Art View – Interview

Lovina Purple, Curator

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Lovina Purple at her exhibition “BEIGE!”

Lovina Purple is an independent curator, who won the Program for Emerging Curator of ISE NY and had an exhibition called “ Right amount of Wrong” featuring 10 female artists at the end of 2014 season in the ISE gallery.  Now Purple is showing another exhibition “BEIGE!” at HEREart in SOHO. We visited her show on one March afternoon and asked her several questions about this exhibition and beyond. After you enter the venue, Jacobus Capone’s 3 monitor video piece, which is ambiguously beautiful engages you and invites you to go downstairs. The relatively small basement gallery space was transformed into the world of “BEIGE!”. Our conversation started with Michael Kukla’s work.

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Michael Kukla’s work (detail)

This is all made out of masking tape. It’s really fun to watch people to discover that as they get close to it and realize what it’s made out of. The work has grown. He originally showed much smaller version of it and he kept adding onto it. I’d first seen his work in at DM Contemporary in Chelsea, quite a few years ago. After I had seen his work, I made a kind of mental note that one day in the future I would like to work with him. I originally had wanted different pieces, similar to that which I’d seen which were more sculptural pieces that were carved out of stone and wood and had different feel to them than this. When I sent him the idea of the show, he said, “I’m working on a new project. Would you be open to looking at it?” And after seeing the initial images, I responded, “That would fit perfect. Let’s just do it!” It’s kind of collaboration way of working.  I had to put the trust on him while he was making a new piece. But I’m really glad that he did it. It looks really good.

Many of the artists in this show make much larger work. But this particular venue can’t handle very large work. Most of Aaron Haba’s work is usually much larger. But he was making a couple of new wall pieces. This is one of them. And it is a brand new piece, hasn’t shown in anywhere else before.

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Aaron Haba’s work (detail)

“Beige” is the color that people have created such a negative image around.

What is the concept of this exhibition “BEIGE!” ?

The idea of “BEIGE” came out of my experience of working in the interior design. I had worked in the interior design industry for a while and “Beige” was always a kind of anti-color, a color that is looked down on, the lowest in the totem pole. You just didn’t use “beige”. Nobody wanted to see it or even hear the word “beige.” It was thought of as boring or dull. “Beige” is the color that people have created such a negative image around, but the artists here are using this color and making beautiful, interesting pieces.

The color holds the works together and brings other things into the forefront like texture and meaning. I didn’t want all of works to be in one tone. So there are really very light to dark versions of “Beige” in the show.

To me it’s really funny that the photo of the dress that was black and blue came out during the show (and took over the Internet.)  This photo that someone took of a dress became a national debate on whether or not it was black & blue, or gold & white, it depended on how people saw it. Half of the population saw as black & blue, and the half of the population thought the dress was white & gold. It was such an interesting thing to come out right as we were hanging the show.

People really do see color differently and think a color is different according to what it’s next to. So in this show, one person calls this “Beige” and another person says, “No, this is Khaki.” Someone else might say, “It’s Cream.” Or another says it’s, “Tan”. I like the idea of playing with what people’s descriptions are.

Did the idea of “BEIGE!” come first or was there any specific artist on your mind and you wanted to curate around that person’s work?

Sometimes I see the artist’s work I really want to work with and then the idea for the exhibition would be created around that person’s work. But this show it happened from seeing a lot of works and noticing a pattern. A lot of artists I was looking at, at least a part of their work fell into this color pallet. It helped me to develop the idea. So it is kind of both being inspired by one particular artist and my noticing familiarities between a lot of artists works.

Ultimately I personally like the shows that you might not expect to see this work next to that because they are quite different. One is very tedious drawing and the other is more structured three-dimensional piece. But tiny details, similar shapes and forms bring them together. I like these small things to flow in every show. They are able to communicate one to another, detail to detail. It’s an ultimate compliment if someone comes in and enjoys everything in the show. That’s always a goal.

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Works by Stephanie Beck (top, detail) and Mikhail Gubin (bottom)

Why wait for someone else to do it. I can do it.

How did you start curating exhibitions? What motivated you to do so?

