International artists at Marianne Boesky, from Frank Stella to Pier Paolo Calzolari
MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY LAUNCHED ITS REPRESENTATION OF ONE OF THE MOST RECOGNIZED LIVING ARTISTS WITH A RETROSPECTIVE ENTITLED FRANK STELLA SCULPTURE IN 2014. THE SHOW OFFERED A GLIMPSE INTO FRANK STELLA’S DYNAMIC OUTPUT SINCE THE 1990s. AN ARTIST WHO HAS DARINGLY CHALLENGED HIS OWN INFLUENTIAL MINIMALIST AESTHETIC OF THE 1960s, STELLA HAS INCREASINGLY EXPERIMENTED WITH PUSHING THE PERIMETERS OF SPATIAL ABSTRACTION IN SCULPTURAL WORKS THAT EMBRACE A PAINTERLY GESTURE AND MOVEMENT IN THE CONTEXT OF THREE-DIMENSIONAL FORM.
STELLA IS THE YOUNGEST ARTIST HONORED WITH A RETROSPECTIVE AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK, IN 1970 AND WAS THE SUBJECT OF A SECOND SURVEY AT MoMA IN 1987. MORE RECENTLY, MAJOR SURVEYS OF HIS WORK HAVE TAKEN PLACE AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK (2007), AND THE KUNSTMUSEUM WOLFSBURG, GERMANY (2012). IN THE FALL OF 2015, A COMPREHENSIVE RETROSPECTIVE OF NEARLY 100 WORKS BY FRANK STELLA INAUGURATED THE NEW DOWNTOWN LOCATION OF THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK.
KRISTEN BECKER OF MARIANNE BOESKY, IN HER UNIQUE ROLE AS DIRECTOR OF MUSEUM MANAGEMENT FOR THE GALLERY, WAS INVOLVED WITH THE PLANNING OF THIS VERY WELL-RECEIVED AND EXTENSIVE WHITNEY RETROSPECTIVE.
KRISTEN, STELLA’S SHOW AT THE WHITNEY MUST HAVE REPRESENTED AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF WORK ON THE PART OF THE GALLERY BUT ALSO A RECOGNITION OF YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE GALLERY’S MISSION. DOES THIS POINT TO A NEW DIRECTION IN TERMS OF THE GALLERY ROSTER?
Representing Frank Stella certainly adds visibility to the program, but as you mentioned, the gallery has often presented exhibitions that feature works from the Arte Povera movement. This group of exceptional Italian artists began practicing at the same time Frank did and so I really love the shared history of this moment in time. Even though they are located thousands of miles away from each other you can see that they are all working out the same problems and coming up with different solutions. That being said, Frank is also a great addition to our roster not just for historical context but as a contemporary artist who is constantly and relentlessly innovating. His recent sculptures are so ahead of their time, going to his studio would be a humbling experience for any practicing sculptor. No doubt the Whitney retrospective gives a taste of Frank’s incredible contributions.
THE GALLERY REPRESENTS AS DIVERSE A GROUP OF INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS AS ARTE POVERA ARTIST, PIER PAOLO CALZOLARI, SOUTH AFRICAN SCULPTOR, SERGE ALAIN NITEGEKA, AND BRAZILIAN PAINTER, THIAGO ROCHA PITTA. WHAT IS THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS AND HOW DO YOUR FORM RELATIONSHIPS WITH ARTISTS THAT ARE NEW TO THE GALLERY? DO YOU INTRODUCE THE WORK IN GROUP SHOWS OR ORGANIZE SOLO EXHIBITIONS OR DOES IT DEPEND ON EACH INDIVIDUAL ARTIST?
Each artist comes with different needs and goals, and it is up to us to present our strengths and abilities so that both sides can assess whether partnership makes sense. There is a relatively open process in terms of discussing a new artist, this is particularly the case if the artist works outside the U.S. as it may be less likely that we all would have had an opportunity to see the work in person. Of course the final decision rests with Marianne but she is very open to hearing everyone’s thoughts on how we can best serve the artist under consideration. We are all doing studio visits in New York and while we travel, but I am impressed by how seriously Marianne takes everyone’s opinions and suggestions. If she trusts you and thinks you have a good idea she lets you run with it. Depending on the gallery’s schedule and the artist’s direction the relationship can start off with a group show, or it can be something more significant. Serge Alain Nitegeka’s work is best viewed as an immersive installation, and we gave over our entire Armory booth to him in 2014. That provided him with an opportunity to make a strong statement, and he rose to the occasion with an unforgettable presentation because the trust was mutual.
