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Curators among us

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-02-04


Most art viewers, even the seasoned and educated, are unaware of the importance of the curator. This somewhat mysterious position in the art world can include art historians, artists, critics, and even lay people. Museums are usually seen as the competitive market for the curator’s services, but many galleries, collectors, and alternative art spaces also employ them. The curator’s job description can sort of be boiled down into the definition of “caretaker of art.” However, this phrase includes many things, from event planning, aesthetics and art history, design, and personal relations (which can be especially difficult when working with artists).

More often than not though, the curator is the person responsible for organizing an exhibition of artifacts, which can range anywhere from art objects (traditionally where a lot of the curatorial discourse happens) to collectibles, items of some historical importance like religious artifacts or archeological finds, to scientific collections. The curator then chooses which objects, either from an institution’s collection, or from some other source(s) that they wish to exhibit for a desired effect. Many times the success of an art show has equal importance to the quality of work that is being shown and the way in which it is being shown.

Because of the importance of the curator in the experience of art, I thought it would be interesting to talk to two local curators about how they go about their practice. Beckie Stockert has independently curated two shows at Firefly coffee shop in the past, and is currently curating a show “Phantasmagoria”, which will be at the Thirsty Camel for one night only on March 1st. Sachi Yanari-Rizzo is the curator of exhibitions and collections at FWMoA, she curated their current show, “Memories of World War II: Photographs from the Archives of the Associated Press” which will be up until March 9th.

Stockert became interested in curating while attending the University of Saint Francis, and began a work-study position under Justin Johnson, the universities gallery director. During this time, she saw the internal mechanics of how shows were put up, and got the chance to have a part in the direction of the annual student show. “When I began curating shows at the Firefly, that's when I realized how fun and important these events were. I was in complete control of how the event happened.” Stockert said.

Stockert says people are the inspiration for the shows that she directs. This is akin to the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s practice of relational aesthetics, or the beauty of creating a social situation. Because of this pure dependence on the audience, Stockert’s shows are many times broad collections of visual art practices, as well as musical. Stockert also spoke of the power that literature has in her decision-making. “ I know it seems like my inspiration should come from art—but I understand art. I don't understand literature. It amazes me that people can be as crafty and comfortable with words and language as I am with brushes and clay. Many of my themes and personal work are derived from words and language.”

When asked to discuss other events that she was particularly impressed by locally, Stockert brought up a few regulars of the Fort Wayne art scene. “I am, of course, excited about The Margin. I want more. The Margin is beautiful in what it is—I want more publications. Jack Cantey's The History of Touch comes to mind. People were so interested in what was going on. People were paying attention to what was happening! Also, John Commorato's films were great and not just because I was in one, because they were fresh for this city.”

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo’s initial interest was during her undergrad while majoring in art history, always keeping the option of going into curatorial work open, but wasn’t sure this was the right direction until grad school. “In grad school I was a T.A. and found myself getting excited that I had a great slide detail of a work of art. Recognizing the irony of this statement, I decided I really wanted to work directly with the art objects, not reproductions.” Her path was set once she was chosen for a curatorial internship at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, at Oberlin College.

Yanari-Rizzo’s inspiration is also based upon the objects. “It obviously has to begin with the art. There are definitely times when either magazines, exhibitions, or publications get me excited about an artist, movement, or medium that is unfamiliar to me. I have to admit that I do have a predilection for art that is social, political, or underrepresented.” This socio-political dimension of her practice can be seen currently at the FWMoA with the juxtaposition of the World War II photographs, being countered by the watercolors of the children’s book illustrator Allen Say, to “(reflect) on the Japanese American internment during the war, which still remains a somewhat unfamiliar part of American history to many people and obviously has eerie relevance today.”

When asked about the role of the museum in our community, Sachi its mission is to serve the community, adding “The Fort Wayne Museum of Art tries to show all kinds of media as well as historical through contemporary American art since we don’t have art museums that specialize in media or time period here.” That is certainly a luxury to the art communities of larger cities. However, with Yanari-Rizzo’s subtle and masterful practice, Fort Wayne is lucky to have the consistent quality of shows that the FWMoA does.

These two curators have very different styles; Sachi Yanari-Rizzo’s more traditional, based on the museum practice. Beckie Stockert’s tends to fall upon the unconventional and effervescent, yet they both have a profound respect for art. It is not only the institutions and the artists which make for a fruitful art market. The curator is like the set manager that makes the whole thing go smoothly. Thankfully, Fort Wayne has a few with passion.

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