On a blustery, bitterly cold Valentine’s Day weekend, I found myself traipsing around Chicago’s downtown loop, happily braving the chill in pursuit of Art. Our curatorial team, comprised of fellow curatorial assistant Elizabeth Metcalfe, guest curator Lucía Sánromán, and myself, was visiting 34 graduating artists in a little over three and a half days. These artists are on our exhibition team; or, rather, we are on theirs. For the nine-month long MFA thesis exhibition process, we are their advocates, their champions, and the negotiators on their behalf.
Our task was to understand, to the best of our thirty minute time limit, the practices of each artist and how they hoped that practice would manifest itself in the context of the thesis exhibition; in simpler terms, what they wanted to show and why. With the next two months full of floor plan negotiations, installation chaos, and the inevitable last minute impulses that would require quick decision making, it is essential that the curatorial team is deeply rooted in each artist’s entire practice, rather than just the work that, at the moment, they plan on exhibiting.
Each studio was different, and for good reason. The incredible diversity of the artists we met with was, at times, a tad overwhelming. From a film that delves into the depth of Iron Mountain to photograph the Bettman Archive to a graphic novel project recounting memories of interracial adoption in the Midwest, the works we saw pursued questions and conversations wholly their own. With every visit, the curatorial task at hand becomes simultaneously more intimidating and more electrifying. To give these dynamic practices room to speak, both for themselves and with each other, while still packing 103 artists into the SAIC Sullivan Galleries is an ambitious task. It is an ambition worth leaping towards wholeheartedly. The work, after all, deserves it.
Late that Sunday afternoon, we walked away from our four days in the recesses of the school slightly bleary eyed but packed full of wonders. Hyperculture and quantum mechanics. Floating flamingoes and disintegrating glitter-rugs. Dreams of octopus legs and jellyfish fossils flickered through our brains long after we’d left. It is always a privilege to spend time with works such as these, and maybe even more so, with their makers.