Help Desk

Help Desk: The Vanishing Curator

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions and issues anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I’m a new MFA grad and I’m trying to break into the gallery system. Recently I had a great studio visit with a well-known curator. We talked for a long while about the work and he seemed very interested (he even said, “You’re a genius!”), but since then he hasn’t been in touch. I did write an email thanking him for the visit, but I never got a response. It’s been months now, and still no word about putting my work in a show or anything. I’d like to follow up, but I don’t even know what to say because I’m so disappointed. The studio visit was great, so I kind of thought it was my ticket in. What should I do?

Sanya Kantarovsky. You Were Welcome Here, 2013; oil, watercolor, ink, bleach, gesso on canvas; 55 x 40 in.

Sanya Kantarovsky. You Were Welcome Here, 2013; oil, watercolor, ink, bleach, gesso on canvas; 55 x 40 in.

Your disappointment is completely understandable. It’s distressing when there’s no follow-up after a successful meeting, and unfortunately, your situation is not unique. In the course of your career, you’re going to have a lot of people tell you that they absolutely looooove your work, and then you’ll never hear from them again. There are any number of reasons for this: Someone gets sick, a budget gets cut, a gallery closes, a new director is hired…or another artist is a better fit. No single exhibition or residency or award—and definitely not one fickle curator—is your “ticket in.”

But don’t write this curator off yet, because curation works at a very different pace from artistic production. Sometimes even when people are excited about the work, things don’t happen as quickly as we would like. Exhibitions at high-level galleries and institutions are often scheduled years in advance, and this curator might still be thinking about where your work fits into future programming. Since you’re a newly minted grad, the curator might also be wondering how your work will evolve over time, so keep him informed. It’s a good idea to send a few images of new work every six months or so, saying, “I really enjoyed talking with you at my studio and thought you might like to see some of the work I’ve made since our visit.”

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Shotgun Reviews

Gwenaël Rattke: Not Fun And Not Free at Romer Young Gallery

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Danica Willard Sachs reviews Gwenaël Rattke’s Not Fun And Not Free at Romer Young Gallery in San Francisco.

Gwenaël Rattke: NOT FUN AND NOT FREE installation view. Courtesy of Romer Young Gallery, San Francisco.

Gwenaël Rattke. Not Fun and Not Free, 2015; installation view, Romer Young Gallery, San Francisco. Courtesy of Romer Young Gallery.

Gwenaël Rattke’s exhibition Not Fun And Not Free opens with the captivating collage Transparent Radiation (2014). Rattke juxtaposes images of mushroom clouds with landscapes, views of car-crowded freeways with the exposed circuitry of a server, and hard-edged grids and squares with organic, flowing orbs. A few words and phrases pepper the collage, including “Transparent,” and “Radiation,” from the title, and a cluster of text near the top left that includes “Illusion,” “winning,” and “prayer.” All of these disparate images and fragments of text are not only hard to identify, but hard to make sense of. Rattke does the viewer no favors either, covering the entire surface of the collage with a patchwork of semitransparent vellum. In many ways Transparent Radiation is the system from which Rattke derives the rest of the works in the exhibition.

On the main wall opposite Transparent Radiation, the rest of the exhibition unfolds like a maquette for a book; Rattke’s screen prints and collages alternate above and below a centerline created by bordering frames. The works read like a text, too, as the artist playfully borrows, repeats, and rearranges images and phrases. The mushroom cloud from Transparent Radiation makes several appearances, and the garish red-orange screen print New Cities (2014) borrows a cityscape and beach scene from its neighboring works. This recycling happens at a very basic level in the artist’s process, as each finished print starts out as a collage that is then copied and made into a screen. The result is an added level of distortion in each screen print that is often amplified by Rattke’s brash, ’70s-inspired palette.

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100° City at City Limits

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Jackie Im‘s review of 100° City, a three-person show at City Limits Gallery in Oakland that “…seeks to challenge, to draw people into these messy conversations about anxiety, about the effects we have on the Earth.” Today is your last chance to see the exhibition, which features works by Jason Benson, Joel Dean, and Erin Jane Nelson. This article was originally published on May 5, 2015.

Joel Dean. Untitled, 2015; Solarbotics Photopopper Photovore V5.0, glass jar; 11" x 7" x 7". Courtesy of the Artist and City Limits, Oakland.

Joel Dean. Untitled, 2015; Solarbotics Photopopper Photovore V5.0, glass jar; 11 x 7 x 7 in. Courtesy of the Artist and City Limits, Oakland.

