The curator has asserted its role as vital to the success and viability of an artist’s show. You may be wondering what is a curator? Is it some shadowy figure or a figment of the gallery’s imagination? Well, we are privileged to pick the mind of two live curators and from the House of the Nobleman, which is a London based art advisory and professional consulting practice. The two individuals accepting the mantle of the noble quest to establish its New York office are Kristin Sancken and Anastasiya Siro, Their mission is to revitalize and create new possibilities for architectural landmarks and living spaces all over the world through shows and events. AF got a real insight into the world of being a curator and the finer points. As they say, it is all in the details and the best person to know how this all works in conjunction to the whole are curators. Let’s gather some select tidbits and thoughts, shall we?
ARTE F– USE: The origin of the word curator is from the Latin word curare which means to care. How much care do you give to each project that you do?
Kristin Sancken: A tremendous amount of dedication goes into curating a successful exhibition. Every facet has to be covered: budget and proposals, sourcing works, generating consignment agreements, layout and installation. It is not a relaxing process but the final product is a rewarding experience.
Anastasiya Siro: The Latin root of “curator” is telling because it frames the practice in a nurturing light. To care for, to care about, these are driving traits of a serious curator. I put my heart into every project I do. I spend a lot of time with artists, and I know how much they care about each and every work they create. When structuring an exhibition I feel great responsibility to both represent an artist’s ideas accurately and situate them within a broader cultural context. My job is to fulfill the latter part of the creative process which is revealing artworks to the public.
AF: Do you believe in breaking the rules when it comes to curating a show? As they say you have to know the rules before you break them. Have you broken rules more than adhere to them?
KS: I don’t consciously try to break rules but I also don’t follow trends. My curatorial MO has always been to put a contemporary take on a classic idea. Over intellectualized concepts can prevent a show from growing.
AS: What rules? This is the art world we’re talking about, there are no rules. That said; there are norms that exhibitions often stick to, such as the general format (looking at objects in a space, pairing them with written content, and having bio / information on the artists available at the desk, etc.). House of the Nobleman is reinventing this format in some ways and embracing it in others. For example we often stage exhibitions in functional spaces instead of inside standard white walls. The rules I live by are being true to my aesthetic values, having integrity, and being honest to my artists and my clients.
AF: How did you get to be involved with The House of the Nobleman? Is your curatorial vision in line with what they represent in art?
KS: A mutual friend introduced me to Anastasiya. I was immediately intrigued by the company. We aim at creating more of a leisurely social discourse around art in comparison to the veneration of a white wall setting. I like the importance they placed on maintaining architectural integrity as well as the versatility of their programming.
AS: In 2010 I met the founder of House of the Nobleman, Victoria Golembiovskya, and we saw eye to eye on many things right off the bat. Since then we have worked together to collectively develop our shared vision for a new gallery model. I am establishing the New York office which gives us a great opportunity to extend our reach and work with more artists.
AF: Do art shows have to be pleasing to the eye or can they be unsettling but significant? How much influence do you have to tip the scale in which direction a show takes?
KS: Both. To me, both the concept for a show and the art I choose to display should be somewhat provocative. At the same time, it is my job to create an environment that is aesthetically beautiful and conceptually concise. Right now, we are working on curating a show on art and taxidermy that will be mounted at Rush Gallery in Chelsea during March.
AS: An art show can be unsettling, pleasing, significant, abrasive, impactful, uplifting, etc., any or all of the above, plus more. The point is not to make a show live up to a particular adjective, but to articulate and advance the ever-growing body of human thought as it is propelled and expressed by artists who are living and creating here and now, as well as in the past. In my role as a curator I have many choices, I can be heavy handed with my own ideas or step back and let the artist carry the voice of an exhibition. Both approaches have equal validity if used at the right time. What’s important is that I’m responsive to each given set of circumstances.