YOU HAVE A POSITION AT THE GALLERY AS DIRECTOR WITH A FOCUS ON MUSEUM ENGAGEMENT. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE HEARD OF A POSITION THAT IS DEDICATED TO THE LIAISON BETWEEN THE ARTISTS AND THE MUSEUM EXHIBITION AND COLLECTING WORLD. TELL US ABOUT IT!
My role carries with it a lot of personal responsibility because it is largely relationship-based. That means it is a long game position for sure! As the museum liaison I reach out to curators and other institutional contacts to get a sense of their programming, mission, interests, space accommodations, funding, and other concerns to better understand each institution’s goals. Some non-profits devote their time and energy toward engaging with the public, others are saddled with exceptional but dense collections and spend their resources solely maintaining their own history. Each situation is totally different and unfortunately very few galleries are paying attention to the importance these institutions carry both locally and in a larger sense. I do what I can to be as personable as possible and explain that I am not pushing an agenda. These diligent professionals are doing their best with limited budgets and low visibility, so being proactive goes a long way. I love learning about what makes each institution tick, and I have found that the issues are usually the same for the small and the large organizations— it’s just a matter of priorities.
IS THIS AN IDEA THAT EVOLVED BETWEEN YOU AND MARIANNE? IS THIS ROLE MORE PREVALENT IN THE GALLERY WORLD THAN I REALIZE?
Marianne was incredibly receptive to the idea when I approached her, but its origins really came from the relationships I started developing over the past 5 years. I looked forward to speaking with the curators, registrars, and administrators who were close to my age and we would recount our shared experiences while also putting together some amazing exhibitions. Those friendships sprung from a mutual respect and appreciation and I found myself wanting to create more of those lasting relationships. I have a few really amazing peers at other galleries, but many of them come from a formal curatorial background like a museum position. Sometimes the shift from non-profit to commercial can be a bit jarring so we do our best to help each other find comfortable footing. It is so exciting to slowly and patiently develop what I see will become a key role in the gallery structure in the future.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS IN TERMS OF MUSEUM PLACEMENT AND EXHIBITIONS AND HOW DO YOU REALIZE THEM?
My direct goals are very basic. I want to be part of an interesting dialogue with individuals and institutions that share my values and the values of the gallery. We want to engage with the public and provide venues and exposure for our artists while being selective about the timing and context connected to each opportunity. Our gallery artists want to be part of significant collections and exhibitions and they whole-heartedly support my role even though it can be a very drawn out and frustrating process. I try to keep focused by constantly doing studio visits, going to museum openings and walk-throughs, and informing people about my role. It has been only a year since establishing this position so there is still a lot of education that needs to happen. When I explain what I do there is this moment when it all clicks and the person I am speaking to really gets that the gallery and museum worlds share a lot of the same goals. We all want what is best for the artist and his/her long-term career and legacy.
THIS WOULD TAKE ENORMOUS PATIENCE AND A LONG-TERM VISION. WHAT ARE THE ASPECTS OF THIS ROLE THAT ARE THE MOST REWARDING AND WHICH ARE MOST DIFFICULT?
This position comes with a lot of challenges, most of which are entirely out of my control. There are a million factors involved in every decision and institutions love committees, so there is a lot of waiting with every step and it’s difficult to stay focused. The most rewarding part of my job involves meeting new people who are connected to great shows, whether they include a gallery artist or not. I spend a lot of time looking at upcoming exhibitions and tracking which curator has moved to which new museum, but I enjoy doing this because it adds to my wider knowledge. I still do sales and I have direct relationships with some amazing collectors, many of whom support museums from the university level up to The Museum of Modern Art. They are another great way for me to stay informed about organizations I may not have heard about otherwise.
Long-term strategy and seeing the bigger picture is an important part of the gallery system. We have so many shows that turn over every month and a half, it is important to have a person on staff who is there specifically to keep that wide view. You just have to be patient, and when Marianne said she wanted to hire me I told her it would be three years before she would really start to see results from having me on staff.
WHAT WE CAN LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE SEASON AHEAD?
This February, we have an exhibit entitled Floss: Pino Pascali and Donald Moffett and later this year we will show some beautiful new pieces by Pier Paolo Calzolari. This year also marks the 20th anniversary for the gallery, so there is a lot to look forward to and celebrate!
KRISTEN, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERTISE WITH US.