As a collection management intern, I often see the latter end of the exhibition process. When art work has been sifted through and selected, loans and gift agreement signed, our team steps in to unpack and document what is finally displayed to visitors. Though I have participated in this process for the fall exhibition Continuum, I have always wondered what happens during the calm before the storm.
Set to open in January of the New Year, DOMA’s exhibition, SHIFT, not only presents a unique take on the relationships between collaborating artists but also that between curator and artist. The show exhibits the works of three artists Jongil Ma, Christopher Smith, and Corban Walker. Under the curatorial direction of Lisa Banner, these three artists have been brought together to explore movement and perspective through a number different mediums including glass, wood, and video. As this post is dedicated to the role of the curator, I knew there was no better way to begin than with the curator herself. I prefaced a meeting with Lisa by establishing a number of questions that I felt would be important in understanding a curator beyond someone whose position is often seen as omniscient and elusive. I wanted to know…
1. How does a curator select artists for a collaborative show? Do they focus on aesthetics, theme, narrative, or a combination of factors?
2. How do curators interact with artists in terms of choosing what will be shown?
3. What role do artists play in the curatorial process?
4. In a collaborative exhibition, what role do curators play in the interaction between the artists featured?
For Lisa Banner, the primary curator of Shift, the hands of the featured artists tell the stories that connect them. All three artists, though they work in different media, are all craftsmen. The hands of Ma tell the narrative of a furniture maker, those of Smith the narrative of a painter, and Walker’s that of a sculptor. The worn appendages of these craftsmen reinforce the notion that the personal identity of each artist carries through into their fine art, as both their trade and leisure are produced from the same hands.
Having worked with two of the artists (Jongil Ma and Christopher Smith) in the past, Banner is familiar with how the work of each artist flows with the other. By adding Corban Walker to the duo, Lisa focuses on theme in order to select pieces appropriate for the exhibition. Though Lisa suggests what art may work well in the exhibition, she admits that the final say is with the artist. She mentions that when curating a show, she might work with an artist who is transitioning between styles or media. In that case, what the artist may want to show is often a surprise. Though this is true, leaving the choice to the artist tends to bring forth what they feel represents them as well as the exhibition best.
Banner speaks at length about her role as a conduit between artists. She notes that in curating a collaborative show, it is important to not only understand an artist’s aesthetic but also their personal story. All three artists included in the show have either a personal relationship with the curator or one of the other artists represented. As a curator, Lisa recognizes what may happen when two or more artists inhabit the same exhibition space. Though they may collaborate naturally, she helps to mediate the interaction and creative collaboration between them. The exhibition, Shift, aims to create a conversation about perspective and motion through the lenses of artists who work in different media. The curator, as an expert of and a friend to these artists, sets the stage for this discussion to emerge.
SHIFT is on exhibition from Friday, Jan. 20 to Sunday, May 7. Follow the museum on Instagram and Twitter @domaatbsu and like us on Facebook.