Leah Oates interviews David Gibson

What are your favorite shows that you have curated, and why? First I would have to decide what factor made one of my shows a favorite. The ones that seemed least likely to get pulled off, I suppose. These include my first two, SUGAR+SPICE and SOME (ARE) PAINTING; then three exhibitions which I co-curated at the Riva Gallery, EROTIKA, CARTOON, and BEAUTIFUL GROTESQUE. That same year also found me organizing my first exhibition for a university gallery, LIMINAL, and participating in an art fair with PRESENCE at Scope New York. In 2005 I curated EVERLAND for Annina Nosei, an art world legend and old family friend; in September of that year, my first regional nonprofit exhibition at Spaces Inc in Cleveland, Ohio, with BEAUTIFUL DREAMER which included 28 artists and was exhibited in a 3,800 square foot gallery. The entire show was shipped there and back, and a catalogue was also published.

How has your curating evolved from the beginning of your career to now? I don’t know if my curating has evolved so much as my reasons for doing it. The difference between a young dog and an old dog is mainly the value of experience. Though I’m by no means an old dog, I have learned a lot in the last seven years about the role of the curator, about the value of the specific experience linked to this role, and what it’s ultimately good for. What has changed is the nature of my relationship to the specific artists with whom I have become accustomed to dealing, and the galleries as well. My main interest these days is to find prospects for my exhibitions, and individually for some artists, in galleries of note, for critical and professional advancement; and at universities, for teaching and learning, as well as to travel. On a deeper level, I have come to realize the levels at which my reasons for curating connect with my reasons for writing about art, for studying literature and culture, and for writing about human experience in memoir and fiction.

What is your approach to curating? Do you start with an idea first and find artists or do you see art works first and then begin thinking about a show? How do you find artists to work with, in archives or through word or mouth? I don’t have a specific approach. Sometimes the ideas come from the synergy between random studio visits, from an exhibition which I visited and was displeased with, or from literary sources. I have to say that the first of these is my preferred method, because it’s left up to chance, and allows for introspection. I find artists everywhere, in group exhibitions, benefits, open studios, etc. These days I find more people through referrals than I once did. Sometimes I will do several studio visits with an artist before I deciide to include them in a group exhibition, and sometimes it happens right away, dependent upon the availability of circumstance. These days I tend to plan shows first and then sort out, from amongst the artists I already know, whom I would like to include; and then I ask a few of them for referrals to other people I would have considered had I known them at the time. I tend to think of the relationship between artist and curator as a conversation about ability and intentions, rather than as a pale-faced context for success or failure.

You grew up around art and are from a family with a long connection and love for the arts. How has that shaped you and how do you think the art world has changed? It’s not as much of a family in the arts as one might think. I have a father (John Gibson) who was an important gallerist in Soho from the early Sixties up until 2001. He exhibited the work of a number of seminal Conceptual artists, including Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, Arman, Christo, Ben Vautier, Peter Hutchinson, James Carpenter, Jean Le Gac, Bill Beckley, William Childress, et al. In the Eighties and Nineties he also introduced the work of a variety of younger talents including John Armleder, Olivier Mosset, Bertrand Lavier, Eve Andree Laramee, Thom Merrick, Matthew McCaslin, Wolfgang Staehle, et al. He also collaborated with important curators of the period such as Collins & Milazzo. Of course, I was away at college during much of this. It was only when visiting home now and then that I would get a glimpse of what was going on. The most good that it did me was to help form the manner of my thinking about art, equivalent to the intellectual level of art graduate school, but without all of the political agendas that such a situation involves. I saw artists as real people, and as artists they were successful, communicative, and often collaborative. My father’s gallery, and the few other galleries showing their work, like Daniel Newburg, Sandra Gering, and Annina Nosei, were the locus of this community, and there was little evidence of the rampant bohemianism, critical of everyone and everything in the upper echelons of the art business, that I find in many artists today. The artist as loser is a very unattractive trait. We have to build communities that operate at all levels of the art world, and artists have to travel and see how things work in other places. They also have to respect the people who run galleries. This is a business in which almost everyone is self-made, and they do it because art inspires them. Of course there are trends in taste, and market forces such as real estate and the power of national currencies, that drive business. But it’s all about relationships, and they have to be nurtured from both sides.

You do a lot of studio visits and actively look at artists work and you are very artist-friendly. Why do you think that other curators are not so artist-friendly and are not accessible to artists? Is there any way for artist to approach such individuals? Many of the younger set of professional people in the art world are in it for their careers. Either they come from a business background or have struggled up from minor gallery jobs to positions of some authority. Their main experience has not been in face-to-face contact with artists, except those who are affiliated with the institution where they work. They possess an institutional mentality which also serves as a defense mechanism against too much experience that is not guided by the right precepts. Also, many curators are also artists, and perhaps there is a creeping criticality that really emerges from competing agendas which they have not surmounted. I wish there were less hyphenated professionals. Everywhere I look there are artist-critics, artist-curators, artist-gallerists. Many gallerists began as artists and gave it up because they found their talents lay in business. This includes a number of individuals whom you might not suspect, such as Robert Miller, Matthew Marks, and Jeffrey Deitch. Also, many young art professionals are in love with what they see as they glamour of the art world, the beautiful people and trends restaurants. This is reinforced by reports in various art publications that celebrate sex, money, parties, and the like. I always say that I’m not a star, I’m a worker, and I want to meet and collaborate with other workers. Stars burn out. I would say that you should keep working and maybe they will contact you. If not, then not. It just wasn’t in the cards.

What advice would you give to artists who want to show in New York? Since I’m both a lifelong art world participant and an native New Yorker, I am perhaps not the best person to ask. I am also not an artist. You should write to successful artists through their galleries and ask their advice. Flash Art also publishes a guide called “Art Diary” that includes the home addresses of many well-known artists, critics, etc, around the world. Read “The Art Dealers” by Laura de Coppet and Alan Jones (Soho Press) to introduce you to the mindset of many contemporary, and some historical gallerists. When you visit the city see as much as you can and attend lectures, docent tours, etc. Meet people here and keep up with them when you’re back from wherever else you live. It helps to know people, not only for connections, but to see New York as a real place inhabited by real people.

What do you think of the art market and of the proliferation of art fairs right now? Talking about the art market doesn’t generally help artists in any way. If you want to be a statistic, then live like one. If not, then not. There have always been art fairs, and there are more of them now because an industry exists to maintain them. They also generate a fair amount of talk, and are social events where people from different parts of the world meet to do business.