The pandemic has made it a weird time to be an independent curator. Museums and art galleries have postponed or even cancelled exhibitions, resulting in layoffs and broken contracts. COVID-19 preventative measures have made biennales, fairs, and other large-scale participatory experiences prohibitive. And, let’s be real: Curated online spaces aren’t necessarily for everyone, especially if your curatorial specialization involves performance or physical works. A slideshow won’t cut it.
However, we must adapt. With the pandemic’s second wave now upon us, it’s worth considering what on- and off-line exhibition-making strategies are still possible. From Instagram filters to storefront windows that move us through our networks and perpetually distracted WFH attention spans, here’s a survey of current curatorial projects demonstrating the possibilities of second-wave-proof platforms.
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1. Community Radio: Montez Press Radio
Where: Online via Montez Press Radio (46 Canal St #2, Manhattan)
An offshoot of an artist-run publisher, Montez Press Radio is a self-described experiment in free-form broadcasting and community building, using the radio format to bring together artists, writers, and thinkers in conversation and sound experimentation. Its recurring Saturday programs make it like the art world equivalent of WFMU. Shows include Tongue and Cheek, a monthly series focused on vocal exercises and communicative practices, and Sam Korman’s In Conclusion: A Review of Reviews, where the host and a guest read out loud and discuss a selection of exhibition reviews.
SCREEN TIME MANAGEMENT — As we struggle with home isolation and the need for extended screen usage breaks, radio and podcasting offer an intimate, screen-free space that is prime for sound art or even experimental music.
2. Instagram Filter: CRISIS VISION
Where: Online via CRISIS VISION’s Instagram
Mobile exhibition making doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes, a curatorial project can be situated within one of a social platform’s most common, everyday selfie-snapping tools, like Instagram’s augmented reality (AR) filter. Hence Crisis Vision, a recently launched project led by Newfoundland artist Andrea Cooper, showcasing Instagram filters by Canadian artists critically exploring identity within the networked space.
MULTIPLE ENTRY POINTS — From Zeesy Power’s blurring, anonymity-granting #antiself filter to Mikiki’s suite of IGTV performances featuring filters interrogating the co-opting of drag cultures, the works are intentionally circulated in varied ways: through emoji-filled hashtags, Instagram Stories, IGTV, or more broadly, within the main feed. These meme-like interaction points means the project will be encountered by both aware and unsuspecting Instagram users.
3. Newsletter: Burcu Emeç: We were awkward at first, but then it was ok
When: November 5–26
Where: Online via FOFA Gallery’s newsletter
Yes, a gallery or museum’s newsletter is often a promotional tool. But in Montreal, Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts (FOFA) Gallery — which remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19 — has been leveraging their Mailchimp as an intimate exhibition-making space for works-in-progress. This month, subscribers will receive weekly inbox snippets of scripted dialogue between performance artist Burcu Emeç and a piece of plastic bubble wrap in the lead up to a November 26 video performance reckoning with the function of objects in performance.
THE NEW CURATORIAL AGENDA — According to FOFA’s Exhibition Coordinator Geneviève Wallen, the choice by Gallery Director Eunice Bélidor to curate within a newsletter responded to their communities’ “zoom-fatigued [exhaustion], overstimulation via social media, and the desire for slow curation.” Nonetheless, it’s a savvy repurposing of a communication channel tapping a preexisting audience of engaged visitors and supporters.
4. Storefront Window: Queer Threads: CURIOUS SPACES
When: September 26–November 14
Where: Transformer (1404 P St, NW Washington, DC)
In public spaces, we’re forced to engage with other humans and objects through social distancing barriers. This can be alienating, or, as attested to by a Washington, DC fiber arts exhibition installed behind storefront window glass, a return to the curio cabinet. Presented by artist-run center Transformer, Queer Threads: CURIOUS SPACES features solo installations by emerging queer artists Zoe Schlacter and André Terrel Jackson at their Logan Circle space and the nearby Whitman-Walker cultural centre The Corner. Visitors can spy on Schlacter’s colorful Memphis-esque paper mache sculptures and fabric paintings, or up until last month, Jackson’s triptych of hand crocheted braids and twists headpieces.
