Esther Windsor

What is failure in relation to art practice now?

Pandering—The fine line between vapid decorative work and work that is overly academic and wrung out. I am specifically thinking to the pervasiveness of a decorative fashion aesthetic and the problem of mediocre work that is funnelled in to group shows by curators who are more concerned with illustrating a tight curatorial thesis than showing work that is pushing at something that isn’t necessarily easy to define--

What constitutes a failed work?

Probably lack of recognition. Lack of audience. It’s so subjective and anything can be qualified— although I’m thinking about one young super star artist in New York- Aaron Young who has made a big splash- has a huge number of collectors and shows with Gagosian, but he’s built his practice of overtly ripping off other artists within his social group who are not as well connected as he is to get shows—and there is a kind of hollowness in his work that critics like Roberta Smith have acknowledged- despite being critically panned, does the ability to create a spectacle and have his spectacles supported by the art industry make him a success?  (+ he rips off pieces that are conceptually and aesthetically successful enough to inspire theft—but have failed at gaining recognition. )If Aaron Young loses collectors and falls in to obscurity, will that make him a failure? I dunno. I’ve seen beautiful conceptually tight pieces made by people who failed at being successful artists—but it’s the tree the falls in the forest with no one to hear it or see it question.

Is the subjective position of the curator acknowledged in planning a show? (There is always visibility of the artist’s intention, if only via artist’s statement. CV etc but the curator is often invisible.)

That’s interesting because it seems like the curator is increasingly the superstar of most shows. It’s usually easy to remember who curated the show and hard to remember the artists.  I’ve seen a lot of bad shows lately curated by people who seem to believe that justifying their curatorial thesis is more important than showing work that feels fresh or challenges the idea of what art is—like it’s too much for them to deal with so they show stuff that really feels like a recycling of old ideas that they can easily justify with theory.

I’ve had a lot of recent interaction with curators who say things like “I think of the artist as my collaborator- I think the artistic process is just as important as my process is.”— which makes a lot of artists want to say- um ok then, why curate at all if I’m just embellishing your brilliant idea, why don’t you just make art and show it.

I love working with really smart curators who also respect the artists work—but it seems like there are a lot of people being pumped out of curatorial programs who are really f’ing privileged, have never been challenged, don’t like to be challenged, are curating a lot of boring shows and seem to be oblivious to the fact that their profession would not exist without artists.

Also—there is a really new and completely annoying phenomenon among young curators who try to re-make the work they are showing- direct installations etc… rather than letting the artist govern their own work (ex. A relatively recent graduate of the CCA curatorial program asked to show the merkin piece and then came back to me a told me that they really wanted it to be seen through a peep hole—I had to explain to them without saying “gee… that’s so 1st year undergrad art school” that a peep hole would completely re-contextualize my work—would fetishize a fetish—would detract from the subtlety—would make it overly precious and leave less space for interpretation—that the flatness was part of the point etc…) 

Are there examples of times you have worked as an artist or curator where this process, even at a level of personal taste, has been acknowledged or worked with in making a show or even making work?

With you- when we made the merkin piece and promoted the show

Nicholas Logsdale once said, (in a conference ‘the Art Racket’ at Tate Britain), that choosing artists for him was like falling in love. It was like chemistry, it was there or not, it was not a logical process, it was personal. He also said, it was like a relationship, where he would support them through illness, unpopularity, poverty (to an extent) but acknowledged that some artists would have more shows and sales in response to market demand.  Have you had anything like this experience as an artist with a dealer or curator or as a curator?

Again, my friendship with you has been in that realm.

But I also had a creepier dynamic with a collector who bought a great deal of my work, just fell for my work and expressed an interest in my well being. He introduced me to a dealer who worked with me for a while, but it was always a little weird because he was a collector and I felt I needed a healthier distance—he lost his money and his influence with dealers which was not good for me. I find that very few dealers will do anything close to supporting an artist in that way, but perhaps I haven’t met the right people.

One artist described to me his dealer as a father who looked after his money and gave him guidance, like a child. Do you think personal and transformative relationships go alongside pragmatic and market driven ones?

Yes, like any good agent, art dealers try to nurture whoever is making money for them—and these relationships do change one’s perspective, sometimes they create material to draw form and make art out of.

A pair of curators described curating as a process of aquiring and giving subjectivity. In my experience of curating i find this to be true of artists I have chosen (rather than ones I am institutionally obliged to show) have you experienced this?