I started curating in 2011. It was the first bigger show I got to curate. It really started from a frustration of going around and not seeing the type of shows that I wanted to see. Knowing of all these really great artists, I thought their works need to be out there. So I thought, why wait for someone else to do it when I can do it myself.  That’s really how it all started. I wanted to create the type of shows I enjoy and share this experience with others.

Whenever I curate a show, I’m attempting to put together a message or point of view that connects the work in a unique way. I want to make shows that really honor craft, skill and aesthetic. In the contemporary art world in general conceptual based work tends to be more emphasized; which is good, that work should have a place to be seen and shown, but other types of work needs to be shown as well.

I’ve been really lucky that lots of my ideas have gotten a chance to exhibit. I continue to enjoy the process and keep submitting more ideas. There are always 5-6 ideas flowing in back of my head for the next opportunity.

Could you talk about your background and the relation between curating and your background?

I studied art and I worked in the interior design. But when I saw you might ask the question of background, I began thinking about the job I did during my collage years for 4-5 years in California. Even though it may sound pretty ridiculous, I have a background in taking people on adventure trips like backpacking and rafting and that sort of thing. On the surface, it seems completely different. But sometimes this experience seems very similar to curating. If you are an organizer of adventure, your job is to create an experience for everyone to have that should be memorable. And because they probably have already enjoyed going outdoors and doing some similar activities, you must make this experience exceptional.

I take this mind set as my goal as a curator too. I want artists to feel good about what they are in and I want viewers to come in and feel good about it too. It needs to be memorable and I want them to have an exceptional experience. So while curating seems very different, actually it’s very similar, at least in terms of the organization that you have to do, so ironically the adventure guide job really informed me for doing this (curating).

How do you find the artists?

It’s a combination of lots of things. I actually do really enjoy the online registries for multiple reasons. I feel there are often artists who don’t have representation yet. Maybe they’ve only done a couple of shows and their resume is not very big. It’s a great way to find those artists. But there are some cons. Once people have registered, some people don’t update their information for years. So, you have to pay attention, but I really think it’s a good way to find somebody new, somebody younger and it’s a way to find somebody who is not exhibiting in your city. There are quite a few online registries in NY but I’m always looking for new listings and registries in other areas too.

Sometimes you have to do deeper research; going to the artist’s websites, scheduling studio visits or going to their shows if they have one coming up.

I also actively go to shows and art fairs. It’s another way to introduce me something new.

But quite often, open studios is my favorite for discovering new artists.

Old fashioned being introduced by somebody to someone else’s work is always helpful too. Sometimes an Artist introduces me to someone who shares the studio with them or they are their roommates or whatever it is, that personal recommendation is always welcomed and sometimes that helps to open your eyes to new things. For example, I met Babs Reingold at your space. I really loved her work during that show. I felt like, I needed to have her in this show. She was easy to curate into it because almost all of her work is in this color range and she has such a large quantity of really quality work.

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Works by Abby Goldstein (left) and Babs Reingold (right)

The idea is to support the artists and still make a great exhibition.

How do you approach artists?

If it is for something I will submit, I would usually say something like, “I’m an emerging curator and I have this idea that I would love to include your work as a part of my submission. These are the works I’m potentially interested in. These are the range of dates it could be. It could be up to 2 years from now. If you are open to this.” I just start dialogue. Sometimes maybe the piece is sold or maybe it’s already committed to another gallery. So, I always have a backup plan, like a plan B, plan C or plan D. Backup plans are always a good idea because life happens. That happened in this show as well.

I had this artist that I really wanted to work with. She sold the pieces, which was fantastic for her, but as she is a ceramic artist, she couldn’t just make a new work that quickly. It was going to just take too long to make a new piece for the show. So, I had to cut her out of this time, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to work with her in the future. It just happens. You have to be ready for it.

What is the biggest challenge as an independent curator?

If you don’t work for particular venue, the biggest challenge would be asking artists to commit something that is not guaranteed. So, I understand some artist can’t commit on something that doesn’t have securely booked dates. That’s fine. I’m pretty open to adjusting as needed.

