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Laura Hoptman interview continued…
Carey: You talked about doing three hundred studio visits, and I’d like to talk about that a little bit because I’m interested and I think everyone is interested in how you selected those artists. How did you choose three hundred artists?
Hoptman: That’s a very good question but I have a kind of a boring answer. We can talk about it in another way; for that particular job, the Bronx Museum had and still has a program called AIM, which is an acronym for Artist in the Marketplace.
It’s a program for emerging artists where every week they come to the museum, meet one another, and learn practical information on how to survive as an artist in New York. How to do your taxes. At that time, how to make a portfolio or a slide or something to send galleries. The museum arranges meetings with curators, other curators, as well as gallerists, as well as tax people, it’s all kinds of things and at the end of this nine-week program you have an exhibition at the museum.
So when you leave the museum—this was the thinking at least at the time and maybe still now—you leave that museum with kind of a community that you met. Some sort of life skill for artists, and that could be an addition to your résumé with a catalog.
So the time that I did most of my studio visits is the year and a half that I was there. I was making an exhibition that commemorated the twentieth anniversary of this program. I think it’s now thirty years old. So I visited the alumni of the AIM program, plus a group of the emerging artists. It was a kind of matrix. So how do you choose? Well, I have had one tried and true method my entire career and that is that I ask other artists. I’m actually married to an artist. I’ve been married to an artist for fifteen years. I always rely on artists to tell me what other artists to go look at.
Carey: That’s very interesting.
Hoptman: Doesn’t everybody do that?
Carey: Well, everyone has different methods it seems. Some people do say that they do both. They have artists to rely on. Other people will talk about meeting other people when they’re out. It’s an interesting question, because one of the things that I’m finding from talking with different people in the art world, especially the people who’ve been in it quite a long time, is how the world has so radically changed from the seventies, and even the early eighties, and now. We’re talking of so many more artists and a very different landscape. Even without the recession, financially, for artists it’s a very different . . .
Hoptman: But—I’m sorry to break in, but the first thing I would think of was the idea that we’re in a post studio landscape, and particularly in New York because it’s so expensive to establish a studio here. So there are a lot of people who have a post studio practice. During the boom, there were a lot of artists that you would visit and very often there would be no work at their studio. You will be looking at it through reproductions because they had, for better or for worse, brought it to their gallery for sale, so it was rarely there.
I think that over the years what’s changed for me in terms of studio visits, is that at certain moments, it has become a kind of a meeting as opposed to a kind of a discussion over objects.
Carey: Let’s talk a little bit more about how it’s become more a meeting than a discussion over objects.
Hoptman: I remember when I first met Gabriel Orozco—and I met him under other circumstances, I met him in an elevator. We kind of became friends. When he lived in the East Village he used to meet people in one particular place, Café Veselka, that Ukrainian restaurant. That used to be the place where we went to visit Gabriel and others.
The same with Rirkrit Tiravanija, an artist who I have known ever since I was at the Bronx Museum. He was one of my three hundred studio visits that early time. He was the first project that I did at MoMA when I got there. I remember how we talked about it and Thompson Square Park was where we sort of worked. So all three of those guys were sort of post studio and that was my first experience of that. Not going into a basement or a studio, a place where there are things like paintings to see or something.
As the 1990s became the 2000s, and as the art market heated up so much, the studio visits became more and more in a way sort of bizarre, because you really were trying to chase the objects. More often than not you didn’t find the objects in the studio with the artists, you found them in the backroom of their gallery or some other exhibition space, mostly commercial exhibition space.
I mean, even at art schools I remember very, very well up until four years ago going to art schools and having cases of some people not even having very much work. If I wasn’t there for their MSA exhibition they could, some of them could have already dispersed into the commercial ecosystem. It’s weird. I mean even to talk about it is weird.
Carey: Has that changed also since then?
Hoptman: I’m talking about very recent history now. I can’t tell you absolutely whether it has or not, but I can see some changes. I go to a lot of art schools and I really treasure that ability. People ask me to go to places all over the country and also to postgraduate programs like the Core program—I just came back from there, in Houston.
I think, as of this year, I do see a kind of changed atmosphere, a sort of less charged atmosphere in the studios of younger artists or emerging artists, if you will. There’s more stuff there. There’s less of a push to get it out of there. There’s less of an object orientation that shouldn’t be a surprise to people who are looking at contemporary work. There’s less painting. I’m a painting curator, but the ubiquity of painting became almost lugubrious. For someone like me that’s hard to say, because I never thought I could get enough of it.
I noticed in art schools now there’s a little bit of a chilling out, which I think is really positive. You know, that artists whose practice might not have been conducive to painting or making paintings.
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