A curatorial perspective with Meredith Harper of Harper Fine Art
A CURATOR IS AN INDIVIDUAL WITH A PASSION FOR WORKS OF ART AND THE TALENT TO CONTEXTUALIZE AND ORGANIZE SUPPORTING HISTORICAL AND AESTHETIC INFORMATION. THE EXHIBIT CAN EXPLORE MANY PERSPECTIVES: A RETROSPECTIVE, A SURVEY OF A PARTICULAR PERIOD OR STYLE, AN ART HISTORICAL, POLITICAL OR SOCIAL THEME, OR PERHAPS AN INTRODUCTION TO NEW TRENDS. MUSEUMS ARE THE OBVIOUS STRONGHOLD OF CURATORIAL EXPERTISE SUPPORTING ACADEMIC AND HIGHLY TRAINED SPECIALISTS TO PROVIDE THE MUSEUM-GOER WITH NEW INSIGHTS AND APPRECIATION OF ART WORKS IN THE MUSEUM COLLECTION OR ON LOAN TO ENRICH THE EXHIBIT.
It’s worth thinking about the etymology of curating. It comes from the Latin word curare, meaning to take care. In Roman times, it meant to take care of the bath houses. In medieval times, it designated the priest who cared for souls. Later, in the 18th century, it meant looking after collections of art and artifacts.Today, curating as a profession means at least four things. It means to preserve, in the sense of safeguarding the heritage of art. It means to be the selector of new work. It means to connect to art history. And it means displaying or arranging the work. But it’s more than that. Before 1800, few people went to exhibitions. Now hundreds of millions of people visit them every year. It’s a mass medium and a ritual. The curator sets it up so that it becomes an extraordinary experience and not just illustrations or spatialised books.
HANS ULRICH OBRIST, Curator, Serpentine Gallery London
MEREDITH HARPER DID NOT WANT TO SACRIFICE THE CURATORIAL IMPULSE AND AMBITIONS WHEN SHE ESTABLISHED HARPER FINE ART. SHE HAS ACCOMPLISHED BOTH AND THE LRFA BLOG IS PLEASED TO WELCOME MEREDITH BACK TO INFORM US ON THIS ASPECT OF HER WORK.
MEREDITH, AS AN ADVISOR, DO YOU FOCUS ON PARTICULAR PERIODS OF ART?
I focus on the client’s specific interest, as long as it’s within my range of speciality, which is Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary American and European art.
Since I’ve gone out on my own, one area I’ve been doing a lot with for clients is the California artists of the 60s and 70s: Peter Alexander, Craig Kauffmann, Doug Wheeler, Billy Al Bengston, DeWain Valentine, Laddie John Dill, Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, etc. I was introducing this work to collectors and buying a lot of great things for them before the market went completely crazy, in some cases finding some superb works that would be very difficult (as well as very expensive) to get now. I also became friendly with a lot of the artists — they’re amazing guys with a lot of energy and vision, who made some really revolutionary work at the time.
IN 2009, YOU ADDED ANOTHER ACCOMPLISHMENT AS EXHIBITION CURATOR.
Even though I became independent, I didn’t want to stop organizing exhibitions. Having a lot of strong connections with gallerists give me opportunities to curate exhibitions at galleries with similar interests. In 2009 I curated an exhibition of Giacometti drawings at Peter Freeman Inc in New York. Giacometti was an incredible draughtsman in addition to being a sculptor, and it was a part of his oeuvre that I wanted to showcase. The exhibition was a mini-retrospective, with works from the 1920s through 1960s, and included portraits, interiors, still-lifes, sculpture studies, and landscapes. I was focused on quality, so only about 35% of the show was for sale and the rest we borrowed from some wonderful private collections.
Later that year, I put together an exhibition for Ubu Gallery of collage by and inspired by the Victorian print assemblages of Max Ernst, which also included works by Cornell, Jess, and Bruce Conner, and a lot of obscure but fascinating German Neue Sachlichkeit and Dada artists. And in 2014 I curated White Magic: Robert Ryman and Rudolf Staffel at David Nolan Gallery.
THE LRFA BLOG INVITES YOU TO VIEW THE PANOTOUR OF THE WHITE MAGIC EXHIBIT AT DAVID NOLAN
courtesy of Meredith Harper Fine Art and Tom Powel Imaging
YOU REPRESENT THE ESTATE OF PORCELAIN CERAMICIST RUFOLF STAFFEL WHOSE WORK YOU CLEARLY REVERE. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INTRODUCTION TO HIS WORK?
I first encountered Staffel’s porcelain work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art when I was a teenager, and from the moment I saw it, it blew me away. The combination of form and spirit that each of his works embodies is incredibly powerful. Still, decades later, I never cease to find them incredibly inspiring to be around. That, to me, is the test of time that great artworks can stand up to.
WHAT ARE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ASPECTS OF HIS WORK? WHAT ARE THE WORKS THAT RESONATE THE MOST STRONGLY WITH YOU AND WHY?
Rudi was probably the most important American ceramic artist working in porcelain in the 20th century: he took it to a completely different level with his Light Gatherers, as his mature works are known. These vessels are all about playing with light and form in the most magical, abstract way. They reference traditional porcelain shapes (bowls, vases) and can run the gamut from very organic and expressionist to pure and sublime, but the common thread among them was his constant searching for this transcendent intersection between light and form. Because of the inherent delicacy that porcelain has to begin with, made even more precarious by the thinness and light-conducive qualities he was trying to achieve, Rudi said that the works that made it out of the kiln without collapsing were the miracles!
HOW DID HIS WORK EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS?
I would say that it just kept becoming more refined and more nuanced, and more about finding the light. You can see in his work of the 1960s the influence of artists like Fontana, Miró, Hans Coper and Lucie Rie, and some of the Scandinavian studio ceramicists. But also the influence of painters, including Hans Hofmann, who was one of his teachers. There’s a strong sense of push/pull in his works and that came from Hofmann, and really changed the possibilities of what he thought he could create in porcelain. And there’s a purity and focus on form that derives from his interest in Zen Buddhism and Asian whiteware.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, WE LEARN ABOUT THE REMARKABLE PORCELAIN WORKS OF RUDOLF STAFFEL AND HER PLANS FOR THE FUTURE OF HER BUSINESS IN GENERAL AND OF STAFFEL’S ESTATE IN PARTICULAR. PLEASE JOIN US!