Art Seen: International

PROFILE OF THE CURATOR // RENAUD PROCH

In Conversation with Stephanie Cristello

– Part I –

We speak of a global network frequently with regards to the international art world. This network is now part of our consciousness in terms of how we experience exhibitions online—documentation is available to us on various platforms, mediated by the screen. What we do not speak about nearly as frequently is how this access operates on a physical level; while we can see and visually experience the artistic output of various international artists, museums, institutions, collectives, and movements, it is not embodied. For many, the global is a very singular type of experience, one that we participate in through one sense: seeing.

_MG_2592_lowIndependent Curators International (ICI) is a unique platform in this regard. The non-profit program depends on the tangible movement and displacement of individuals, experiencing the international on the ground, instead of through its reproduction. Their program of Curatorial Intensives, which have taken place in Mumbai, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Addis Ababa, and Moscow, to name a few, depart from the common misconception that the international art world exists only in its centers—beyond New York and London. I sat down with Renaud Proch, the Executive Director of ICI, to discuss this development, which has changed dramatically since the early 2000s and the expansion of curatorial programs, tracing the evolution of how we think about “centers,” as points once well defined and particular, to a definition that relies on networks and scenes. We spoke about a new type of center that no longer relies on its position within the predefined circumference of an enclosed sphere; using this geometry as a metaphor, the center we located exists in multiple ways—more crystalline in its shape.

Stephanie Cristello: You were speaking earlier about pushing the international aspect of ICI, and perhaps that is a good place to start. What was your involvement in that expansion when you moved into the Executive Director position?

Renaud Proch: I joined ICI as Deputy Director in 2009, when my colleague Kate Fowle—who had recently taken the position of ICI’s Executive Director—brought me on. The organization was in need of a new direction, it could benefit from fresh perspectives and it needed to reflect that the role of the curator had changed so very much in the past decade and become much more international.

Some of the developments in the field that changed the curator’s role included education. I did my Masters in Curating in 1999–2001 at the Royal College of Art in London. At the time, there were maybe five post-graduate programs of that kind in the world. Fast-forwarding fifteen years, there is essentially one of these programs in every city that’s a major art center. Another development had been the phenomenon of the “star curator,” or the “omnipresent curator.” At the different place in the spectrum of the definition of a curator, the idea of community builder, infrastructure builder began to emerge too: someone who could very locally energize the art scene. At the same time, the art world was becoming increasingly global, and likewise the art discourse became much more global. It was no longer about London and New York, major art centers began to multiply. Today, we find it easier to think of art scenes in terms of networks rather than centers. This new definition gives us, as curators, many more directions to pursue and investigate.

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Curator’s Perspective with Juan A. Gaitán, MoMA/PS1, October 20, 2013. Photo: ICI

SC: Is that what the Curatorial Intensives program mainly promotes? Or are you speaking about the international and the global more broadly as a framework?

RP: The Curatorial Intensive addresses the need for alternative training models for emerging curators. It was established by Kate (who had set up a Masters program in curating in San Francisco’s California College of Art several years before) in recognition that there were curators from all around the world who might not have the time or the money to access Master’s degree in Curating – people who were already working in the field and who had been doing so for several years. What these curators needed was an outlet to expand their horizons, to plug into an international network, and to develop a group of peers that they could continue to work with in the long term.

From the very beginning we had thought the program should be international in scope and with possible iterations outside of New York. The program started in 2010 with a course we had done in New York, which proved to be successful, and so we did another, as well as a pilot program in Mumbai, India. In 2012, we had the opportunity to test out expanding this international pilot program, with Intensives in partnership with the Ullens Center in Beijing, China and Inhotim Instituto in Belo Honrizonte, Brazil. Since, we’ve expanded the number of cities we’ve partnered with, but we also expanded the scope of the program with Spanish-language Intensives, in Buenos Aires, in Bogotá, and just a couple of weeks ago in Mexico City.

The focus on international however came first perhaps with the Curator’s Perspective, our talk series created in 2009, invites international curators to come to New York and other places around the country to speak about their practice, their art scenes which they come from.

This was the first attempt at raising awareness on what curators do internationally, with a multiplicity of perspectives. It may have been less visible than the Curatorial Intensive as the program stands right now, but it certainly represented a turning point in what we did as the first public programs initiative at ICI.

SC: Now you are very heavily programmed –

RP: Yes, with a relatively small team working around the clock! Before these public programs were first being formed, ICI was not as focused on investigating its own international connections and history. Many of the programs since have gone in that direction.

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Curatorial Intensive faculty Konjit Sayoum, Curatorial Intensive participant Mihret Kebede, and Renaud Proch during the Intensive at Zoma Contemporary Art Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 2014. Photo: ICI.

SC: Well, and to your earlier point, the field of study for curating – let alone the alternative – was rare then. You were close to one of the first generations to have the opportunity of being in an academic Curatorial program. Most Curators before did a PhD in Art History, or related fields, but it was not as broadly academicized as it is now.

RP: Yes – these programs really started in the early–mid ’90s, and they were not all strictly academic programs. Some of them were vocational training that helped you build on an existing background in art or art history. Also at the time there was no curriculum – one could argue that’s should still be the case – and only few text about curating; so it was about learning from people already in field, other curators experimenting and sharing their thoughts, successes and failures, rather than learning from accepted ways of doing things.

SC: Almost like a new type of academy –

RP: Exactly, and much more horizontal. This clearly carries through in the way that the Curatorial Intensive is conceived.

SC: Learning from peers?

RP: Yes

SC: I would like to talk about the Curator’s role, which is not just to put on an exhibition, but also heavily relies on a platform for research that perhaps develops into an exhibition in the future, but also perhaps not.

RP: That’s an aspect that’s true of the Intensives as well. We have seen many projects that have been the result of an Intensive, beyond the workshop provided in the span of a week. The program goes beyond ICI in many ways, and it has the potential to transform into more than just a project. There is no formula to what the participants will take away from the program, that much is clear.

SC: I had mentioned that term “new academy” in a previous question. It is interesting for me to think about the antiquated Academy (with a capital A) as being this type of extreme tangibility, where there are clearly delineated rules and acceptable modes of production – and on the other side, there is your world – which can be defined as complete intangibility at times. How do you navigate that space?

RP: You know, that is a very beautiful definition of what a curator does. I think that uncertainty is so much a part of the process. And even if you want to have complete control of what you think the work contributes within the exhibition, you are never in control of the public’s reaction. You are never in control of the direct or indirect experience of the work and of the show. At some point you have to trust that what you put out there has a meaning that is strong enough to exist on its own.

SC: I think it is a very brave profession –

RP: No braver than an artist’s of course. Though the artistic process and the curatorial one might be similar in this way, in the sense that once the work is realized, it speaks for itself.


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Part II of this interview will publish on THE SEEN.

Stephanie Cristello is the Editor-in-Chief for THE SEEN, and Senior Editor US for ArtSlant.

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