I think that is the occasional gift of working with someone who is really engaged and open. It is the exception rather than the norm to work with someone who is open enough to share their own experience, aesthetic approach etc.. so that even if the piece has been thought of, planned, developed before conversations with a curator begins, the piece ends up resonating with those conversations and becomes richer—but that very different from the desire of some curators to dictate- which is generally makes the artist feel insecure and the work (especially site specific installation) tends to go flat

Curators, traditionally, are supposed to be impartial and representative but people like Matthew Higgs for e.g. had a little club of artists he showed (Inc Martin Creed) at Andrew Weatley and Martin McGowan’s space Cabinet in the 90's when it was in Brixton. Now a decade later Yinka in ‘three by three’ asks people to ask artists they like to show work in his new space, which he describes as 'an alternate universe and artists playground'

What do you think of this ‘curators club’? Is it like the dealer’s stable now and a consolidating of power? Is it inevitable and actually always there already, particularly with more fluid types of practice in curating? Does play open up spaces not inscribed with power?

I don’t think there is impartiality in the art world at least not in terms of which artists curators and art dealers choose to work with or collectors decide to collect. People are narcissistic and they like to see reflections of themselves through seeing and supporting projects that resonate with their personal aesthetics and view of the world. The conversations that culminate in projects are not necessarily the most brilliant, but within the community that supports those conversations and a physical culmination of those conversations, they have value—even if those projects are perceived as failures within the group. The curators clubs are frustrating because ultimately they are about “who I like to hang with”—which can be influenced by a variety of factors- who strokes my ego, is physically attractive, amusing, is smart enough to flesh out my ideas(even though they can’t really seem to make interesting art), buys good drugs, takes me to good parties, introduces me to interesting people, introduces me to people who buy art, has a family member of sig other with a gallery- or is a collector,  has the means/family/sig other etc.. has the means to take me on vacation- put me up in their cool house etc.

It is a consolidating power. In San Francisco, there is a non-profit art mafia that has been recycling the same people in group shows in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for 15 years- now they are hiring people to curate shows who are just great at organizing parties and have no art background (and they will tell you that proudly)—It’s a worst case scenario—a multicultural organization that is now really only supporting two groups of artists form specific ethnic backgrounds—and a focus on fundraising that is so totally centered around a bar scene that educated artists and curators are being written out of the equation by party planners. – so maybe there is a natural burn out that clears way for new cliques of artist curator groups once the old guard has become too corrupted to sustain the creation and support of art and an art institution.

With the prevalence of art bling and the bypassing of artist led spaces straight to dealership, is the place of subjective curation an exercise in taste and style for niche marketing?

I think this has been the case, and I’m hoping that the shift in the economy and the art market which shift some focus back to ideas over style. I’ve seen a lot of couch art over the past few years.

Assuming we are all engaged in a hegemonic culture, consciously or not reproducing norms, is there the possibility for independence in what kind of space?

I was just watching the link on Jerry Saltz facebook page—a video of him walking through the Martin Kippenberger show in NY at one point he tells the camera that he once said "this is not art, but like so many things I was proven wrong, without Kippenberger's work, sculpture would not look like the way it does today"

I think it’s all a recycling and then eventually there is a break and then another recycling—that is the nature of a hegemonic culture, but independence has a way of seeping in. I’m not sure that independence, by it’s very nature, can happen within an institutionalized context or supported by institutional or collective forces.

I hear a lot of artists say that they have to stop seeing work in order to make work- have to make some break—or others who need to make themselves super busy socializing themselves in to a frenzy so that they have a jumble of things to grab from in order to rework the things that have been in front of them- engaged, but removed at the same time.

Do you have any strategies for independence?

I know that you are referring to creative independence, but I have increasingly started to believe that I have to make lifestyle choices that create stability so that I can take more chances with my work—as well as protect my psyche from the personal hurdles involved with navigating the art world.

How do you think you might be represented in history?

I don’t think I’ll be represented in history

Are you an individualist or collective, does it matter?

When I am working on solo projects, I don’t want anyone to see what I’m working on until I’m finished- but I also get a great deal out of the collaborative process.  There are some people who I riff on ideas with and although the work that is manifested is individual- those projects feel like collaborative efforts—sometimes they become acknowledged collaborations.