I loved doing the last curator Q&A, I learned so much about them and their processes. I hope you found it as interesting as I did, because here’s another one! This month I talked to curators Joetta Maue (who’s a well respected fiber artist as well as curator), Iris Nectar (who runs the ongoing traveling and ever growing Feminist Fiber Art show), and Nathan Cartwright who owns and runs The Hive Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles’ arts district.
So with no farther ado…
When and why did you start curating?
Nathan: My journey into curation was an organic process…..I started out in what is now called the Arts District in a large art/performance/ warehouse space called Hangar 1018 around 15 years ago. I was the resident artist in the space, amongst musicians, and part of the agreement of my living in the space (in the loading dock) was to bring artists and music to the space. So this was easy for me, I loved music and art and picked artists that I loved to be in the shows. I didn’t have a real understanding of “curation,” but I did it naturally in the environment with which I was living.
Iris: I had an internship at a local museum in high school, in the exhibitions department, and fell in love with curating. It led me to study Art History at Boston University, with a minor in Arts Leadership, with the goal of building community through the arts.
Joetta: I started curating a little over 7 years ago. At the time I had been exhibiting my textile based work — coming from a more traditional fine art background — and I felt frustrated that instead of seeing thoughtfully curated and connected exhibits most textiles show seemed to be only connected by one thing, medium. These shows were also often salon style (as in a ton of work jammed onto the wall), I felt that there were so many interesting and powerful works being made in the textile community that they deserved the same respect, wall space, and thoughtful consideration that paintings received. So when I got an opportunity to use a gallery space I jumped at the chance to curate a show of contemporary textiles the way that I wanted to see it done.
What do you look for when you’re putting a show together?
Nathan: The first thing I look at is, can he/she draw? Is there a root to the work? For group shows, I am looking for people who have the fundamental skills to show in the gallery, from there, I look at style — many people can draw, but does the artist have a voice? Artists that have figure down and a style are able to move more easily into featured artists spots.
Iris: My curating centers around my traveling exhibit, “Feminist Fiber Art.” I play with different themes at different pop-up events and seek out artists that make related work. I look for high quality work, artists that have a good sense of humor, and artists creating politically inclined work.
Joetta: I start with an initial idea, but one that can be open for interpretation: I did a show about Play, a show about language, a show about pushing the medium, sleep, etc… Then I let the submissions build the show. The most important thing to me as a curator is that the work communicates together and has a conversation. So I look for work I like, but I also look for work that can connect or contrast or comment on the other works in the show. I also try to have diversity in the work, so if there are 2 artist that are doing work that are visually similar, even if I like both works, I will most likely only exhibit one of them.
What’s your pet peeve dealing with submissions?
Nathan: I don’t like to look at artwork during shows. These days everyone has a phone with their art on it, but an opening is not the time to share the images. In a world of instant gratification, it’s important for artists to be sensitive to the environments in which they would like to show. There needs to be a general respect for the artists exhibiting in the current shows. Openings and Artwalks are dedicated to selling that work, it’s not a good time to show a curator your work.
Joetta: When they do not follow the directions!!! I have had over 100 submissions to a show and when someone does not follow the instructions or sends me 5 emails instead of the requested one it feels disrespectful to my time and effort and often I feel less engaged with working with them.
If you could give artists one piece of advice about the submissions process, what would it be?
Nathan: First go to the gallery where you are submitting (or visit their website), and make sure your work fits in. Support the galleries that you like and go to openings, get to know the artists and curators at those spaces. Galleries are businesses and it’s important to find the place that most fits your style of work, because those galleries will be best at selling it.
Joetta: Don’t be an asshole and send good pictures. 1.On not being an asshole I have literally had artists yell at me and be VERY rude to me (via email) regarding not accepting their work for a show. That behavior is so unprofessional and arrogant. The thing is you never know what the curator thinks about your work. Many times I have not chosen an artist’s work for a show that I actually really loved — but it just did not fit into that show. I always remember these artists for possible future opportunities, but if someone is a total jerk to me then I am not going to work with them no matter what I think of their work. 2. Pictures really matter- that is how we decide what to include so taking the time to take really good pictures is essential. Laying something on your dining room table with a bedside lamp is not a good picture. If you do not respect your work enough to take a good picture of it, why should I respect it enough to exhibit it?
What’s your favorite part of putting up a show?
Nathan: I love getting all of the work together in one room and figuring out how the show will hang. It is a bit of a puzzle, but a “puzzle of awesome.” It’s an opportunity to get intimate with the work that you have seen online or in emails. Hanging a show is it’s own art form and in the end a big, cooperative piece of art — kind of like bees that form a Hive, the artwork together forms something bigger than the single pieces.
Joetta: The overall creative experience of putting my vision of a show together. It is intensely satisfying creatively and every show I have done has given me a great sense of creative satisfaction. It is so rewarding when I see the works creating a meaningful conversation together.
What’s your least favorite part?
Nathan: My least favorite part is forgetting where the hammer is when I’m in the heat of the hanging moment…
Iris: The stress of worrying if work is going to get damaged during a crowded, public event or that it will get lost during shipping.
Joetta: It is SO much work. It really takes so much time and organizing to put a good show together and all the little pieces add up. It is a total pain getting all the artists to send you the correct info that you need on time; it’s a lot of wrangling. And the unpacking and packing of works is intense.
What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you while or because of curating?
Nathan: It’s great to watch my artists evolve….that’s my favorite thing. It’s like planting seeds and watching them grow.
Iris: People coming up to me at events and telling me that my project has inspired them to pick up fiber art as a new hobby fills my heart with joy.
Joetta: The community: when I first started curating I was really doing it just to see textile shows that I liked and was excited by. A lot has changed since then and I see a lot of thoughtful textile based shows happening now. But to my surprise what curating brought me was an incredible sense of community. I met so many amazing people and learned so much from them. In fact the very first show I curated in Brooklyn ended up turning into a wonderful critique group that I ran for the 5 years I was in Brooklyn.
What’s your craziest curation story?
Nathan: That’s a tough one…..I love working with you Ellen on your Stitch Fetish shows (Aww, thanks Nathan)! I adore working with you as well)! The sexual innuendos go on and on through the hanging and set up process. When working with fun subject matter, the overall atmosphere of the Hive space adapts and changes.
Joetta: I was doing a show that involved a giant piece made by Sierra Furtwangler, the piece was fabulous and I was so happy to have it in the show. However, unbeknownst to me, rookie mistake, the gallery only had drywall walls NO plywood or even wood studs in the walls. AKA NOT GALLERY WALLS. So this poor artist ships this is gargantuan piece to the gallery, is so excited as she has just graduated and this is her first NYC show, I am delighted as the piece is really an anchor to the overall show and totally awesome. And we can’t hang it. Panic, stress, some tears and my amazing Dad later. It was hung. My dad just happened to be in town visiting so my folks were helping me install and he came up with a solution where we could hang the piece and no one knew the difference. He was a hero and we were all SO relieved. But boy oh boy, do I now ask about the integrity of the walls before I select work.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Nathan: Next month I an co-curating Line Attack 6 with JT Steiny, an all line art show, and we will be publishing our 4th Adult Activity Book. June is our 6th year of the Hive circus themed “Freak Show” and July will be a guest curated show by White Matter featuring 4 some amazing international artists.
Iris Nectar’s Feminist Fiber Art show can next be seen in Los Angeles on May 27th and in Boston on June 18th.