An Introduction to Curating: A Conversation with Patrick Bobilin

Jeriah Hildwine

Patrick Bobilin

Patrick Bobilin ran Noble and Superior Projects, with Erin Nixon, from 2009 until June 2011.  From New York, Bobilin earned his BA in 2008 from Hampshire College, in Sculpture, Film, and Philosophy, minoring in Physics and Music.  After graduating he flew to Berlin to work as an assistant for an artist who curated a gallery in Mitte.  He recently completed his MFA from SAIC.  In this article, I ask Patrick about running Noble and Superior Projects, and his thoughts on curating.

JH: When did you first get the idea of being a curator/gallerist?

PB: I had seen how easy it was to just clear out your furniture and paint the walls, and I knew how eager many of my friends and peers were to show their work and work out ideas that were just chilling in their notebooks, studios, and stored in boxes in their grandmother’s attic that I knew there would be no problem finding people.

JH: How did you get into the business of running a space?

PB: The use of “business” is funny, because I’ve modeled my “business” after the failing galleries I’ve worked for, the years I spent working retail in a record store and the music venues I’ve been involved with peripherally over the years.  There a bit of anarchy to it all, but the bottom line is “customer satisfaction,” which is reductive but very absent in the cold, cold world of contemporary art.  I learned from mistakes, though, and I hope to not make the same ones…Typically I have a concept, bounce it off of Erin, who reshapes it and takes out all the stupid/cliche parts and tries to spice up the boring parts.

JH: What is curating, to you?

PB: Curating to me is aerobic, active, kinetic energy which exchanges something with art and an audience.  The curator should be in good physical and mental shape, not just making calls but exercising their mind and body, exercising the work, exercising the artists and pushing everyone in positive ways to create something new for the artist, the audience, the curators and the art.


The question I’ve had for awhile is “Anyone can do this so why should anyone do this?”  We are in combat with the anti-intellectual, the anti-aesthetic, and the “caring is so 80s” laissez-faire attitude of how irony culture has clashed negatively with alternative exhibition venues.  Irony kind of rules but it can also be insulting and starve a lot of possibilities and potentials before they have had room to grow.  We try to use humor and intellect in equal measure, while being sincere but not overbearing to our audience and artists.

It’s super important to be purposeful, but not to overwork, over direct the work and its reception.  Being clever without people looking at it and saying “oh how clever.”  We take control of many decisions but try to be a catalyst between artists, trying to get work made for each show so that each show is truly a “site specific” installation.  We make somewhat broad statements and give general direction to the artists but let them choose the path that their art takes down that road.

JH: Are there any shows you can think of that you’d call well-curated or badly-curated?

PB: I can’t get [the recent MCA exhibition] “Art and Its Audience” out of my head…The show is about audience interaction but devotes a hundred or more square [feet of] wall/floor space giving the viewers directions and restrictions which do some of the most aggressive mediation of experiencing artwork that I’ve ever encountered.  I was beyond offended.  It was only respect for the artists involved that kept me from bombing the whole shit [with graffiti].

JH: Do you have any curating pet peeves?

PB: My pet peeves are repetition and catering to your audience.  I’m not advocating alienating audience, but what I’m saying is that if you’re catering to an audience who’s only there for the free food and beer then why aren’t you just having a party?  And why are you showing the same/same kind of art/having the same kind of show every month or two?  I mean, I love the few places that have a regular exhibition schedules–SOLIDARITY!!–but it’s a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of money, so why not do something risky–especially with apt. galleries and alt. spaces–IT’S NOT LIKE YOU GOT RENT TO PAY!!!  That’s one the few upsides of being a not-for-profit exhibition space!

Also, unironic, absurd pricing.  Fuck you guys.  If you’re under 30, showing to a bunch of likewise broke artists in an alternative space, either make shit we can buy to support one another (T-shirts, CDs, zines, small paintings reasonably priced) or don’t list your 5-figure price at all.  If someone can afford it, they’ll ask.  If no one can afford it, no one cares how much it costs.  On the flipside, there are a few artists whose prices aren’t out of reach and whose work I want to buy if I can ever get a real job (I’m looking at you Monte Smith!)

Dealing with artists as a curator is a breeze–outside of a few divas who’ve shit on us but who we had no previous relationship to–it’s always awesome.  We choose people we can work with, usually and when we don’t know people well beforehand, well we’ve been lucky.  Our last show and our next show include some of the most easy-going people I’ve ever worked with. Eric Veit flew in from Philly just to be in our show TWINFORMATION at the last minute to cover for someone who flaked on us.  That combined with Jon Satrom jamming to his iphone in the next room was one of the chillest installations in N&SP history.