Art in America met with Nancy Spector at the Guggenheim's offices to discuss "Intervals," her forthcoming project series that commences on April 10th with an exhibition by the artist Julieta Aranda.The second Intervals presentation, featuring Berlin-based artist Kitty Kraus, is planned for fall 2009, with further projects under development for 2010.
SH: I would like to begin by talking about how the project series, "Intervals, came about conceptually. Were you working on these exhibitions in tandem with "theanyspacewhatever?" It was an ambitious show; it was interesting to see how it played out both in terms of the installation and its critical reception. All of these years later, the term "relational aesthetics" still tends to rile people so easily!
NS: It's interesting to hear you think about it that way because in truth, [the "intervals" series] has been in process for probably about five years. It originated not as much from a concept about how art itself is functioning, but rather how to work with our own architecture, The building is fairly monolithic, so when you do an exhibition, it generally fills the entire rotunda -- there are the side galleries, where you can do smaller shows, but they tend to be ...
NS: Overshadowed, but also usually folded into the larger exhibitions that need those kinds of spaces -- either because the scale of the work is too big to fit in the ramps, or it needs a level surface. I've been trying to think of how the museum could have a contemporary presence -- ideally at all times -- without necessarily taking up the prime space. In working with younger artists, it's often simply too much space for them to handle; the rotunda is not easily carved up into separate sections. Looking around, there are certainly a number of precedents, like MoMA's Project space, or the Berkeley Art Museum's Matrix program. Not wanting to isolate a project in a specific space, the idea emerged to try to create a more itinerant type of a project that would work in the interstices of the building -- or even beyond the confines of the building. Which is nothing new. The Public Art Fund has been doing those kinds of projects over time, but we haven't. The idea of inviting artists to work in our building in some way, to respond to it, to use it, or to use us as a platform to do something else was compelling enough that we finally decided to launch the series and formed a group of young collectors and supporters who are providing the funds. I'm sure having "theanyspace" project in process and on view was somewhat of a catalyst to get it going because here we were working with group of artists who are very concerned about space and architecture. They themselves were responding to the building, so it was a really good time for me to argue for the show and promote it from within.
SH: The Intervals series should dovetail nicely from "theanyspacewhatever," especially since it's an ongoing series of interventions.
NS: I should also mention that there also an inspirational source, which is the "Migrateur" series that Hans Ulrich Obrist directed for years at ARC, in Paris. They were small-scale, modest projects that would happen in and around other exhibitions. And looking back, Rirkrit Tiravanija did a really early project, as did Gabriel Orozco. We're hoping to similarly catch people at a moment in their burgeoning careers and give them a chance to do something they wouldn't elsewhere.
SH: It's a compelling space. Frank Lloyd Wright tucked many interesting details into the museum's tertiary areas; they are so easily overlooked.
NS: The triangular staircase, for instance, is a beautiful space. It has been rarely used by artists-in fact only twice if I recall correctly: in theanyspacewhatever exhibition Douglas Gordon installed his phrases in the stairwell. And Felix Gonzalez-Torres installed one of his light strings in 1995.
SH: You are providing an opportunity for younger artists to occupy these under-utilized spaces intelligently. In doing so, however, you're also restricting what they can do in terms of scale. Do you think that limitation will function as such, or might those so-called "limited means" open up new possibilities?
NS: That's an interesting way to phrase it -- I didn't really think of it that way. As opposed to handing someone a big, open gallery, I suppose it could. I think limitations can always be good in a sense because they're a set of challenges. We're trying to choose artists who we think would be able to respond really well to situations that could be perceived as marginal, but we're hoping that they see it as an opportunity. For the most part we'll be working with artists who tend to work with more time-based or installation-based mediums --. We are not ruling out working with a more established artist who perhaps would find something new to do, because of the situation. I don't have an example at this point, but in our discussions about artists, names have come up where we think "oh, they've already had a show at PS1," or "they've already had three one-person shows at a gallery," but perhaps this invitation would engender something new, and that's the kind of discussion we're having internally while selecting the list of artists. But we've also been thinking about this for so long that some of the artists we were thinking of working with have now gone on to be in two Whitney Biennials.
