With the current lockdown comes an opportunity for galleries to look at what they can offer online, beyond viewing and sales, as they pause to consider the wider implications for exhibitions and the art world at large. Pace Gallery has been at the forefront, well positioned to take a lead with innovation and accessibility, as they currently host their second series of curated online exhibitions.
The roster includes five of the gallery’s contemporary artists: two from the UK, William Monk and Nigel Cooke; Milan-based French artist, Nathalie du Pasquier; Beijing-born Yin Xiuzhen; and Californian, Loie Hollowell – providing a bit of global perspective. Perspectives was the theme and name of Pace’s online group presentation for Frieze New York this year, which ran, online, from 5 – 15 May. Recently we were able to speak with Andria Hickey, Senior Director and Curator at Pace Gallery, New York.
Trisha D’Hoker: The art world spends a lot of time and effort encouraging people to see things in person, how can we change that conversation now?
Andria Hickey: We’re thinking about this in a very holistic away. Exhibition making and commercial ventures have always worked hand in hand at Pace. The scholarship that’s been part of that legacy is so key to who the gallery is, so this is really just an extension of that history, thinking about ways that translate to a digital environment. And because we’ve been thinking about this for a while, it’s enabled us to pivot very quickly. The tools we have from doing those kinds of projects means we’re already uniquely equipped to look at what a hybrid model for online exhibition making in a commercial context can be. It’s also much more than an online viewing room – we’re emulating what we’ve always done in the gallery space, which is to create really robust exhibitions. It’s a place where interpretation and contextual materials can live in dialogue with the artworks that are for sale. And it’s also a space to learn from the artist directly; the artist’s voice can be very present.
We really believe that scholarly, rigorous work doesn’t need to be pretentious, or inaccessible, and that’s been a trend in major museums for a while. Museums have created online exhibition portals and really championed the ways experimental interpretation or educational tools can amplify the experience of viewing an exhibition. Interpretation is really about engaging first time museum goers, as well as with people who are old hats at understanding art and approaching contemporary art. The online portals are also for people who are unable to travel to an exhibition, or have accessibility issues, or whatever it may be – maybe someone wants to see the show after it closes.
So we think about that as well as we are crafting the contextual material around how an exhibition might be read. We want to give as much information as we can to our most experienced collectors, but also provide a way in for people who might not have engaged in the art world or a commercial gallery. You may be someone who is very interested in art and has already participated in the museum world. Maybe you’re a beginning collector. You might walk into a gallery and ask to speak to a sales person or you might be too intimidated to do that. This really does allow for a lot of first time collectors to get comfortable in that stage, kind of learn about the lay of the land, and hopefully engage on a deeper level.
TDH: How have the artists (with Pace) been reacting to the current situation?
AH: Pace is a family business, in a very real sense, but I also think there is a very familial culture between the artist and the staff, and everyone is really rallying together during this difficult time and keeping in touch, supporting each other as much as they can. Our artists have been incredible in contributing to our online channels and sharing their insights into what’s happening in their studios at this time, what their thinking is, how they’re working through such massive cultural change and social change. And everyone is reacting in different ways. Some people are really thinking about major philosophical questions around existence and being and delving into meditation practices. Other people are thinking about how this crisis is affecting infrastructure and how it’s deepening structural inequities and how do we respond to that. Other people are thinking about what’s going to happen after this. We’re all talking together a lot, thinking together a lot, giving each other the space also to not have an answer. But it feels very supportive and strong, which is good and helpful, and the artists are really leading the way with that which is wonderful.
TDH: Can you tell me a bit about how the online exhibitions Pace is presenting now came about?
AH: We’ve been approaching each exhibition differently, thinking about the different kinds of thematic ideas we’d like to explore. We wanted to have a balance between things that felt responsive to this moment and projects that express themselves separate from it. At the same time, we were thinking about really exciting new work that had been made by some of our artists recently, the interesting tactility of it, and how that relates to a moment when we’re not encountering things in person in the same way and how we could try and bring that tactility to a new space.
The recent Materials Matter show came about from thinking that now there was an opportunity to explore ideas we’ve wanted to explore for a long time. I’ve worked in sculpture for quite a while so I was very interested in thinking about material relationships to concepts, looking at the nature of materiality in a number of artists’ works; how material choices informed contextual output, how it related to chance and intuition. The artists included each do that in such different ways, it became a really wonderful way to give our audience and our viewership a very diverse kind of perspective on a number of artists that we might not always see as connected to one another.
