Art & Dialogue: New York Public Program by Kimberli Gant

Kimberli Gant, the McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, presented a free public program at The Bronx Museum’s The Block Gallery on December 13, 2019. In her presentation, Kimberli discussed her curatorial practice working in different types of museums; ethnic specific, contemporary and encyclopedic. In addition, Kimberli conducted studio visits with Artadia Awardees and the Bronx Museum’s AIM Fellows over the course of three days. Read her summary of Art & Dialogue: New York below!

“What was truly amazing about the Artadia team was their ability to introduce you to such a wide-ranging and thoughtful group of artists from around the Boroughs of New York. After my arrival from Norfolk, Virginia to New York I spent my afternoon in lower Manhattan. My first studio visit was with photographer Ryan Foerster who had a show of some of his most recent work at the Camera Club of New York. I was unfamiliar with the artist and the space so the meeting gave me the opportunity to learn about both. Foerster was experimenting with materials such as discarded photographic paper and exposing it to objects and the elements. Foerster mentioned how he had worked at the Club for years ensuring the printers were calibrated correctly so there was a lot of used paper around and he would experiment with it in various ways. He was also working in film, recording objects around the rivers by Brighton Beach where he lived.

After Foerster and I finished our conversation I conducted a series of short conversations with the artists participating in the current Bronx Museum AIM program at the Block Gallery, which was also located in downtown New York. A few artists I had known, but hadn’t seen in years, so it wonderful to reconnect with them and see their art practices at that current moment. All of them had work on view in the main exhibition space, so it gave me a moment to see the type of projects they were discussing. Jasmine Murrell I had known of for years, specifically when I lived in Brooklyn and was working at MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts). However, she and I had not had a face-to-face conversation in almost a decade, so it was wonderful to speak to her. Her fiber works were on the wall, many printed with abstracted images and cut into stripes giving the sculpture movement. We also spoke about her ceramic pieces and the projects she had on the horizon.

After Murrell I spent some time talking Onyedika Chuke, another artist friend from my Brooklyn days. I follow him on social media so I knew he had participated in some in recent residencies in Europe and was excited to see what he was working on currently. He had a large mixed media sculpture of a serpent reminiscent of Oroboros, the mythical snake that continuously ate his own tale. It was a truly ambitious work that was exciting to see first hand, along with other ceramic works he was making. He discussed his upcoming projects around the world and new research he was developing.

Following Chuke’s visit I met with Guatemalan artist Jessica Lagunas whose worked spanned a variety of mediums, though the ones she was focused on was video and fiber works. In the videos the artist presents herself putting on makeup, from lipstick to mascara repeatedly until the contents are finished. She felt the works were a gesture on the absurdity of the cosmetics industry and the superficial desire for physical beauty. What I was also very excited about was Laguna’s small-scale fiber weavings created using her own hair rather than thread. The works were a dynamic conversation on aging and the human body.

My final visit at AIM was with Shani Peters, another artist whose work I knew from years ago, but who I hadn’t had an opportunity to speak with in a long time. I had recently seen an installation she had completed for the exhibition Great Force in Richmond, VA, so I was eager to see how it related to her other works. She had a group of prints filled with images of historic marches and events overlaid with inspirational quotes. The objects were commissions with schools and hospitals with predominately students of color to reaffirm self-pride and belief in oneself as a method of self-care.

After completing the studio visits for that day I gave a public talk to artists and visitors concerning my career as a curator. I thought that it would be of interest to speak about my career in institutions that have not been in major tourist destinations. Though I spent several years in and around New York, specifically Brooklyn and Newark, NJ, the museums I worked at were not spaces that tourists often came to. Due to that issue, the type of programming and outreach we created enabled us to have strong relations to the local, surrounding communities. I also discussed my curatorial philosophy and vision for each of the museums I have worked at, and currently work for, because as a lot of my audience were artists, knowing how curators such as myself think and work can benefit them.

The following day began with a studio visit with the Brooklyn-based, Iranian artist Hadi Fallahpisheh. His work was photography based and had recently morphed into what he called “photography painting.” Using large swaths of photographic paper the artist used concentrated light to create painterly scenes of figures and dwellings in his work. The outlines of these dwellings were often walls as both of these spaces related to containment. For the artist, who was displaced from his birthplace of Tehran, and now living in the U.S. under the Trump regime, spaces took on different meaning. He did not have the freedom of movement many citizens enjoyed, thus interior spaces were often confining.