SH: That's always the problem -- you have to ask yourself what kind of conversation you're creating.
NS: We just don't want to rule it out.
SH: Are you envisioning or thinking about choosing projects that may be critical of the space?
NS: It's really on a case-by-case basis because it is really artist-driven. If someone wants to do something conceptually based in institutional critique, that's certainly fine.
SH: But you don't see the series functioning in that regard, necessarily?
NS: Having organized "theanyspace" exhibition and thinking about the criticism that discussd it in the context of institutional critique, I think we're in a post-institutional critique mode at this point. Having worked with Felix Gonzalez-Torres, I have come to understand the museum as a place to be used and not destroyed. But if someone wanted to make a piece that took into account questions about the "white box" or discourse about complicity with the market, well, why not?
SH: It would depend on how that functioned given what may be perceived as a moment of backlash against institutional critique in its original inception - [Nicolas] Bourriaud has remained critical of the way that his initial work on the subject ["Relational Aesthetics," 1998 ] has been received over time. Nevertheless, remaining critical of the institution still seems like a project worth pursuing.
NS: Yes, I think that's a self-consciousness that you bring as an artist or a curator to working in the institution -- that's what I mean by "post." Hopefully, we've ingested that discourse and it's something that we're very aware of, but it isn't necessarily the primary content in all cases. It is an interesting question, though.
SH: In refusing to position work or exhibitions as such, you're allowing for those things to develop naturally. A piece that doesn't propose itself as "institutional critique" may nevertheless end up functioning that way, in some capacity.
NS: Just to note, we're also organizing an exhibition that corresponds with our fiftieth anniversary. It's called "Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum," and we're inviting about three hundred artists, architects, and designers to submit their dream intervention in the museum's rotunda. It's actually going to be a quite small show, Salon-style, packed with artist renderings and ideas for how they would use our space.
SH: My eyes are lighting up.
NS: We just sent out the letters and it's been so amazing getting the responses -- artists from Richard Tuttle to Christoph Büchel. Most of them are willing to do it, which I'm thrilled about. In response to your institutional critique question: Someone like Christoph, I'm sure, is going to provide some real, critical analysis - probably less about the architecture than the concept of the Guggenheim.
SH: Which has changed so, so much, and continues to do so. The Guggenheim's plans to break ground in Dubai in 2012 is a recent example.
NS: Yes. But I can't wait to see this [exhibition]. It will be installed at end of 2009. We're publishing an accompanying book, too. It's a commemorative exhibition but I think that it's going to lead to a lot of interesting ideas and thoughts.
SH: I'm seeing a desire, more frequently now, for curators and institutions to pay some sort of homage to artists who were considered for exhibitions, especially the larger shows -- I'm thinking about the "Checkpoint Charlie" book that was produced for the fourth Berlin Biennial, for instance, or the forthcoming publication the New Museum is doing for their Generational exhibition. Were any of the "Intervals" artists also considered for "theanyspacewhatever?"
NS: No, it's very different, generationally speaking. I met Julieta Aranda years agao when I did a studio visit with her at Columbia and was really impressed with her work at the time. Strangely enough, she was a student of Liam Gillicks. So there is some connection there, but I think on my part it was really just an interest in her conceptually-based practice.
SH: In the long run, I'm wondering how you this project interfacing with the Guggenheim's program which is known for these massive, retrospective, projects. Does the "Intervals" series subvert that, or compliment it? Does it need to be defined?
NS: Right now my motto is coexistence. But I think that with a new director, with a new economy, it's really hard to predict what our shows are going to be -- on what kind of scale we're going to be working in. We're obviously planning ahead and thinking about what shows need to be done, what our ideal shows would be. I just don't want to predict, if that makes sense.
From the top: You Had No Ninth of May ... (in the wrong end of time), 2008, Tape drawing, dimensions variable; Clear Coordinates for Our Confusion, 2008, Vinyl drawing, dimensions variable. All images courtesy the artist and the Guggenheim Museum.
2012, aluminum, wood, sublimation print on polyester and concrete, 71 3/4 by 122 1/2 by 135 inches overall. Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New Yor