Curator and arts writer Carrie E.A. Scott has recently developed as a prominent force within the Seattle arts community. Scott is currently the director of the James Harris Gallery, having brought recent shows to the space such as the Rashid Johnson exhibition “Dark Matters” and recent paintings by Seattle-based artist Scott Foldesi. In addition to her duties at the James Harris Gallery, Scott is the curator for the Hedreen Gallery, a non-profit arts space housed in the Lee Center for the Arts at the Seattle University. Scott has produced numerous exhibitions within that space, including “Screen Shots: Selected works on screen by Justin Beckman, James Coupe and Tivon Rice“, “Intricate Matter: Sculpture by Artist Eric Eley,” and works by Jon Huck pictured below. Seattle Weekly, Seattle Magazine and Visual Codec regularly feature her selected writings and reviews, and Scott has a forthcoming article with Sculpture Magazine, “Sculpting Technology: The Monumental Art of Shawn Brixey and James Coupe.” DailyServing recently caught up with the young curator to discuss more of her ideas, read the full interview below.
DS: Carrie, you were born and raised in the U.K. and came to the U.S. before high school. When did you develop an interest in contemporary art?
CS: When I was applying to graduate school, I drafted two essays: the quintessentially heart-felt (and cliched) one that answers your question and the academic one that has little to do with why I like art but has a lot to say about why I want to pursue it. I didn’t go with the heart-felt one for obviously (again cliched) reasons, but I think it might explain why I got in to the art business.
When I was a kid, in addition to being dragged to museums by both parents all the time, my father also used to drop my elder brother and I off at the Wallace Collection in London while he met with a client who lived nearby. Exploring the collection on our own meant that we had to come up with our own narratives for what we were looking at. At least, that’s what I did, and I think I’ve simply kept doing that: looking at things and trying to garner the story/message behind them.
That being said, there’s an obvious flaw in my logic. My brother definitely wasn’t influenced the same way I was; while he likes the classics, he’s not a contemporary art lover. So really, god knows when or why I got into contemporary art. There’s no linear story I can come up with that explains it, but I can tell you that seeing Gerhard Richter‘s retrospective at MOMA compelled me to apply to graduate school. I went to the show more times than I care to count and, on the umpteenth time, realized that if I was this interested in one artist’s show, maybe I should figure out how to look at art all the time.
DS: Just this year, you became the director of the James Harris Gallery. Are there any particular shows or artists that you have wanted to present since you took that position?
CS: I became director at JHG last month (I started out as the owner’s assistant). This was in fact the first month where both artists showing in the gallery — Scott Foldesi and Rashid Johnson — were people I brought to the attention of Jim, the owner of the gallery.
DS: Tell me about the current exhibition at the James Harris Gallery that features Rashid Johnson, and what was your role in bringing this artist to Seattle?
CS: It’s a pretty great story actually. In fact, Seattle’s PI art critic, Regina Hackett, wrote a little bit about how Rashid and I met on her blog. Jim, the owner of JHG, sent me to New York for the Armory Art Fairs in February, and, while I was there, my brother, Edward, who’s the associate creative director for a firm in New York, needed some help. He puts on concerts and events, and one of the nights that I was in Manhattan happened also to be an evening wherein he needed someone to work the VIP guest list for him. I resisted at first. After all, I was there for work and didn’t have much by way of time to help him out. But the prospect of a few extra dollars and some time in the proximity of my big brother were enough to sway me.
Later in the evening a huge group from Art on Paper magazine showed up and wanted to get in even though they were not on the list. I explained several times that there was nothing that I could do, thinking the whole time, “If only they knew what I really did, they’d laugh.” I mean, seriously, I subscribe to the magazine. But then one of them said, “What if one of us is a famous artist? Will that help get us in?” “Try me,” I curtly replied.
The rest, as they say, is history. Rashid said his name, and I said I loved his work (I’d actually spent some time in grad school writing about a portrait he did called “My Ex-wife as the Tragic Mulatto,” and he’d done a site-specific work in Seattle about a year before). So I gave him my card and hoped he’d get in touch. And he did. And once he did, I explained the whole story to Jim who immediately said that he also loved Rashid’s work, which meant that within weeks, we were all on the same page planning the current show.
DS: You have curated for both non-profit art spaces as well as commercial venues. What do you feel are the inherent limitations or benefits in working with spaces where profit is a driving component?
CS: You know, I think both have limitations. While the commercial gallery is restrained by having to think about what will sell, the non-profit is restrained by budgetary constraints. Sure, I can let artists at the Hedreen Gallery, the non-profit, do what they want in terms of ideas. I don’t have to think about conservation issues. And they can make site-specific work because they don’t have to think about creating a product that can be sold. That being said, however, they do have to produce work that doesn’t cost much to make, because I don’t have a big budget.
On the other side of the coin, at James Harris Gallery, our production costs can be much higher, and so artists can think bigger. But they have to think bigger while also thinking about value. For example, if they are going to make a work that costs $6,000 to produce, we all have to be pretty sure the work will sell to someone for at least twice as much. While the commercial system feels a little more sticky than the non-profit (like it’s going to sully the art produced), it’s dictating no more than the non-profit. And really, neither are bad, per se. What I’m describing is simply the oldest system in the art book — PATRONAGE. Art only gets to keep getting made if there are patrons. That’s how the capitalist world works.