In this show one artist I originally wanted to do an installation, but she didn’t have the time to be here, which I understand as well. I’m open to work with people and find a solution that works for everyone. Or in one instance, a piece broke that I’d had planned for the show. But life happens. So, the idea is to support the artists and still make a great exhibition.

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Lovina Purple with Michael Kukla’s work

The more difficult artists help to teach me how to be a better curator.

Is it difficult for a curator to find opportunities?

I’m finding more and more. Similar to artists, you have to find your opportunities and make them, approaching places where you want to work. You have to kind of make your own way.

As an emerging curator, I really do appreciate those opportunities because if you don’t have a big resume, some people immediately say, “No, you are not experienced enough.” So, it helps to get that ball rolling.

Every time I have a show, I seem to have 10 people telling me, “Oh, you should go to this place” which makes me feel really great. They encourage me to keep going and I take that as a good sign.

Budget?

Most of my shows have been in not-for profit venues, so my budgets are quite small. I try to always give somewhat of a stipend to the artists to cover travel cost at the least. That’s important to me, because so many venues ask artists to go out of pocket to show.

If I had a big budget, then I could potentially look beyond local. That would be exciting because it opens up the opportunity to do much more. I enjoy bringing something new to the audience. For example, if I had the budget, I could have an artist from the middle of country come to NYC and give them that experience. I would love to do that.

Difficult Artist?

I’ve been pretty lucky with people I’ve worked with in the past. They have been very flexible in working with me.

There are always people who have different type of questions. I had an artist in the past that I was trying to help transport the work from NY to NJ for a particular show. She had a great question that I hadn’t thought about. Her question was about insurance, if the work was covered by the gallery while in transit which was a great question. As I didn’t work for the gallery, policy questions I don’t always have the immediate answer to, but it’s my job to find out. She really did ask me a lot of questions, but they were all good questions. It educated me as well. So, it’s not a problem if sometimes artists are higher maintenance than others. It’s all a learning process for myself. I appreciate that. It makes me better if the artists ask more questions. The more difficult artists help to teach me how to be a better curator. So, it’s all about that balance. You don’t learn as much if there is no struggle.

You have curated lots of female artists. Any reason?

Yes, I have curated lots of female artists. It’s not actually what I initiatory go out for.

This show in particular that wasn’t really a part of my curatorial agenda. I was just looking at the work to see if it fits the theme and if it goes well with other work I am finding for the show. In that process, there happens to be 3 men in this show out of 10 artists’ total.

But I do seem to favor art by women in general. I think that’s OK because I think women are generally underrepresented and I’m happy to be providing an opportunity for them. Creating this opportunity for people who are underrepresented is a part of my wanting to be a curator anyway. In an art world that’s still very unbalanced in its male and female artists’ representation, if I can help balance the scale a bit, why not?

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Lovina Purple at her exhibition “BEIGE!”

I like to balance heavier topics with lighter topics and show different types of artists together.

Are there any shows that you want to curate in the future?

I don’t have one officially booked right now. There are quite a few proposals I have out there that I am waiting to hear back on.

I have one that is a much more political based idea, probably inspired by the election coming next year. It’s a little bit on the darker side. I really want to do a show about the gun culture in the US. It’s a topic that is really talked a lot about immediately after tragic things happen and then it just goes away. Artists can have really interesting things to say about that. I have already found a few artists that I would love to work with on that project.

I also have a project that I really hope to get accepted. I’m really excited about the artists. That’s more about the type of materials they are using. It’s really about the balance of masculine and feminine.

I like to balance heavier topics with lighter topics and show different types of artists together.

That’s what’s on the horizon.

What is your goal as a curator?

That’s a good question.

I really enjoyed seeing the Spring Break Art Show. That’s really curatorial driven. I would love to be involved with that in the future.

I would also love to do a much larger scaled show: maybe multiple venues or traveling shows. So, those are kind of goals.

But in terms of being hired by any particular place, it depends. I like having freedom of being an independent curator, but if it were the right venue and allowed me to have creative freedom in the shows, I would be definitely open to that.

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The installation view of “Right Amount of Wrong” curated by Lovina Purple at ISE NY Gallery in 2014

Interviewed by: Mayumi Sarai (ISE Cultural Foundation NY)