AF: Would you rather work with an affable artist but the work itself is a challenge to structure a show or a pain in the ass artist but the work is genius? And it is a 50/50 collaborative process or what ratio is ideal for you to do your job as curator?
KS: I am more concerned with product and less about personality. However, a bad attitude can ruin a show. It is important for everyone, including myself, to check their ego.
AS: Well, an affable artist whose work is genius would be the ideal combination, but my first and foremost consideration isn’t the personality of the artists. Instead, I focus pretty exclusively on the quality of the art and the uniqueness of the ideas. If an artist’s work is strong, and they happen to also be cordial and kind, this obviously makes my job more fun, though I don’t rule out working with artists of other temperaments. As far as collaboration goes, it’s a balancing act every time I curate a show.
AF: How do women curators differ from men in terms of the shows they produce? Or gender is not an issue but a matter of taste level or set skill?
KS: I have never paid attention to the gender of a curator at an exhibition. I hope people pay me the same courtesy.
AS: In my experience, matters of taste and skill set are not gender specific. I don’t think one can quantify whatsoever any generalized difference between female and male curators. I mean how do Hispanic curators differ from Asian curators? How do gay curators differ from straight curators? How does one walk of life walk differently than another walk of life? The answers to these questions are an infinity of variations.
AF: Do you think women artists are fairly represented in the Art world market?
KS: No and it goes beyond artists. Female professionals are also not treated fairly. I think this is why a lot of progressive galleries and companies are being started by women. The lack of balance makes us even more determined.
AS: The fact that you’re asking a woman this question answers it; it’s well known that females are significantly underrepresented. I’m reminded of a study that was published in the American Economic Review in 2000 regarding a similar predominance of males in orchestra arrangements. The researchers, Goldin and Rouse, were investigating “unconscious bias” and sought to examine the prevalence of males in creative fields. They conducted a blind study that auditioned musicians behind a curtain where their gender was not known. By this method the number of women hired to play in the orchestra increased by a whopping 42%. I wonder what unconscious bias diffusing
AF: What do you do for fun that is not art related? Give us an off the clock activity that you love doing.
KS: I spend one month every year traveling for fun. This year, I spent July backpacking in Japan with my brother. I also secretly spend every Saturday watching college football.
AS: Traveling has always been a part of my life. Traveling and spending time with family are some of the things I enjoy most.
AF: Fantasy Time: Name a famous world landmark to curate and stage an exhibition.
KS: The Biltmore Estate. I would love to project a Bill Viola piece into the swimming pool.
AS: The Coliseum in Rome would be a cool exhibition space; I noticed that I gravitate toward circular structures because of the democracy of the architecture. Plus the Coliseum has such a rich history of public spectacles, from mock sea battles to executions. Imagine a group exhibition in that space displaying works the depict similar imagery, like Manet’s painting The Execution of Emperor Maximilian alongside Kandinsky’s Sea Battle painting, or Goya’s The Third of May 1808 alongside J. M W. Turner’s Battle of Trafalgar.
AF: Name the top 3 qualities a modern art curator should have and what is your personal sensibility to the craft?
KS: It is all about taste, skill, and how hard you are willing to work.
AS: Be brave, see the large picture, and try to be a little bit prophetic. Intuition and sensibility go a long way if one follows their instincts and remains true to them. I think it’s always a good start to work with artists who have something new to say.
Thank you Kristin and Anastasiya for your candor and balls to the wall answers, I hope our AF fans get a good idea of what a curator is and what role they play in the art machine. In my fantasy, I would stage an art show at Stonehenge, project the work of Henri Matisse’s La Danse (1909) on the ancient circle of stones where I’m pretty sure the Druids danced in their birthday suits. – O. L.
For more information about House of the Nobleman and their projects, please visit their website:
The House of the Nobleman has their current show Breathless at RUSH Arts Gallery on view till April 11, 2014.
Interview by: Oscar A. Laluyan
Photos credited and additional photos courtesy of: Max Noy Photo