Sunday, April 18, 2010

Interview with Jeff Gauntt, Part I

We’re going to divide our interview with Jeff Gauntt into a couple of posts, if only to help slightly with giving a sense of how the interview itself took shape and allow readers to potentially see the dialogue unfold and formulate some of their own viewpoints on the questions we discuss concerning curatorial practice and karaoke, among other topics.

Essentially, this interview evolved from (and into) a network of conversations between Jeff, John Bissonette, Abby Coe, and myself over several emails--spanning roughly two weeks--which drifted into several different threads. John and Abby are both members of the curatorial committee for CAC, have known Jeff for some time, and kindly volunteered to assist him with the entire process both virtually and physically; they were at CAC along with Jeff much of the time hanging work, sweating, and negotiating.

The division of postings here is perhaps not the best solution (because it will segregate Jeff’s comments from the conversation somewhat), but there is a latent circularity at work here that will hopefully mitigate some of that separation; questions re-appear and fade away again only to be answered later in a different light, in a different scope. Our hope (my hope anyway) is that posting this on a blog may allow –if not here then perhaps here in future postings—for the community to engage in this type of conversation as well. I’ve edited our dialogue as minimally as possible. As a last note of disclosure, the interview starts with some broad, layered questions about karaoke (these were initially sent to John for editing. As this whole process was unfolding, Jeff, Abby, John, Shannon Eakins, Marguerite Insolia, and myself all went to Ellis Island for a night of beer and singing.

Marc: First off, how did you like karaoke at Ellis Island? What drove you to choose the song you did, and have you sung it in the past?

Jurying the exhibition (virtually) from LA and projecting toward an experience/installation that would both happen in the future as well as in a physical location in a city four hours away (by car) across a desert in a different state with all of the vestiges that Las Vegas brings to discussions on contemporary visual culture, did you have any preconceptions about the works or concepts you wanted to advocate, challenge, or engage and what themes emerged during the process? Which is to say, were there works that engaged you deeply quickly? That made a strong first impression? Were you gambling on any of the choices you made; any Vegas-style risky bets? In what ways does the exhibition act as a mirror of contemporary art(s) practices in/to Las Vegas?

Extending from that, in being asked to jury an annual exhibition, how did you find yourself engaged with the concept of something being an Annual--of jurying an event that has a notion of archive (or a continuum perhaps, which just sounds more vital and projects towards the 22nd Annual next year) already built into the title, and how then the jurying process both reflects and changes that continuum?
And looking more closely at that question, how were you considering your work as a juror in the process; when does the history of the exhibition--its works, venues, exhibition and curatorial practices--come into play during that process, if at all? Does the exhibitions twenty precedents seem significant when you're selecting from over 500 new works? I know you came to CAC and coordinated the installation yourself; would you discuss that process of installing and positioning discrete projects into a cohesive program, and how the works develop their context in this engagement?

What else? You can totally edit these, they seem kinda wordy to me.

John: Here are some thoughts.
One of the first things that came to mind when I saw the show installed in its entirety was an exhibition curated by Keith Mayerson at Derek Eler Gallery in 2007 entitled Neointegrity. This is not to say that I thought the show had anything to do with this particular exhibition, but I got the sense that there were some of the same motivations behind the jurying and installation of the show. I read a review of the show at Derek Eller and a particular statement struck a cord with me, "No salient style, medium, or sensibility dominates but a consensus emerges: community beats competition, and artistic integrity is an antidote to the overheated market." I get the sense that integrity and sincerity are important things to think about in regards to this show. Any thoughts?

[NOTE: Link to Neointegrity manifesto here]

One other thing that I was thinking of was that the installation seemed to be about making connections and correlations between aesthetically varied works. I was thinking if there was some consideration to how this particular form of installing work was against some notion of hierarchy or if it even functioned as a way to disrupt a reading of the show as an aesthetic or thematic "statement?" (which I think many juried shows do).

[NOTE: Jeff’s statement for the exhibition is here]

Marc: That's a fantastic introduction. Maybe I'll post that and some installation images from the exhibition together (keeping names and titles off of the works, to give a sense of what he's speaking about). I love your questions as well--the second part of my last question now seems totally redundant in light of his statement. Your questions seem to radiate around a larger question of the role of *exhibition* (as related to curatorial practice--exhibition as deployment and contextualization) and my questions vaguely circumnavigate around issues of regionalism, historicity (or institutional memory, and by default, critique), and particular works (the individual as active participant; juror, artist, viewer, and their respective roles/overlap/directives/influences/responsibilities) in any sort of serious (and I think this exhibition is indeed serious for this community) artistic discourse.

Are there topics in addition to these we would like to discuss, or are these topics we should delve deeper into? Should this whole exchange (you and me, us and Jeff, you and Jeff) all be published together?

John: I think in the spirit of the show it should absolutely all be published. I like the idea of the conversation being as important if not more so than the answers. I really like your questions about institutional memory and find them particularly relevant. I couldn't help but notice comparisons to last years show (i didn't see it) and shows from previous years (didn't see those either) coming up in conversation all throughout this process.

I find it interesting that despite this being a national call, a great deal of the work picked for the show came from Las Vegas. There were, of course, much more entries from here- but there was the off hand chance that all the work could have come from somewhere else. I wonder what that might say about the work and the process?

When should I/we pass this off to Jeff? Did you read the manifesto?

