By Juliet Helmke
This blog article attempts to explain—from the perspective of a former BRIC Curatorial Intern and Gallery Assistant—how one wades through all the information and resources out there to find emerging talent in this oversaturated art world. It’s a topic I was initially very enthusiastic about, having spent almost a year at BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn’s Contemporary Art program wading through reams of information from various sources each time we would begin to curate a new exhibition.
But when I first sat down to write this entry, I realized that I was dragging my feet, trying to reframe the piece in a way that didn’t make me sound like I was handing down advice. Because while I’ve been studying or working within various areas of the visual arts for awhile now, and have had firsthand experience (albeit on the bottom rungs) of writing, curating, and practicing as a visual artist, I certainly don’t feel like it gives me any authority on the subject. Like many of the readers this piece might interest, I’m still starting out in my chosen niche of the visual arts. Who am I to tell young curators, critics, and artists where to look?
I think that’s how we all feel though. And it leads to the question that nags many a young creative type: when do we allow ourselves to don the titles we are working so hard towards? When do we get to call ourselves writers, or critics, or curators, or artists, without qualifying them as career ambitions, and what are the resources that will help us get to that point?
What follows are my thoughts on how—to use one of the most abused adjectives in the art world today—those of us “emerging” into the visual arts can use the resources available out there to get in touch with one another, thereby strengthening our own practice through a greater involvement in the surrounding artistic community. It’s a pursuit which should be foremost on our minds. Curators can’t curate solely from the artists in their immediate vicinity, neither should artists rely only on personal contacts to hype their work or writers exclusively review the creative and curatorial pursuits of their friends. Building a community and being involved is important. These are a few places I found helpful when I first moved to New York and first started working in the arts:
Head to open studio events hosted in neighborhoods like Bushwick, Chelsea, and Gowanus, or through organizations like the Brooklyn Museum, the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, or The Highline. These are excellent events for discovery. During neighborhood-wide weekends like Bushwick Open Studios, you literally only need to pick one artist’s studio that takes your fancy and you will be drawn into over a dozen more along the way. These are also a great way to get in contact with an artist you may not personally know but whose work appeals to you. Literally, the artists are right there in front of you, go talk to them! Artists: these people clearly want to talk about art, to discover new work and learn about what you do, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. What better place to explain what you—and by extension, your art—are all about, than in your own studio?
I can’t stress this resource enough. Whether it’s unrestricted registration like BRIC’s Contemporary Artist Registry, which is open to any practitioner with a Brooklyn affiliation, or curated selections like White Columns and the Drawing Center, these are an excellent resource for writers, curators, and artists alike. Many registrants aren’t aware of how frequently these are used, not only by the public, but especially by the organizations that run them. At BRIC, checking new sign-ups and updates is an almost daily activity. Things that catch the eye of a staff member often go into a spreadsheet or visual database with images pulled from the profile or the artist’s website. We come back to these when planning for web features or the annual curated show from the registry show.
This one may seem like it serves the writers first and foremost, but everyone can benefit from reading about what’s going on around you and what people are saying about it. There is a plethora of good publications, both print and online, covering what’s going on in your neighborhood/city/state/cultural niche/area of interest. Want listings and updates about anything happening in your local neighborhood? Inclusive discussions of performance art happening around the city? Editors picks of the best events shows in the tri state area? Anything and everything to do with global coverage of art news delivered in a witty tone? They’re all out there. Pick your favorites, read regularly, and be informed. You’ll be surprised by how much what you’re reading about, and subjects you’re drawn to in the art news pages, start to creep into the words you’re writing and the images you’re making. www.bushwickdaily.com, www.artcards.cc, www.artnews.com, www.brooklynrail.org (and of course) http://www.nytimes.com/pages/arts/index.html.
Go to Openings
Along the lines of the open studios, this is a great way to discover artists you’ve never heard of. Try to walk through Chelsea on any given Thursday evening and see if you don’t get waylaid by glimpses of art through plate glass windows, partially obscured by the crowd. It is so important to make art-viewing a regular activity. It gets rid of the creators-block and refreshes the mind – whether you find something that gets you excited, enraged, or just purely thinking.
Art is nothing without its surrounding community: those who look at it, talk about it, and make it. If you do any of these things then you’re an integral part of this crazy, boundless place we sometimes like to call the ‘art world.’ So make the most of these suggestions and get out into it!
Juliet Helmke is a freelance writer and is currently External Affairs and Publications assistant at the American Federation of Arts. She previously worked as a Curatorial Assistant in the Contemporary Art program at BRIC Arts | Media |Bklyn, and has held internships at Modern Painters magazine and Woolloongabba Art Gallery, Queensland, Australia.