When I was a child, I remember having distinct feelings of anxiety about the environment. Coming of age during the time of Captain Planet, Ferngully, and the vaguely environmental video for Paula Abdul’s “Promise of a New Day,” the stomach-churning sense of fear and a realization that, as a child, I couldn’t do much to halt or reverse the effects of pollution is a sentiment that persists today. Of course, as an adult, those feeling are mixed with a kind of fatalism as the Earth hurdles toward some end. The drought in California is not helping. The calamitous blizzards on the East Coast aren’t helping either.

Such environmental anxieties pervade 100° City, a three-person exhibition by Jason Benson, Joel Dean, and Erin Jane Nelson at City Limits in Oakland. Entering the foyer of the gallery, you see the gallery’s windows and glass doors covered with black plastic and taped down with blue painter’s tape, looking like the exterior of a haunted house. The walls and floor of the gallery are lined with gray, papery fabric, veined in a way that reminded me both of the red weed that plagues Earth in Steven Spielberg’s telling of The War of the Worlds (2005) and of varicose veins. The immersive installation made the normally sunny gallery space feel dank and alien, disrupting the common gallery tropes of the white cube and the more recent Contemporary Art Daily chic of bright, even lighting. With a keen sense of display and through the works themselves, Benson, Dean, and Nelson have created an exhibition that prods at humanity’s place on Earth, what comes next, and what does “next” look like? “Will sinkholes form?”

Read the full article here.


Los Angeles

Paris Photo Los Angeles

With its high-profile galleries and smattering of celebrity artists, curators, and collectors, it would seem that not much differentiates Paris Photo LA from the multitude of art fairs competing for attention in California. Where the fair does stand out, however, is in the way it makes the case for photography as a vibrant medium for contemporary expression.

Mohammad Ghazali. Untitled from Tehran a Little to the Right, 2010-2013; expired Polaroid film, 3 3/8 x 4 1/4 in. Image courtesy of the Artist and Ag Galerie, Tehran.

Mohammad Ghazali. Untitled, from Tehran a Little to the Right, 2010-2013; expired Polaroid film; 3 3/8 x 4 1/4 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ag Galerie, Tehran.

The 1970s saw the rise of an active market for photography collection. In 1981, photography critic Gene Thornton reflected on the gains photography made in that decade, and on its evolving position in the art world. In the New York Times, he wrote, “Photography has so recently begun to be taken seriously by museums, collectors, and critics that it may be presumptuous to ask what its present state is. It has been recognized as art, hasn’t it?”[1]

Taking Thornton’s position, then, what is the state of photography as demonstrated within the stalls and storefronts of Paris Photo? Contemporary artists are playing with scale, investigating serial forms, and manipulating photographic processes. Unglee, a French artist with an enigmatic biography, takes hundreds of photographs of tulips. Presented either individually—with a level of detail and sensuousness evocative of a Georgia O’Keefe flower painting—or as masses of subtly distinctive Polaroids, Unglee’s examination verges on the fetishistic.

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New York

The Whitney Museum of American Art

With the recent boom in museum building and expansion, there has been a recurring discussion of what makes a good space for art—as though an objective answer could be determined through a calculation of square footage, flexibility of design, and the ratio of natural to electric light. Indeed, the Museum of Modern Art in New York opted to demolish and rebuild its recently acquired neighboring building, the former home of the American Folk Art Museum designed by the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, on the grounds that it was found lacking in the above respects. Yet my experience has been that what makes a museum a good place for art (and for people, lest we forget) depends on a much more subjective and unpredictable array of factors.

Image 630.006: The eastern face of the Whitney Museum. Photo: Nic Lehoux.

The eastern face of the Whitney Museum. Photo: Nic Lehoux.

I love the Beaux-Arts maze that is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which encourages me to lose myself both literally and figuratively among the works on display. I am not so keen on the New Museum’s vertical layout, which forces me to call an elevator or slink into a narrow concrete stairwell to move from floor to floor. MoMA’s escalators, while admittedly critical for circulating the enormous crowds that the midtown museum draws, have triggered too many unwelcome memories of suburban shopping malls. As for light, the rays of Los Angeles sunshine that filter through the J. Paul Getty Museum’s pyramidal skylights are hard to beat, but the magically diffusive electric-light fixtures at the Saatchi Gallery in gloomy London do almost as good a job. Even the presence of a nice café, at which one can grab a drink and debrief about a show, can improve an art experience. It is certainly one reason that the intimate Neue Galerie remains one of my favorite art spaces in New York City.