My next meeting was with Jessica Vaughn, another artist based in Brooklyn. Her sculptural and installation work concerned patterns and processes found in everyday environments such as office cubicle and transit systems. She has a series of hanging sculptures comprising the seats found on city bus and train systems. She also deconstructed cubicle units, looking at the interior structures of these units. I was especially drawn to her “seat sculptures” as I had never thought as what happened to those items once the companies decided to change them out. I would sometimes notice the colors and patterns when I sat on a bus or train, but only superficially. The colors, patterns, shapes and designs were rather fascinating to contemplate as sculptures, especially depending on how Vaughn organized them in various formations. Moreover, the objects referenced the idea of larger types of systems, how organizations run, and how individuals were often only thought to be part of an abstract collective.

My last visit of the day was with painter and works on paper artist Carrie Gunersdorf. Her drawings also focused on color and patterning. She created gradient effects, while others were designs of complementary colors. Some shapes were triangular, while others were spiral or rectangular. What one really focused on was her use of color. Whether using warm or cool colors they grabbed you in and your eye kept rolling around the canvas examining which colors came after each other, along with the depths and widths of the lines. What also really struck me were the bits of additional shading outside the seeming picture plane. Where one would normally expect crisp lines there were instead bits of coloring shade, almost as if Gunersdorf were testing the color beforehand. It made the canvases messy visually, but also in an interesting unexpected way. Those marks added in the artist’s hand in a fun way, as if the artist didn’t want you to take her work too seriously.

On my last day of visits, I began with performance artist Autumn Knight. I got introduced to Autumn several years ago when she was based in Houston and have followed her work since then. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen snippets of her work online and have not seen a performance live. Our conversation gave us time to catch up on the work she also presented in the Great Force exhibition in Richmond. We spoke at length about which performances she was presenting at museums nationally and abroad, and whether or not they were buying them. It is difficult for institutions to purchase performances as many do not understand how that process works and are used to 2-d or 3-d objects. We discussed how she was grappling with those issues as an artist.

Following Autumn’s conversation I met with painter Hannah Barrett. Barrett was gracious enough to come hear me speak at my public talk and we spoke briefly there. In seeing her work of created characters in hyper-color settings I was immediately struck by their fun nature. The artist created humanoid figures that resembled a monster or character one might find in a Jim Henson or Pixar film. They multiple eyes, arms and legs, situated in historical palazzos and gardens. I made mention that I felt children would probably really enjoy her depictions as there was no aggression by her figures, but wonders in seeing them cook or read a book. Though incredibly fun, Barrett’s images were more speaking about the fluidity of identity. How people view and see themselves in relation to their biological body is akin to shifting. Barrett’s character had no defining gender or sexuality, giving them a freedom in their representation that most humans not often have.

My final meeting was with the filmmaker Terrance Nance. Another long-lost friend, I had not seen him in over a decade, though I had seen some of feature-length films and television programs. I was curious to see how those projects were situated within his overall practice. Our meeting was conversational as we had to meet at a restaurant rather than his studio since he had just returned from abroad. We did speak about his upcoming video projects and he was going to send me some works to review in the near future.

Having seen a total of eleven artists in three days, my body and mind were exhausted but inspired. It is not often I get to really see and spend concentrated time with artists when I am in town in New York. My trips are often very short and require me to visit galleries, museums, collectors, as well as artists so time is incredibly limited. Not only did I get to reconnect with several individuals who I lost contact with or just hadn’t spoken too in a long time, but I met new artists who I hope to work with in the future. I sincerely thank the Artadia team for inviting me to speak and conduct studio visits. Participating as a speaker with Artadia gave me a wonderful opportunity to discuss issues within the museum field in a public forum and spend time doing what I love, seeing and discussing art.”

Kimberli has held curatorial positions at the Newark Museum, The Contemporary Austin, and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art. She has curated numerous exhibitions including Multiple Modernisms, Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam through Time & Place, and De-Luxe. Kimberli holds Art History degrees from the University of Texas Austin, Columbia University, and Pitzer College.