The first in a series exploring the current state of major survey exhibitions, this interview with deCordova Biennial curators Abigail Ross Goodman and Dina Deitsch covers the team’s approach to “DIY curating” and reinvigorating the regional biennial. Check back for a new interview each day this week.
To begin with, I am wondering whether you might talk a little about how the show was put together without an overarching, unifying theme, and about why this approach was taken and how the pieces were chosen?
It was really process-driven since the show itself comes out of the tradition of the New England survey. We really wanted to provide a snapshot of one particular cross section of New England. The parameters are geographic, so there really weren’t any other parameters except budget and getting everything in the building. We brought Abby in as guest curator and established an advisory board that had particular expertise in the New England art scene. We did a lot of hunting and gathering, drafting lists from other artists and curators. It was an eighteen-month-long process of curating the artists. We really tried not to leave any stone unturned, but we finally honed it down to the top fifty or sixty artists then rehashed and pulled out twenty-three artists. It’s a real mashup of people; the artists run the gamut of careers.
Do you see any themes emerging that somehow reflect the current cultural or political climate?
The approach was pretty much a kind of DIY curating; we didn’t know what it was until it was finally up on the walls. There was a lot of ongoing dialogue with the artists along the way. There were no preconceived themes, though there were definitely some sub-themes such as failure and fakery. A lot of the works ask whether we can believe what we are seeing, drawing on the trompe l’oeil tradition, and there was also a preponderance of text-based work to undermine the photographic, for instance. We also saw a real reemergence of contemporary abstraction and a return to craft and the handmade.
A lot of biennials this year claim to subvert or reinvent the idea of the biennial itself. In what ways do you see the DeCordova biennial as somehow reshaping the idea of the biennial?
Biennial fatigue often comes with the word biennial, but the regional biennial is the original concept of the genre. We thought a good deal about Stephanie Smith’s “aerated regionalism” in relation to this show and feel that our biennial stands out because we are so old school we are back in fashion again. Yet, the works we included engage in a global/local dialogue as well, undermining the old school idea of regionalism and somehow making it appear fresh again. We can’t keep doing a cookie-cutter thing. The term biennial may have lost its original meaning on a lot of fronts, but people still want to see a snapshot of the current artistic climate. Biennials are less connected by thesis or theme and more so by time. The viewers themselves make the connections and conversations with the works.