Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kevin Curran Interview: Part I

Last month, I was able to speak with Kevin Curran, a Bushwick-based artist and curatorial director of The Laundromat. Kevin is currently teaching Art History and 3-D Design to summer session students at Temple University's campus in Tokyo. Here's how it went:

Reid Singer: What was your background in curating before you started The Laundromat?

Kevin Curran: At Tyler, where I went to school, you can get full funding for both years of graduate school if you get the exhibitions graduate assistantship. I’d  organized exhibitions during undergrad,  and also during the four years after that when I worked at Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, so I put that on my application.
At Tyler, part of my job was to supervise or act as the director of the undergraduate exhibitions club, and the other part of it was managing the building of installations in the gallery for the Tyler Exhibitions program. The logistics: moving stuff around, getting the U-Haul, hanging the art. I was not usually on the writing side of things at that point. It was more like the actual physical part.

RS: Did you get to choose any of the art for the students’ exhibition program?

Omar Rodriguez-Graham. Sebastian Sendado, 2009. 180 x 200 cm. Oil on cotton canvas and linen.

KC: Well, no, because ideally the students choose the artists, but I had to help them come up with a structure to do that. So, the one show we came up with was “First Year Out.” It was curated from artists that were in their first year out of undergraduate. The idea was just to get the students a sense of what could come next. I was more interested in helping the students see what they could do after they graduated. Other people, like the guy who preceded me, he was better at getting big-name people involved, and doing really exciting stuff with that.

RS: Who was that?

KC: Omar Rodriguez-Graham. It’s actually the guy who’s guest-curating the next show at the Laundromat, artists from Mexico City [Naturaleza Muerta]. But my focus was more: “What’s attainable for you? What’s the next step? What’s the next thing that’s going to happen when you leave here? How can you make something happen?”

RS: Did you do anything significant between then and when you started the Laundromat?

KC: Well, I thought I was going to work in a gallery when I moved to NY. I thought I was going to be an art handler or something. I interviewed at a bunch of places, but nobody would hire me, because you have to have experience in NY to get a job in NY. There was that paradox. Or you had to know somebody. The director of exhibitions at Tyler knew a few people, but nothing happened that way. So I ended up working at this furniture store for a few months, and then I bailed out. I was on NYFA [New York Foundation for the Arts] classifieds every day looking for a new job, and I got a job art installing for a company called ILevel. We worked for Art Consultants, Interior Designers, some galleries and also private collectors. This was great because I installed art in a lot of different contexts: fabulous and modest apartments and homes, corporate offices, art fairs, retail stores, medical offices, etc. Pretty much everywhere.
At that time I was still living in Sunset Park, in Brooklyn. I didn’t have a studio. It was a really weird situation. Have you been to that neighborhood before? In Sunset Park?

RS: Yeah. It’s pretty.

KC: I mean, it’s pretty cool. It’s not like Bushwick at all. It’s different. There’s just no young artists’ scene there besides the warehouses down by the water. So luckily we got this studio, my old Bushwick space, on Melrose, 238 Melrose, which was above this laundromat, that’s how we ended up with the moniker, “The Laundromat,” and my studio initially was huge. It was twenty by twenty, which for me was awesome, but I wasn’t always making a ton of work in there. I was making work, but it would be kind of fitful. Also, I would be leaving the country, going to Japan every summer. So I started thinking: “OK, how can I use this space in another way that’s creative? I need to take advantage of this space.”
First I thought I would maybe do a residency. When I would go to Japan, I could have a residency program in my studio. Then I thought, maybe the thing to do would be to have a show in there. Then I was like, “Oh. I’ll just do shows in there.” So that’s how it got off the ground. It just sort of progressed. I wasn’t like, “Oh. I’m going to be a curator,” or anything. I just sort of felt like I was under-utilizing my studio a little bit, or I wanted to find another way to use it.

RS: What were you doing in Japan?

