There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join ARTdart columnist, Pamela Beck, in this 5 part feature interview series with 5 participants from Art Basel Miami, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.
Day 1 – Dr. Matthew McLendon, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The John and Mable Ringling Museum
PB: How would you describe the particular energy or spirit of this year’s Miami art fair experience? Was it different than last year’s?
MM: The energy seemed less frenetic this year at the larger fairs (ABMB, Pulse, Art Miami) and these fairs seemed less crowded. The numbers, however, remain consistent with last year, so I’m not sure why it seemed this way. The big, blue chip galleries are reporting strong sales, so from that point of view it seems to have been another successful year.
PB: Which fair did you most enjoy? Why?
MM: This year I really enjoyed SEVEN. It was particularly strong, especially in video/new media. The work was obviously curated with a great deal of thought. The Winkleman Gallery showed a brilliant installation by Leslie Thornton, Peggy and Fred in Hell (archival edition), 1984-2013. I left SEVEN feeling I had seen some very good work.
PB: If you were organizing/curating these fairs, would you do anything differently? What would be your dream fair?
MM: My real complaint this year, and in talking with several of my colleagues I think there was agreement, was that the more innovative fairs like Pulse were disappointing in that most of the artists on display were also shown last year. I kept thinking to myself, I really loved this work—last year. The work on view was, of course, new, but I didn’t have as many of those great discovery moments. Galleries should freshen it up a bit. As for my dream fair, I would like to see something that is completely about a strong curatorial vision, a point of view. Obviously, however, that’s not the point of a fair. The point is to sell, no matter how much curatorial “window dressing” they try to layer on.
PB: Which activities did you most enjoy?
MM: Personally, I had a great time at the Aqua opening. The art was fairly strong and I was there with a great group of friends. The energy was young, light, and fun. However, if they serve the “blue stuff” again next year, I will stay far, far away. That hurt the next morning…
PB: Did you have any surprises or unexpected reactions at the fairs?
MM: In years past I’ve had major moments. I saw my first large Mickalene Thomas odalisque at ABMB a number of years ago. I came around the corner and knew my visual life had changed. Unfortunately, nothing like that this year.
PB: Did you discover new artists whose art intrigues you?
MM: I was pointed in the direction of the photographs of Hendrik Kerstens shown at Danziger Gallery. Kerstens has been photographing his daughter in an “old master” style for the last 18 years, but always with a modern twist or prop. They were beautiful and, at times, quite witty. He’s been around a while, but he was new to me.
PB: What are the parallels/differences between the art you like as a curator and the art you would like to personally collect?
MM: The old adage that all paintings are self-portraits can hold true for curating as well, but I have to fight that impulse. I’m always listening to my colleagues and students about the work they think is important. It’s really not about “liking” it’s about thinking the work has something important to say. My own tastes are fairly traditional modern—Dada and Surrealist inspired, Minimalist, etc. But there is SOOOO much more than that. I have to present my audience with a broad array. That’s always the challenge.
PB: Can you share any specific interesting/funny incident/experience that happened to you in Miami?
MM: No matter how sophisticated my life might be, the small town boy in me is always shocked when a G&T costs $18…