Q&A with the Curators
Q: How did you find the response to Part One of this year-long project?
JOHN MASSIER: People seemed enthused by the whole notion and the resulting show. We were certainly pleased with how it came out. The show seemed formally lively with plenty of strange conceptual threads between the works. We were really satisfied in bringing such a diverse array of artists together, many of whom have been in Buffalo for a long time without necessarily exhibiting in the same context.
KYLE BUTLER: It was by and large positive, from what I could glean. People responded well to the off-kilter glitz of the show. John mentioned the diversity of artists involved. The effect of that diversity wasn’t so legible until the show was up. Now that we have Part One under our belts, the benefit of that quality—of finding esoteric through lines between artists linked otherwise primarily through proximity—is a highlighted goal. Those unforeseen, serendipitous resonances are something that we are now more concretely trying to respond to.
REBECCA WING: It was cool to hear from a lot of people who responded to the idiosyncratic, pseudo-swanky personality of the show. It certainly became a better looking exhibition than we could have imagined once we began installing and the works were put in the same space together.
Q: Any favorites among the installed work?
JM: All of them, really. Which sounds diplomatic, but it’s true. It was crazy fun splitting Tommy Nguyen’s and Kurt Von Voetsch’s on the opposite side of a shared wall. Great hanging Al Volo’s knitted bell beside Brian Milbrand’s video, or Virocode’s bizarre horn sculptures near Jeff Vincent’s drawings. There were a lot of shared sensibilities among the works exhibited.
KB: Feels funny selecting some and excluding others. If it was in the show then I was a fan. There were a few timely finds that I felt really fortunate to have included though: Marc Tomko’s bottle of dust, Peter Stephens’ geometric array, Virocode’s modified horns. Those and a few others stand out particularly because they were either slight sidesteps for the artists or the timing of our visits corresponded with a present relevance of the particular works to the artists. MC’s sweaters and Tommy’s installation were also timely.
RW: Of the artists in the show, I think I walked out of each visit saying, “Now that was my favorite.” Even with artists who were not included in Part One but still remain on our working list as we move forward, there were some serious gems. I still smile every time I walk by MC’s Sweater Pile, Emily Churco’s drawing, Everyone’s Waiting For Something, Peter Stephens modular Voyager, Kate Gaudy’s Studio Remnants and Al Volo’s Silence Bell (which he had to repair during the opening due to its tempting tactility).
Q: How did Marie-Claire Bozant’s sweater pile go over?
JM: She may not have piled it originally intending it as a sculpture, but we promoted its anthropological presence. People that get that, get it. Some people look at those gestures quizzically, but that’s fine. We didn’t include it as a gag, we were completely earnest about it.
KB: Seemed to go over well, but it is the sort of thing for which a certain percentage of people are predisposed toward not buying into it—insert “my kid could do that” or some other variant of outraged critique from the set that holds technical prowess too dear. What I like about the sweater pile being in the show is it affirms this general, unjaded appreciation for the things artists assemble and what they can communicate. John is great at just responding yay or nay to things immediately and not submitting too much to those dry, witless academic voices in your head that tend to over-dictate. Not to imply a lack of criticality…just a skewed openness.
RW: Whether it went over well or not, I think the sweater pile was an apt inclusion in the project. It seemed to us to be an extension of MC’s drawings; she created this anthropomorphic furniture piece that was human height and had figurative feet on the floor. The sweater pile also worked in concord next to Al Volo’s crocheted jockstrap and with the colors and other fibrous textures in the show.
Q: So, what was different about your second round of studio visits?
JM: Mostly the reality of the most brutal winter we’ve had in quite a long time. That hobbled our efficiency a bit, but we still managed about 25 studio visits in three weeks. At the same time, we continue to discuss ALL the works we’ve seen since the process began. Things we saw in November still linger with us, though they haven’t found their way into the project yet. That may still happen, so they remain part of our ongoing conversation.
KB: Yeah, the weather was a thing. Also, I imagine that as this series comes along we will become more self-aware as to what it is and what our role in it is. Who knows if by, say, the third or fourth iteration, we’ll be crippled or emboldened by that awareness!?
RW: The weather definitely hampered our efficiency. I think we rescheduled with Billy Huggins at least 4 times and saw him 2 weeks later than originally planned. With that being said, we tried to be deliberate with our studio visits, anticipating people who might have concurrent through lines in their practices or who were appropriate to visit in regards to timing. Despite any level of planning though, we maintained our casual, conversational approach and that allowed us to keep the element of surprise that was central to Part ONE.
Q: Speaking of that conversation, leading up to Part One, Colin Dabkowski from The Buffalo News tweeted “I’ve never seen a show presented with more premeditated nonchalance than @Hallwalls’ Amid/In WNY. Here’s this thing we did. Whatevs.” Thoughts?
JM: I would never use the word “whatevs.” We’ll take that “premeditated nonchalance” as a compliment. He could have said “forced spontaneity,” which would also have been fine. We’re trying to be open to everything we see and to that end, the premeditation is held to a minimum.