ESSENTIAL VISIBILITIES — The street-front window display offers voyeurism but also spatial allusion to Black and queer artists’ reclaiming space. Transformer’s Executive and Artistic Director Victoria Reis notes visitors have appreciated how the artists and gallery have “thrust[ed] queer sexuality into the public space [and] that the scale of the window exhibitions and the different kinds of focus the experience requires encourages a new way of looking at details.”
5. Billboard: Zina Saro-Wiwa: Table Manners
When: November 1–30
Where: Times Square (From 41st to 39th Streets between Broadway and 7th Ave, Manhattan)
During this pandemic, the streetside billboard has emerged as a versatile presentation format for large-scale public art. But it can also be a site for more intimate, performance-based work. Every midnight in November, Times Square passersby can encounter Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Table Manners, an ongoing series of “eating performances” featuring subjects from the Niger Delta region.
INSTALLATION NEEDS — Presented in partnership between Times Square Arts’ Midnight Moment programme and Medium Tings, Table Manners demonstrates how impactful larger-than-life billboard presentations can be in reaching a cross section of audiences. Screened across synchronized Times Square electronic billboards, the 15-minute-long video works candidly show documentary style individual sitters consuming a meal, highlighting food consumption as a definitive act within West African communities and traditions.
6. Website: Bin Ends
Where: Online via New Art City
Online group exhibitions sometimes suffer from the unfair expectation of a desktop equating to an actual white cube experience. But a website doesn’t necessarily have to be a faithful digital reproduction of an IRL exhibition. Take Bin Ends, a virtual exhibition curated earlier this fall by artist and researcher Salome Asega for the online media arts festival Gray Area. Staged within 3D- modeled dark-web-like edit suites, the clickthrough of a door takes you to video clips or character sketches from artists like American Artist, E. Jane, or Alfredo Salazar-Caro. For a group show focused on experimentations that failed to make “the cut” of a new media project, it’s a smart way to show the dissembling of varied digital practices, deliberately echoing the special-edition-extended-DVD-cut format.
THE NEW CURATORIAL AGENDA — Bin Ends was built using New Art City, a still-in-beta platform for group digital exhibitions. In a Youtube conversation with Art in America’s Brian Droitcour, New Art City founder Don Hanson discusses how the platform’s “multiplayer” functionality allows visitors to chat with each other within a 3D exhibition space.
7. Fortnite: LaTurbo Avedon: Your Progress Will Be Saved
Where: Online via Fortnite Creative (Island Code: 1248-2128-4287) and Manchester International Festival’s Virtual Factory website
Of all the Battle-Royal-style multiplayer games, Fortnite stands out because it’s free to play and allows players to create and save their own islands as well as create their own mini-games thanks to its “creative mode.” This has resulted in art projects like Your Progress Will Be Saved. A Manchester International Festival commission by digital avatar, artist, and curator LaTurbo Avedon, users are directed by Ono-esque instructionals through a hyper-real factory-like environment with empty stages and apartments. For anyone missing the immersive art experience, virtual environments — especially with VR headsets — offer an accessible participatory mode.
MULTIPLE ENTRY POINTS — Your Progress Will Be Saved is smart in how it extends the online experience beyond Fortnite. Not only can visitors experience the work within the game, but can also via a website adaptation as well as Twitch tours led by Avedon and artist Molly Soda.
8. Livestream: Stephanie Dinkins: COMPLEMENTARY
When: October 29–December 1
Where: Online and in-person via Open Source Gallery (306 17th St, Brooklyn)
With livestreaming emerging as the de facto replacement for in-person events, performance-based artists and curators are adapting with broadcast-informed projects. Stephanie Dinkins, a transmedia artist whose work often delves into the ways communities of color aren’t fully represented in AI data, continues to explore how oral histories can infuse technology with her latest work. COMPLEMENTARY, a participatory installation currently mounted in Brooklyn’s Open Source Gallery, counters the exhaustive American presidential 24-hour news cycle by inviting visitors to respond to a prompt — “If you were to speak directly to the most powerful person in the world, what would you want them to know about you and your community?” — and broadcast themselves from a podium surrounded by complementary flags.
INSTALLATION NEEDS — Dinkins extends the installation with a 24-hour Vimeo livestream. Like many galleries, Open Source has limited public hours, so the livestream enables Dinkins to reach a wider, more global audience. Desktop or mobile visitors can upload privately or publicly their own off-site video or even questionnaire contribution.
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