KC: Part of Tyler is they have a campus in Rome and a campus in Tokyo. After my first year I went to the Rome campus for the summer program, then after my second year I went to the Tokyo campus for the summer program, to finish, and then it just happened that someone was leaving for like a hiatus, so they asked me to apply for that position, to teach 3-D design over there, so I started teaching there in the summers. I’ve been doing that since 2007. I’m leaving in three weeks to go over there again.

RS: How would generally describe your curating style since you started The Laundromat?

KC: I guess I would put it this way: you have a group of friends, another group of friends, and they don’t know each other, and then you have a party, to make everybody meet each other? That’s basically what I do with it.

RS: You talked a second ago about difficulties with respect to finding work, a lot of that depends on knowing the right people. Have you felt like a good middle man?

KC: I guess. It’s like, you have your cohort that you go to school with. Some of them move to NY when school ends. Then you get jobs that are random, and if you’re an artist then a lot of your jobs are art-related, and those people are all artists, and so you’re starting to build this community, and you already have this other community going, so for me the beginning of it was that.
That was maybe the first year of the program: the Tyler people, plus these other kind of art-handlers, or people I was meeting, secondary, through New York. The second year was a lot of people from Japan that I met through teaching over there, young artists from the program that I hadn’t taught myself, but I had known, who were graduating.

Takayuki Kuboda. Vincent Van Gogh, Shoes, 2009. Oil on canvas.
RS: Who was the one with the wall placards?

KC: You’re thinking of Takayuki Kubota. He was the last one. Takayuki is actually a great example because he had a review in Flash Art when he was a sophomore in college. His work is killer. And he worked for the Asian Art Archive, so what his job was in Tokyo was to go around and keep track of what’s happening, and as a result he knows everybody now. And then we had Maiko Shioda and Joe Protheroe, and then we did Takashi Matsumoto and Liz Atzberger, sort of in backwards order. That season was the idea of bridging that place and this place. Takayuki had a solo show, too, because he was ready for that.

RS: How would you define the Bushwick audience?

KC: Well, here, it’s more like art made by artists for other artists, whereas in Chelsea it’s more made by business people for other business people to consume these things that are proven commodities, or speculative commodities. There’s a whole business side of it.
I mean, I love selling work. I’d love to sell everything. I’d love to get that Porsche. But I’m not running myself ragged to also make the sale. I want the show to look awesome. For me, that’s the goal. Part of it is connections. I guess I don’t have people who collect.

RS: Are you ambitious about that?

KC: I haven’t been so far. When people come I always have the price list. I tend to sell work in the $450 range, all ready-to-hang. Usually these are framed. It’s like, put a nail up, and you got it.
We’ve sold a fair amount of work. And we did this other show this year that was more intended to get people to buy stuff. Everything we sold we sold for $100, which is not aiming at that guy who’s showing up in his car service or his limo. Again, it’s intended for people like you and me to begin collecting. The idea is more, in 10 years, who knows?
Right now, we’re all kind of speculating about each other. We all don’t know where we’re going to go, what’s going to happen with it, who’s going to end up becoming somehow recognized or important, but right now, it’s all on the same level.

RS: How have you envisioned your goals, as far as wanting to keep doing this, the kind of curating that you want to try to do at the Laundromat?

KC: I guess it’s not really defined by economic imperatives. It’s more a community-oriented kind of thing. Not in that warm and fuzzy way. I want to make realistic shows. It’s not like, “Oh, you’re my friend, you’re going to be in my show.” and that’s one of the hardest things to do is to tell somebody: “No.” Actually the best thing to do is say: “Oh, I’ll think about it. I’ll get back to you.”

It’s surprising. Especially now that I’m in the third year or fourth year that we’re doing this, I get a lot cold calls and emails from people saying: “Hey. I’m this artist in Yugoslavia. I’m really excited to do a show.” It’s crazy. I really don’t ever respond to that. Well, sometimes. I used to write back to people just ‘cause I felt like it’s nice to write back. I haven’t been doing it as much lately.

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