I recently went to a panel discussion that included Mat Gleason, David Pagel, Doug Harvey, Carol Cheh and artist Michael Arata. The panel was before the closing of ARATALAND! a mid-career survey of artworks by Michael Arata curated by Doug Harvey.
ARATALAND! is a massive exhibition of Arata’s (obvious) incessant production of works that perplex, and perhaps giggle at us, with us, and maybe even because of us. The works are curiosities and commentary on things jovial, and also things serious. It seems a netherworld between adult-hood and youth, between the past and the present.
The work renders circumstances of the time in between youth and now as memorials of past experiences called out in googly eyes, red rubber balls, uniforms, pine cones and more. In the company of this art, we become aware of the present, of standing there looking, engaging, trying out different things, playing with parts, writing something, wiping our hands, gazing, snooping. The four floors of art were a voyeuristic and at once immersive and secret experience in public. I wish I had seen the show before the panel….anyway...
One of the things that has stayed on my mind since the panel discussion was when Doug and Michael spoke about the symbiotic nature of the collaborative relationship between curator and artist. I have always related to this notion of curating as collaboration during my time as Gallery Revisited founder. I approached my curating as a form of art-making …that I was making something out of the artwork to put it into context and to present to the public.
Approaching what one does as an extension of what the artist does, required a huge amount of collaboration with the artists. Because in the scheme of things, everyone needs to be on the same page - as in of the same thought, and in the same zone to contextualize and ultimately present the work. If we didn’t jibe about where the art was or what it was doing, then the show would not be as successful.
This type of collaborative curating is different than a collaboration to create work, it is different than just simply picking work out of the studio to show, and again different than curating by commissions. Doug was working with 20 years’ worth of Michael’s art making for ARATALAND!
Formally speaking, a "retrospective" is most likely the most ambitious project for an independent curator to pursue. I use the term retrospective in quotations because although the work spans 20 years, there was not a real effort to specify dates of the work. Doug and Michael both eloquently and politely took the stand that the specific years are not as important as how the ideas were put together.
One person at the panel did call them on the semantics of the word and the purpose of informing the viewers of the chronology, but I found this remark to be a formal excuse to criticize a point that was already so clearly and intelligently answered. My view was that there are expectations with placement of work within a space, and that if the chronology doesn't match then the expectations of the viewer becomes confused.
But that is not a bad reflection on the curator, it just means that things are shifting with how some people think a retrospective should occupy space. I personally like the choices that Doug and Michael made, because placing 20 years of work by idea, not by year, was a much better way to organize. Ideas ebb and flow and sometimes come back around, they linger, they repeat - they don't just go in a line from one to the next and never look back.
The panel continued with the usual banter between art making, making money, writing, putting things in a space, choices and a long segment on conflict of interest (since there were writers on the panel, too).
And finally ending that for a retrospective, the show was done on the Cheap: locally, (with lots of sweat and drinks, I am sure) and without institutional support that it deserves. But I am sure that the show will travel…Armory? Basel? …who knows.