Art & Dialogue: San Francisco Public Program by Miranda Lash

Miranda Lash, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Speed Museum in Louisville, presented a free pubic program at The Lab in San Francisco on December 11, 2019. In her lecture, The Urgency of Art, Lash discussed the crucial role of artists and artist-run spaces, looking specifically at case studies in New Orleans, Appalachia, and Athens, Greece. Below is Miranda’s summary of Art & Dialogue: San Francisco:

“My experience coming to San Francisco under the auspices of Artadia was rich and inspiring entrée into to the lives of working artists within the rapidly-changing urban landscape of the Bay Area. My visit consisted of conducting eight studio visits with artists and giving a lecture at The Lab on December 11, 2019 entitled “The Urgency of Art.” My lecture focused on the crucial role of artist-run spaces in New Orleans, Appalachia, and Greece.  

My studio visits with Artadia were with the artists Sergio de la Torre, Mike Henderson, Allison Smith, Mike Arcega, Ramekon O’Arwisters, Jessica Snow, Angela Hennessy, and Chris Sollars. These artists came from diverse backgrounds and the topics covered during our discussions were wide ranging. In Sergio de la Torre’s studio we discussed his work focused on advocacy for undocumented immigrants, sanctuary cities, and educating the public on the evolution of U.S. immigration policy. Using posters, vinyl texts, billboards, and paintings, de la Torre employs words and phrases drawn from responses from the community on the subject of immigration. With his collaborator Chris Treggiari he plays with the spacing and letters of these phrases to create new texts that often render strange and anew the idea of being “undocumented.” We also discussed the issue of violence related to the gentrification of the Mission District and real estate developer strategies such as painting houses “gray.” With Mike Henderson we discussed the trajectory of his career over many decades and the artistic influences that inspired his painting, such as Wayne Theibaud, Al Held, Buckminster Fuller, and jazz musicians such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Erik Satie.  He described his experiences studying at the San Francisco Art Institute and living in San Francisco during the 1960s amidst such luminaries as Sun Ra, the Black Panthers, and Jimi Hendrix. Above all he emphasized that as an artist “you have to learn how to be your own teacher. You have to find yourself and articulate who you really are.”  

With Allison Smith, we delved into her recent works that contend with the issues of race and “whiteness,” and the politics of living history museums. Throughout her artistic career Smith has engaged critically with the process of how American history can be interpreted through the languages of craft, objects, and historical re-enactments. Smith’s latest work looks at her own genealogy and history, which contains ancestors who were slave owners. Her current process investigates ways of “mapping trauma” over generations and seeking ways to find healing and repair within the process of investigating her own family’s history. With Mike Arcega we took a close look at his website with the goal of providing constructive feedback. We also discussed his recent projects in China, which consisted of large-scale installations primarily made from found materials.  Currently Arcega is working with collaborators in the designing elaborate tricycles which are inspired by tricycles for hire in the Philippines. These tricycles are being conceived of in conjunction with the commemoration of SOMA Pilipinas – the designation of SOMA as a Filipino Cultural Heritage District. I met Ramekon O’Arwisters at Patricia Sweetow Gallery to look at his recent sculptures. Together we discussed the evolution of his practice, and how his ceramic and textile pieces are inspired by the legacy of textile-working in his family and the traditions of ceramics coming out of the American South. We discussed the revolutionary and “aggressive” nature of these sculptures with their sharp edges, and how this translates to his experience as a queer Black artist. We also discussed his upcoming residency at the Headlands and how meditation has informed his practice and life generally.  

In Jessica Snow’s studio I had the opportunity to look at her abstract paintings and discuss what the language of modernity and the legacy of art history means to her. We also discussed the significance of her potentially relocating her studio practice to France, and how this perspective may change her process and outlook. Snow also generously shared how her practice as a curator has dovetailed with her work as an artist, particularly in showcasing the work of abstract or “non-objective” painters. With Angela Hennessey we were able to look at a body of recent sculptures which use hair as their primary material. Having woven hair into Victorian-inspired mourning wreaths, jewelry-inspired chains, and symbolic forms such as rainbows, circles, and “black holes,” Hennessey investigates the significance of hair as a material associated with mourning and death, but also with life, sensuality and black identity. We also discussed her ideas for an upcoming project that will be conducted during a residency at Facebook and what it would mean to create a work that speaks to or resonates with Black workers at Facebook. In the studio of Chris Sollars we looked at his recent sculptures using found materials from the streets of the Bay Area, such as stop signs, car parts, and detritus, which may or may not have carried a utilitarian function. We discussed the significance of his process as he has now worked with street materials for twenty years, often focusing on “in-between” places and phenomenon that might otherwise be overlooked. We also discussed the significance of flatness, and how his approach to gender may be informed by his own family background of having two lesbian mothers.  

During the second day of my visit I gave my lecture at The Lab. It was exciting to be able to draw from different chapters in my curatorial career (my time spent as a curator at the New Orleans Museum of Art, my time spent as a curator in Kentucky at the Speed Art Museum, and my time spent as a curatorial resident with ARCAthens) and tie these places together under the theme of advocating for the role of artist-run spaces.  Questions raised over the course of my talk and during the Q&A portion included: What are the roles of art and artists in situations of crisis? How can museums potentially collaborate with and promote the role of artist-run spaces? How are artist spaces supported? And, how can artist spaces and museums better educate the public about artists’ working process and their needs? After the talk I was able to have a number of fruitful one-on-one discussions with attendees and meet additional members of the arts community.  

Though my time in San Francisco was condensed, I learned a great deal from my time spent with the Artadia grantees and came away with a multi-dimensional portrait of how creative lives are sustained in this region. I thank Artadia for making this thoughtful and layered opportunity for artist-curator engagement possible.”


Miranda Lash  is  the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Speed Art Museum and a board member for the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Her recent exhibitions at the Speed include Yinka Shonibare: The American Library (co-curated with Alice Gray Stites), Keltie Ferris: *O*P*E*N*, and BRUCE CONNER: FOREVER AND EVER (co-curated with Dean Otto). Her 2017 exhibition Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, co-organized with Trevor Schoonmaker, garnered praise from sources including The New York Times, Hyperallergic, and NPR.  Lash was a member of the Artistic Director’s Council for the international triennial  Prospect.4 in New Orleans (2017-2018).  Currently she is the 2019 Curatorial Fellow for ARC Athens, a residency program based in Athens, Greece.

From 2008 to 2014, Lash was the founding curator of modern and contemporary art at the New Orleans Museum of Art. There she curated over twenty exhibitions, including the large-scale traveling retrospective exhibition Mel Chin: Rematch and the exhibitions Rashaad Newsome: King of Arms; Katie Holten: Drawn to the Edge; Swoon: Thalassa; Wayne Gonzales: Light to Dark, Dark to Light; and Parallel Universe: Quintron and Miss Pussycat Live at City Park. Lash also presented several artists’ first solo museum exhibitions in the United States including the Venice Biennale Silver Lion awardee Camille Henrot in Camille Henrot: Cities of Ys and the British artist Marcus Coates in Marcus Coates: Animal Instincts.

Lash’s essays have been published in the Harvard journal Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, the anthology Baroque Tendencies in Contemporary Art, New American Paintings, The Oxford American, and most recently, Andy Warhol: Revelation published by the Andy Warhol Museum. Lash has been a Clark Fellow at the Clark Art Institute, a consultant for Creative Capital, and a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts.