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On Artist-Curators: Q&A with Angela Bryant of O’Connor Gallery

From the "First Love" exhibition

Chicago Art Magazine recently contacted Angela Bryant, director of the Dominican University O’Connor Gallery to discuss the topic of her recent group exhibition “First Love,” which highlighted the work of artist-curators Edmund Chia of PEREGRINEPROGRAM, Michelle Grabner of The Suburban, Diego Leclery of Julius Caesar, independent curator Leeza Meksin, and Liz Nielsen of Swimming Pool Projects.

Chicago Art Magazine: Edmund Chia had mentioned during the panel discussion the fact that curating on a higher-institution level has become a practice with “zero risk” in that the audience is fairly clearly being told what to think about the art they’re presented with.

Do you think that the interest in artist-curators is merely a symptom of some exhaustion with the institution? Is it “oh, all the creativity is gone from the idea of curating a show: let’s go ask the artists to do it”?

Or do you think that it is a more separate phenomenon that is an extension of an artist’s practice? As Diego Leclery explained that his curating practice bleeds from his studio practice, is this an instance of a contemporary artist’s condition of wearing many hats, or maybe a post-studio venture of artists not being bound to a practice of material craftsmanship in their studios?

Angela Bryant: For me, Edmund’s reference to the “zero risk” factor is one that relates more to the idea of coming with pre-conceived notions when you are in a realm of higher learning.  For example, if an artist is in graduate school, and they see something out of the ordinary in one of the classrooms or critique spaces, they may be more prone to evaluate it as art…even if it is something purely incidental (like a cup that someone accidentally left behind).  I believe the institution programs in a way that you consciously never let your guard down because anything can be art.  I don’t think the institution is clearly telling people what to think as much as it is encouraging audiences to think.

From the "First Love" exhibition

In my opinion, the role of the curator is much more of a recent phenomenon than that of an artist curating.  It is trendy right now, but artists have done it for years (using different terminology) in the spirit of collaboration and perhaps out of necessity.

CAMag: What did you hope to get out of an exhibition of the work of artist-curators? Was this an investigation? If so, what did you find out that you didn’t know before?

Angela Bryant: Investigation is a good word to use because it also speaks to curiosity.  I knew these curators through their strong bodies of work and I wanted to see what would happen when you brought all of their ideas and work into the same space.

Each artist came with his/her own interpretation of First Love with minimum description from me.  As I came to know them better, I learned that most of them were very hesitant in describing what they do as curating.  That is a term that is often reserved for a select few, and in many cases, some of the artist/curators prefer the term “platformist.”  They see themselves as providing a place for artists that they feel strongly about to exhibit.  Many times this approach is more in the spirit of collaboration than in what most would define as a curator.

CAMag: This is obviously a world-wide phenomenon at this point, but do you think that it has a special relationship to Chicago?

From the "First Love" exhibition

Angela Bryant: In my opinion, Chicago is a very D-I-Y type of city.

If it seems as though an opportunity is not necessarily presenting itself, Chicagoans are not afraid to roll up their sleeves to see a new idea through.  This kind of mindset may be the reason why there are so many artist-run spaces here.

CAMag: Any advice on curating for artists?

Angela Bryant: I think the interesting thing about curating is that there are no clearly defined rules of how to curate a successful show.  Most viewers can tell if something is poorly curated or well curated but the gray area exists in knowing exactly what puts it in either category.  I thought Michelle had a very interesting comment in the panel discussion when she said that poor curating can also backfire on an artist in that viewers may be disappointed in the work when in actuality it just wasn’t presented in the best format. Her comment reminded me that there is a lot of power in curating.

Click here to listen to the panel discussion from “First Love” or watch an edited version in the video below.

First Love Panel Discussion from Vicky Yen on Vimeo.