The Whitney Museum of American Art’s old building, designed by Marcel Breuer, was a great space for art (and hopefully will continue to be under the auspices of the Met). Le Corbusier famously considered his Villa Savoye a machine for living; Breuer, for his part, fashioned his building as a machine for contemplation. Sparsely fenestrated, the hulking structure shut out the outside world while, through its inverted ziggurat shape, it created a surprisingly capacious home for art within (though not capacious enough, as the growing museum would find). Slate floors and concrete coffering—an early case of designing to allow the flexible deployment of temporary walls—amplified the cavelike nature of the space, which was at the same time warm and welcoming, enlivened by a sculptural staircase and an entrance lobby aglow with now-iconic, white, circular light fixtures. On a semiotic level, the building’s message was unmistakable: It stood as a stone-clad middle finger raised over tony Madison Avenue, confidently embodying the modernist ideology of opposition through autonomy.

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Taravat Talepasand: Not an Arab Spring at Beta Pictoris Gallery

Taravat Talepasand’s work takes on the representational codes and image systems of the Iranian state: national currency, political propaganda, religious iconography, and gendered forms of identity making. The paintings in Not an Arab Spring open up the ideological assumptions that index Iranian identity, state power, and gender in order to consider how the body (male and female) comes to signify the state as well as rebel against it.


Taravat Talepasand. Khomeini, 2015; egg tempura on linen; 48 x 36 in.

However, there is more to Talepasand’s practice than poststructuralist critique. By staging provocative encounters between aesthetic conventions, techniques, and traditions of European and Islamic art, Talepasand’s work challenges the viewer to uncover (and thus confront) the tricks and abstractions that coalesce into effective forms of image making and propaganda, and reorder the various disciplinary processes that continue to shape our understanding of “Eastern” and “Western” subjectivity and aesthetics. If anything, the exhibition is a recovery project of the material images of contemporary Iran, and a sophisticated détournement of state power. Of course, states and nations do not exist a priori, but are founded in reified objects, invented symbols, cultural traditions, material bodies, ideological apparatuses, and reflexively discursive acts that replicate and reproduce power relations and inform the visual and conceptual consciousness of real and imagined communities existing within and outside borders and national goals.[1] However, the ideological unification between the assumptions and condition of Iran’s theocratic government, the will of the public, and the messy history that ignited the constitutional revolution of 1979 can never be fully covered over, as Talepasand’s mockery of famous propaganda images makes clear.

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San Francisco

Sequence’s Travels Into Several Notions of the Museum

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you an excerpt from Rob Marks’ consideration of Richard Serra’s Sequence, recently moved from the Cantor Arts Center to SFMOMA. Marks notes, “Sequence is massive, particularly when seen from afar. But it becomes something completely different up close.[…] For Jonathan Swift, too, size stood as much for difference as it did for power. The Lilliputians start by seeing Gulliver as enormous, foreign, and dangerous, but eventually their relationship becomes intimate.” This essay was originally published on April 30, 2015.

Richard Serra. Sequence, 2006; weatherproof steel; 153 x 488 x 782 3/17 in. overall and 2 in. thick; installation views at New York MoMA (top left) Photo: Lorenz Kienzle, collection of the artist, © 2007 Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, LACMA (top right) Courtesy of the Artist, the Cantor Arts Center (bottom left) Photo: Saul Rosenfield, © 2014–15, with permission of Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, and SFMOMA’s 85-foot wide by 55-foot long Howard Street gallery (bottom right) Photo: Henrik Kem © 2015.

Richard Serra. Sequence, 2006; weatherproof steel; 153 x 488 x 782 3/17 in. overall and 2 in. thick; installation views at New York MoMA (top left) Photo: Lorenz Kienzle. Collection of the Artist, © 2007 Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, LACMA (top right) Courtesy of the Artist, the Cantor Arts Center (bottom left) Photo: Saul Rosenfield, © 2014–15, with permission of Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, and SFMOMA’s 85-foot wide by 55-foot long Howard Street gallery (bottom right) Photo: Henrik Kem © 2015.

It was foolish to have imagined that Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006) would easily relinquish its claim on the courtyard of Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center. Even after power-washing, the concrete pad preserved the contours of the sculpture’s twelve twenty-ton weathering steel plates. During its four-year residency, a bond had grown between Sequence and its foundation, just as one had blossomed between the work and its community of followers. Visiting during the de-installation, these pilgrims sought one last visual memento, however inadequate, of the shifting experience of space and time conjured by Sequence’s winding pathways.

Sequence demands, and then commandeers, spaces like the Cantor’s courtyard, or the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art gallery into which the sculpture moved in February 2015 in anticipation of the museum’s spring 2016 reopening. But just as the Lilliputians shackled Gulliver to a twenty-two-wheeled cart hauled by fifteen hundred tiny horses, transplanting Sequence is no simple undertaking. Riggers chained each of its thirteen-foot-high plates to its own eighteen-wheeler to conduct it from Palo Alto to San Francisco.1

Read the full article here.