Artborne Magazine November 2016 - Page 44

nt, A Curatorial Perspective Endeavoring to Relate to the Past and Present: Political Dialogues and Contemporary Art in the Museum Space by Amy Galpin, Ph.D., Curator, Cornell Fine Arts Museum As a museum curator, I feel a responsibility to create exhibitions that reflect current events and echo themes of social justice. I aim to create projects that elicit conversation, debate, and reflection. I never want people of disparate political beliefs to feel unwelcome in an exhibition I have developed. A museum is a public space where visitors can assert some sense of agency in their interpretive process. Visitors are not required to listen to a tour guide or read the labels or look at every work on view—you can, but only if you wish. A routine walk through the galleries at any institution can yield powerful feedback about the art on view. You can hear laughter, criticism, confusion, and witness visual engagement just through observing the people who visit the galleries. As a curator in an academic setting, I often receive students’ candid, invaluable feedback. Recent questions from student visitors include: “Why is one man’s abstraction more important than another’s?” “Does the fact that the artist had assistants make his work less important?” “How are you planning to commemorate the tragedy that occurred at Pulse?” The answers to the first two questions flow easily for me. The answer to the third remains elusive. It can be challenging to curate projects about topics that feel too close, too raw, and too emotional. I admire colleagues who are able to react quickly; my projects tend to evolve over longer periods of time. I find Hugo Crosthwaite, Bartolomé, 2001, graphite and charcoal on wood myself needing to go through a process in which I question every de- The San Diego Museum of Art cision before a show comes together. This process remains especially Image courtesy of the artist and Luis de Jesus, Los Angeles important for me when working with political art. Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Crosthwaite alludes to Catholic tradition My interest in movement across the Mexico/U.S. Border led to in his reference to Saint Bartolomé, known to followers as a martyr the opportunity to work with the artist Hugo Crosthwaite in 2010. whose skin was flayed. In the foreground of the composition, anonCrosthwaite’s compositions are informed by the history of art—his artis- ymous hands emerge from nowhere and pull the skin away from a tic influences include central figure. Some of the figures depicted are badly beaten and others Jess T. Dugan, Betsy, 2013, pigment print street art, Francis- are hooded, evoking the highly-reproduced photographs of prisoners Cornell Fine Arts Museum co de Goya, Diego with shrouded heads. Here, the artist conflates time and history. His Image courtesy of the artist Velásquez, and José testament to the pain experienced by these prisoners becomes more Guadalupe Posada, tangible as Crosthwaite’s figures are rendered before the backdrop of among others. His his beloved city of Tijuana: home to many who struggle with economic rendering of figural inequity, and who remain resilient in the face of drug violence and forms evokes the tech- American visitors who treat their city as a playground. The atrocities of nique of Old Master war are difficult to understand. Armed conflicts of the past and present painters, but his sub- demand reflection. ject matter functions as an amalgamation In 2014, I curated an exhibition titled Women, War, and Industry that of daily life experi- examined the myriad ways in which women have been represented ence in Tijuana to the in relation to war and industry. During the twentieth century, both political events and the advent of war and increased industrialization led to major changes realities that disturb in the lives of women: their roles in their families, the way in which him. Crosthwaite’s they dress, and the manner in which they are perceived in the public Bartolomé was made sphere. There are iconic, historical, and fictional ways in which women while the artist was have been represented in relation to the complicated and intertwined listening to reports on factors of war and industry. This exhibition presented a historical traNPR about the abuses jectory and included World War I and II posters and the trailblazing that took place at the work of American photographers like Margaret Bourke-White and Es43