TDH: Is there anything that you as a curator are thinking of in particular in these strange times? Has there been anything that has surprised you in the past few weeks?
AH: I think it’s a time when we’re all very much living two different worlds at the same time. We’re very much in our personal lives while our social and national experiences are real in a way that I don’t think has been so physical in a very long time. At the same time, for our work, we are living in a space that is very esoteric and really existing to create a way of thinking about history in our current moment, which is part of the nature of what it means to be thinking about art. As a curator, this makes quite an interesting dialogue between the two. I think a number of curators have been talking to one another across museums and galleries. It does feel like a moment that requires pause to gather information and take time to reflect because we’re really in the middle of a major event that will likely change much about our future. I think there will be some really interesting things that come from this, but, in this moment, I think there is a real need for camaraderie and sharing of experiences that goes beyond the exhibition space.
The art world is a strange place anyway, where the personal and the professional are always intertwined, but I’m finding that the conversations that are most interesting to me are also with the people who I’ve worked with, or known professionally, for a long time. Now our conversations are personal as well as thinking about these bigger questions around what’s happening globally. There are questions about whether certain institutions will survive, what happens when some museum workers are out of work and how long that could last, how would it change cities? Questions around a global art world that might not travel in the same way that they previously did. So those questions are intermingled with, How are you dealing with being home? Are you ok with your kids? There are also some challenging conversations with people who are ill themselves or who have very close family members or friends who have passed because of this. It’s not far away, it’s not something over there, it’s something that’s touching everyone and I think the simultaneity of these conversations gives them a real energy that is unique and hopefully supportive and I’m curious to see where this will lead.
The first online exhibition of this second series featured William Monk, known for his cryptic morphing landscapes and vibrant rhythmic style. During the lockdown he has created a series of five new paintings, Untitled (zip), around a single image. Monk uses photographic and cinematic memory to inform his work, and here draws references that include, among others, the volcanic eruptions that engulfed Pompeii, sci-fi films and fuel tails of missiles. Even the colours seem not-of-this-world, as an ‘unidentifiable and cryptic symbol’ spews forth from a mountainous mass in a landscape seemingly devoid of life. While references abound, fixed meaning does not, the artist’s ambiguity casting its own shadow.
Nigel Cooke is another artist who blurs the genres, mixing landscape and still life, abstraction and figuration. His latest work continues his exploration of abstraction. Working from home during lockdown, he initially struggled to find the ‘space’ to work, and found it eventually in the hours after midnight. Here he was able to work through thoughts and process unhindered, following lines and abandoning them in equal measure. Cooke’s painterly lines become the medium, the point where experience, influence and imagination distill onto the canvas. In the twilight hues of blue and black, he celebrates the peace of the night, the value isolation can hold for creative expression, and the acceptance of what is. The six new works, Midnights, represent for Cooke, ‘the darkest point before the return of light’.
Recent works by Nathalie du Pasquier will be shown in June. Beginning her career in design (du Pasquier was a founding member of influential design collective Memphis in Milan), since 1987 painting has been her primary concern. Her work is often associated with bold colours and geometrical shapes. Compositional elements are playfully worked; ’Colour,’ she has said, ‘is instinctive’. Du Pasquier is interested in how forms are constructed and composed, how space itself is sculpted. Her approach to abstraction blurs the boundaries between ‘painting and model, haptic and optic, representation and real’. The upcoming Pace exhibition will look at her use of forms as language.
Yin Xiuzhen, one of China’s leading contemporary artists, will hold an exhibition bringing together sculpture as well as installation pieces, comprised of the everyday and rescued items she is known for, melded together with materials such as porcelain or wood. Her narrative explores cultural memory in response to the scale and speed of change that has occurred in China during the second half of the 20th century.
In what was her debut exhibition with Pace in New York recently, Plumb Line, Loie Hollowell, known for her abstract figuration, created a series of drawings around a central compositional line, referring to the idea of gravitational pull experienced during pregnancy. Shapes move her figures into balanced meditations of vibrant colour and muted background, simple forms suspended in illusory space. The most recent of these new pieces, which will be shown online at Pace for the first time, were created during isolation, both pre- and post-birth of her second child.