Marc: I'm especially interested in the idea of the work of art (and exhibitions, by extension) functioning outside of/in dialogue with textual constructs. As they write in their manifesto,
Art communicates via its own internal language, and by the language the viewer brings to a work of art. But this language is not entirely textually based, and being an aesthetic object (or image[s], idea[s], comic, or happening[s]), the work communicates in such a way to be transcendent beyond language, and traditional constructs of textually based ideology. Therefore the work of art remains a deep communication between artist and viewer, and withholds the possibility of the sublime.
While their manifesto relates this in a more transcendental way than I'm comfortable with (notions of transcendence and the sublime being very frontal in their positioning, which seems like a heavy load given that this is only point number 5 out of 11), it opens a really active territory to think about, especially when you're throwing like 600 new works into the mix.

If you're up for it, send it all to him ASAP (both threads, although we could probably cut/paste it all into one), and let's see where we go.

And here’s some Situationist International manifesto to keep you going: 1957!

[NOTE: At this point in time, John transmitted all these disparate threads to Jeff via email.]

Abby: Hey Marc and John. So, John forwarded the email dialogue that you all have been engaged in concerning the cac juried show. I printed them out and was doing my best to read them chronologically and it was funny to underline something and make notes and then have one or the other of you answer or address that same topic later on. The one thing that I did want to hit on comes from John's comment: "...the installation seemed to be about making connections and correlations between aesthetically varied works. I was thinking if there was some consideration to how this form of installing work was against some notion of hierarchy or if it even functioned as a way to disrupt a reading of the show as an aesthetic or thematic 'statement?' (Which I think many juried shows do.)"

I would argue that the connections between the works also concerned the works relationship within the architecture of the space itself. I like the idea of a hierarchy not being solely attached to the value of academic worth of a piece, but also its relative placement in the gallery. Physically and literally, high and low on the wall, (remember the person that was mad their piece was hung too low in their opinion, and the one that thought their piece was too low until John made a comment that seemed to appease them?). Being able to be part of the installation made me especially attentive to these decisions of Jeff's... like lining up the horizontal imperfection in a wall with the dual horizon lines of the two paintings hung there so that it seemed to make a third painting out of the gallery wall itself. Relegating a piece to the corner, deliberately having something in close proximity to an exit sign, etc. I felt privileged to hear Jeff vocalize his thought process throughout the placement and lighting of the works.

I like Jeff's statement in his introduction:
The works have been arranged using my own personal logic; as if the room if just another part of the puzzle. I am interested in how the works create a dialogue with each other and the space. The architecture of the gallery is unique, and the works within the installation reflect this system. Totes.

Marc: Abby, that's an awesome observation. I've been reading (and re-reading cause I like it) an article by Anthony Huberman entitled Naive Set Theory (in Dot Dot Dot 15) in which he discussing the notion of contemporary curatorial practice providing viewers with "not enough" as a way of destabilizing the exhibition site. As he writes,

Recent curatorial practices have also employed the not-enough strategy in attempts to elude the overbearing nature of thematic exhibitions and to permit works of art to remain unburdened by curatorial claims. For instance, Bob Nickas curated a series of red shows, where he simply selected red artworks by a wide range of artists including Steven Parrino, Sherrie Levine, Alan McCollum and even Donald Judd. In 2001 he curated "W" at the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Dole, an exhibition of artists whose last names begin with W: Kelley Walker, Jeff Wall, Dan Walsh, Andy Warhol, John Waters, Weegee, Lawrence Weiner, James Welling, Franz West, T.J. Wilcox, Christopher Williams, Jane & Louise Wilson, David Wojnarowicz, Christopher Wool and several others. In both cases, the curator chooses a system that allows him to make selections; he provides his audience with information about that system, but not enough for a theme to parasite the active pursuit of looking at and appreciating art.

As you suggest, Jeff is both employing this type of approach (Huberman's "active pursuit") and something else simultaneously. Jeff has designed an environment of active looking that demands negotiations both on the part of the viewer and artist (i.e. traditional hierarchies of placement and content become devalued or perhaps exchanged for something else, something bigger-- even architectural perhaps) and he is at the same time designing another project altogether; his use of and response to the architecture of the gallery becomes a proposition (exhibition maybe isn't the right word just yet) unto itself, the exhibition as installation.

It's like he's essentially installed two exhibitions concurrently, one on top of and porous through the other. One exhibition is the assembly of the works he's curated into a type of conceptual and physical dialogue with one another, and the other concurrent exhibition (which is latent or underlying; not asleep, but more like a vampire perhaps) is that assembly itself with its suggestion of a new response to the architecture, the works, and perhaps the not-enough analogy? In Jeff's project, is he both giving the audience "not enough" and "more than enough"? Are the works in the exhibition at once both unburdened (again using Huberman's language) and simultaneously totally over-burdened? Are they used to support something else that may not even concern them? Do the two paintings that line up with the wall to make a "third painting" challenge what the works are about or open them up in completely different fashions? Are there pieces that become compromised in this exchange, or does it matter to them ultimately? Are the works themselves engaged in this new architectural conversation in ways beyond their formal attributes (the dual horizon lines)?

Maybe two concurrent exhibitions or a division of labor is not the best way for me to think about it (as one will always be behind the other, in some way), but this question about the exhibition *as puzzle* (without a solution maybe, or with multiple solutions) is really interesting. Are there any hierarchies that he kept intact?

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