tradition. The work wasn’t just images of rebellion, but the embrace of traditions.
MG: So for your curatorial process, you saw the Taylor’s collection first and then theme became apparent?
L: We realized after that so many pieces fit that mold.
MG: Can you explain the meaning of the title, The Gleaners?
L: The Gleaners was our personal attempt to do something similar to what the artists were doing. We formulated our idea for a title by looking back at art history. The Gleaners is the title of a famous piece by the nineteenth century French artist Jean-François Millet. The traditional role of the gleaner was to pick up the remaining pieces at the end of the harvest, essentially, these artists are picking bits and pieces from art history to serve as inspiration for their work.
MG: Is the final selection of artists just a selection of your favorites? Or, after you established the theme of the gleaners did you go back and reselect artists outside of your favorites?
S: At first it was definitely looking at artists we really liked. There were pieces that we liked but had to exclude because a similar idea was already being addressed. There were some that we couldn’t use, like the little Titus Kaphar. We weren’t going to use the Luis Gispert, but then you [Lindsay] found some more references and it ended up working really well within our theme. We really tried to get a diverse grouping of ideas.
L: Yes, exactly. We managed to keep the ones we really liked from the first time seeing the collection. We just got lucky that they fit into our theme. Maybe that’s why we like them.
L: Because we are art historians and we immediately saw the connection to art history.
S: Yeah, there are some that are definitely more obvious like Kehinde Wiley.
MG: So Samantha, if you could take one piece home with you from the show which would it be?
S: That’s a hard question. I really like Sam Flores, but as far as the idea behind the work, I really like Rashid Johnson.
L: And that was something we didn’t really realize at first. The more you learn about them the more you really like the pieces of art.
S: Yes, there were some that stood out at first visually, like Sam Flores. But then there were one’s that you had to think about more. If I could take one piece home with me it would be Sam Flores.
MG: And Lindsay?
L. Can I take two?
MG: No, one.
L: I’m partial to the gnome home, (Zoe Charlton and Rick Delaney, There Goes the Neighborhood) but that’s mainly because we built it.
MG: So do you want to take home the home or do you want the gnomes, too?
L: Yeah, just the home, not the gnomes. No, I love the gnomes, I really do. But, I think I’d stick with Iona Rozeal Brown.
MG: Contemporary art is often criticized for being “unclear” to its audiences. Is there a piece or two in the show that you think need an explanation?
L: (laughing) That’s what our extended labels and history cards are for.
MG: So if there’s one that you should read which one is it?
S: I think the Iona Rozeal Brown has a lot behind it that people will not immediately just see.
L: I agree. Brown, back in the nineties read a random article in a university publication about a group of Japanese teens that were trying to emulate their hip-hop idols and icons. They began dying their skin black, perming their hair into fros, braiding them into cornrows, blinging themselves out, and were walking down the street listening to Run DMC. She [Brown] really became interested in this global phenomenon of not only hip-hop but the ability to fuse cultures. And also that this is essentially a redux of black face. This should be offensive. This is offensive, but it’s not, because they believed whole-heartedly in what they were doing because of their love of hip-hop. She wanted to bring attention to the beauty behind the situation. She took imagery from traditional Japanese art that expressed the original image of Japanese beauty, prints from Hiroshige and in this case Yoshitoshi from the late-nineteenth century, and played them against this new image based on the hip-hop explosion.
MG: Can you explain the art historical quotations in the Gispert piece?
L: I have to credit Adam Lerner because he was the one that pointed out the piece’s relationship to John McCracken.
S: That is one of the one’s that I at least overlooked at first. Not for aesthetic qualities, but as fitting into our theme.
L: Yeah, but because it is a huge, brightly colored monolith it immediately connects to McCracken. The giant, heart speaker throws you off a bit, but the essence of the McCracken idea—the simple and the geometric—he adopted that and took it to the next level to apply it to a new piece.
MG: The next question is about the Lucong piece. The Denver Art Museum recently had a posting on their Facebook page about the issue of nudity in art, especially in contemporary art. Can you explain how that piece is using nudity? Is it supposed to be offensive?
S: That was something discussed in the catalogue entry for this piece. This is a piece that embraces and kind of changes the figural tradition in art history.
MG: Is it supposed to be sex in your face? The choice in positioning the body seems to have that message to me.
S: No. Lucong’s body of work is all very confrontational—not just with nudity—he also does a lot of paintings where the sitter is looking right at you. It’s a way for him to connect with people and learn more about who he is and who we all are. I don’t think the use of nudity is meant to be offensive at all.
L: There’s a difference between offensive and raw. I think Lucong is more on the raw side.
MG: Do you think his piece would have functioned without the nudity? Or is it something instrumental in his idea?
S: No, the nudity elicits the intended connection in this case. The subject isn’t looking at us in this piece. The nudity is just another way artists attempt to confront us on a basic human level.
MG: To make us feel uncomfortable in terms of “confront”?
S: No, I think direct is a better word. It draws us to the painting. It does make you question why it makes you uncomfortable.
L: It’s not supposed to dilute the message and it’s not supposed to ease the situation, but I feel that looking at it in art historical guise makes it a little bit easier to digest. We’ve connected it to Egon Schiele’s very confrontational, skewed portraits, which are generally uncomfortable. We are trying to establish that this is a common image [the nude female] as a means to confront.
S: And Egon Schiele was kind of doing the same thing with trying to connect.
MG: And for our last question for the interview, if you were to give one statement to everyone before they walked into the show to think about in relation to the work what would it be?
S: When looking at contemporary art, people have this idea coming in that it’s all just images of the counter-culture.
L: And that they aren’t going to be able to get it.
S: But it’s more than that. They should think about how contemporary art is steeped in the art historical traditions.
L: It’s a duality.
MG: Thank you for your explanations and congratulations on a job well done. Bravo!
The Gleaners will be on view through March 7, 2010 from 12-4pm daily.