In a perfect world, artists would be able to make whatever they can dream up. But we all know it’s not a perfect world. If it were, there might not be so much art.
DS: If you had unlimited resources and connections, what kind of show would you like to put together, and which artists would be first on your list?
CS: Honestly, I would pull together a show in which Manet’s Olympia is juxtaposed against work that responds to that piece. I’ve been trying, for a long time, to digest just how influential that work actually has been on art production, and then when I saw Rashid’s White Girl, which pretty directly references Manet’s painting, I realized how interesting it would be to build a show that opens up our definitions of feminism. Instead of pulling together a show that starts with someone like Judy Chicago, I’d want to exhibit works that visually or conceptually resonate with Olympia, pieces like Sophie Calle’s “Take Care of Yourself” or Jill Magid’s “Evidence Locker”. I might even want to show all the reclining nudes that led up to Manet’s piece.
Clearly, I’ve not pinned down the specifics, but I know the show would be huge and would visually look at the way feminism really took shape and where it is today without focusing on the very specific feminist movement. I mean, seriously, that Rashid, a young black male, took the White Girl image and that it wasn’t a young woman who did it is a compelling thing. We should figure out what that’s about.
DS: Who are some of the curators out there you feel are pushing boundaries and organizing exhibitions that are as equally interesting as the work they contain?
CS: Matthew Higgs just might be my hero. Not only does he make really smart art, he curates really smart shows (now at White Columns) and has written more brilliant criticisms than I care to cite. Like I said — heroic.
Especially when you consider that I’ve been asked more times than I care to talk about whether or not I struggle with “conflicts of interest.” To them, I say that I’m hoping that the format’s changing and cite Higgs as someone who’s doing it all with no problem whatsoever. That’s not to say that we all don’t have to be careful. We do. I don’t show artists we represent at James Harris Gallery at my non-profit, and I never write about an artist I have shown. But really I think that people like Higgs and me, and indeed you, the people behind DailyServing, are carving out new positions in art. No longer does the critic just criticize. No longer does the curator just curate. No longer does the artist just make art (though you’ll never see me dipping into that side of things). We do it all. And honestly, I can say that each of my jobs makes me better at the other.
DS: Do you feel that the role of the curator should encompass a social responsibility to reach out and engage a particular community who is otherwise unwilling or uninterested to view art in a conventional space?
CS: Yes. One of the best things about the Hedreen Gallery at the Lee Center for the Arts is that the entire gallery can be seen from the street. As a converted car garage, the space has a window that spans the length of the gallery. In curating shows there, I try to always think about how to leverage this exposure, how to grab all those people who are driving by on any given day but not necessarily looking for an art experience.
So, for instance, with a show I did called :Screen Shots,” which was all video based, I’d lower the blinds during the day so that the work could be viewed only from inside the gallery and then, at about 4 p.m., we’d open the blinds so that the work could be seen running all night. Then during the day, the blinds would go down again. It was as if the work disappeared. And you know what? It worked. Many people commented that the only reason they came in to see the show was because they’d seen it at night first.
As a result of that success, I’ve been thinking lots about how I can curate the space so that the audience outside is engaged in the work. Which means I have to figure out how not to sequester the art experience to inside the gallery. Early next year, I’ll be testing out one possible model when Matt McCormick‘s videos are shown in the space. His work will be projected on the main 40-foot wall of the gallery and will be just as easily, if not better, viewed from the street. To add to the experience, we’re exploring the idea of having the soundtrack play only outside of the gallery. That way, pedestrians won’t be able to avoid the art experience (while eyes can look away, ears can’t shut off). It should be pretty interesting. Now, I’ve just got to work out how to get people’s attention with non-video work.
DS: What are some of the qualities that you always seem to look for in a successful show?
CS: Simply, my biggest hope is that the art speaks for itself. That I don’t have to put up artists’ statements or curatorial texts to explain the work, but that the work engages the viewer without anyone telling them why it should.
DS: What advice do you tell emerging artists who are trying to reach curators and galleries or simply expand their audience? Do you feel there are any new and successful models for artists looking to reach a new and non-localized audience?
CS: In my opinion, which is different from many of the older curators out there, the worst thing you can do is send me slides. I don’t want to have to do work when I look at art, and slides are a lot of work. Not only do I have to get to a light box and squint to see details (I don’t have a slide projector), but when all is said and done, I have to send them back. Whereas, with websites or jpegs I can simply look at the work on my computer, decide how I feel about it and then either send you an email saying I’d like to see more or say that I’d like to do a studio visit. So, send jpegs. Curators like to look.
DS: Who are some of the Seattle-based artists you think are producing the most challenging work today?
CS: Challenging is an interesting word, as there are lots of people in town whose work I find really stunning, but challenging is a whole other issue.
I’d have to say that Claude Zervas has one of the most interesting aesthetics developing right now in town, and he and Tivon Rice share some sensibilities that will be exciting to watch develop as years go by. They are doing entirely different things, but I have a feeling that they are both capturing a zeitgeist that we will one day look back at and see the thread. And then there’s the entire DXARTS department at the UW who nobody in the art world is really sure what to make of, but who, I am sure, need to remain on our radars.