KB: Dry and apt…Colin’s good at that. Though I’d argue that most of the meditation came post- rather than pre- with the first show.
RW: We could plan and anticipate all day long but any attempts to foresee what the show would become before visiting the artists is an exercise in futility. So yeah, the “forced spontaneity” was just a side effect of the whole process.
Q: Is there a risk in appearing too casual?
JM: Not for an audience that has some level of sophistication, which I think describes the vast majority of the cultural community here in Western New York. Or, at the very least, an openess. That said, I had the strangest conversation with someone recently, who was complimenting us on our project and the “random” manner in which we were doing it. I replied that it was NOT random and they said, yes it is, you’re selecting the artists randomly. I assured them we were not proceeding randomly and they STILL insisted that the included work was selected randomly. It was the strangest conversation about an exhibition I’ve had in years. Loose, casual, conversational, yes. But none of these things are “random.” We thought acutely about every work we selected and just as acutely about how we installed it. It’s funny that this might confuse someone, but I guess it’s not seen to be the normal process—but we decided to set up parameters in which to operate, but parameters that were flexible enough that we could adapt as we go.
KB: There’s big, ongoing precedent in the art world for responding to the professional with the casual. Some of it comes from the ever-narrowing aesthetic of galleries (white, featureless walls…white, featureless websites) and counter-reactions to that, some of it comes from some post-[advertising, exhibiting, identifying] or another, and sometimes it’s just playing cool. I don’t think we are casual for those reasons necessarily, but the precedent is established. There’s room for proceeding in that way before it exits productivity. We aren’t casual in how we discuss and parse the work, just about how we come to see it. That’s an important distinction.
RW: Yeah, I think that distinction is spot on. The perceived slap-dash approach to this project does not extend to the selection of the works or the way the exhibition is installed. We are conscientiously casual in our approach to the studio visit process but the curatorial decisions are made deliberately and with intent.
Q: Do you have a specific example of this adaptive approach?
JM: Actually, yes. Back in November when we were talking about the whole project, we were discussing the broad range of work and artists in our region in order to fashion our working list for studio visits. At one point, Kyle made an offhand remark about us not necessarily looking to do an exhibition of portraiture, for example. He reminded us recently that he’d said this because, in fact, Part Two will have a curious volume of portraiture in it. We didn’t go looking for that, but it’s what we found.
KB: This second time around called for a lot of adjusting. It felt more condensed than the period of visits for Part One. As the visits moved along, what seemed to be the emerging prominent themes shared among what we saw changed pretty drastically and we had to readjust what strains of thought we wanted to focus on.
RW: Exactly what John and Kyle said; for the first half of studio visits, things seemed to be going a certain way, but one Wednesday filled with 5 studio visits led us to consider something else entirely.
Q: And particular surprises in this second part of the project?
JM: I was surprised when I asked Billy Huggins what pencils/pens he used in his drawings and he replied “Number 6 pencil.” You don’t often meet someone who’s using only one pencil. It’s always fun to meet with George Hughes and when he enthusiastically likened the studio visit to an executioner’s call—something you could not refuse—that was pretty hilarious. Bobby Griffiths’ mason jar drawings were little gems just waiting for us. But we loved meeting everyone for Part Two, including those artists who were visited but are not in this exhibition.
KB: Its sooo amusing and uplifting to see the variety of habitats in which people make things. That continues to be an ongoing surprise. A number of works stood out as being particularly unexpected, like a few of George Hughes’ new pieces, Necole Zayatz’s ceramics, and Adele Henderson’s various odd works. And, as John mentioned…Bobby’s mason jars. Great drawings on their own, but they really fit the bill as well.
RW: Our visit with Kevin Kline began with Kyle and I enlisting his help to shovel John’s car out of the street and continued to be surprising once we got inside. Not only did he have all of these different bodies of work but Kevin had produced hundreds of pieces within each series, perfecting every technique. Oh, and his three-legged cat, Trip, was the best.
Q: As you’ve now done over 70 studio visits while not even being halfway through the project, any thoughts?
JM: It’s striking how many people say something like “It’s so great you’re doing this,” as though the studio visit process is a long-abandoned thing or some rare methodology from a bygone era that no one engages in anymore. I don’t think that’s exactly true, though it may reflect that it’s a process employed less frequently than it should be. Especially now and especially in Western New York, which is bustling with people making things. In the end, we won’t get to everyone, obviously, but still plan on seeing plenty of people.
KB: Mmmm, not really. I said to John and Rebecca the other day something like “Hey we aren’t totally sick of each other yet!” The process remains fun and insightful.
RW: No time for thoughts right now! We’re getting ready to take down Part One tomorrow and I’ll be sad to see this show dismantled but at the same time, can’t wait to get started on installing Part Two. There were a lot of Aha! moments when installing the last show and I’m sure that will be the case this time around too.