The Barbeque Conception

The curated group show, let's discuss. How often is it that a Seattle curator picks a theme and actually sticks to it? Note the examples below are investigations - not accusations.

Here's the hypothesis: rather than strategize and implement an idea, Seattle curators come up with a way to put all their artist friends in a show together. This is evident when you take a look around and realize all of the artists are close friends of the curator. It's what my friend calls the "barbeque art-show", where a bunch of artists got together around a barbeque and said "hey that's a great idea for a show".  I'm going to take a look at some of the shows around town and let's see if this hypothesis is accurate (or even provable).

Soil Gallery, Xanadu
photo by Stewart McCullough
Admittedly, I know nothing about Xanadu the film. Still I know that many of the pieces in Soil's recent Xanadu show were by close friends of Erin Shafkind, the show's curator. Is it nepotism or just the curator's perogative? Hey, its Soil's gallery, its Shafkind's show and does the average Xanadu fan understand the work? Yes. Overwhelming recognition for the show's theme seemed evident.

Punch Gallery Gratuitous Umlaut
Gratuitous barbeque?
Gratuitous Umlaut (note: I am not dotting my vowels): Were the artists friends and friends of friends (this is outstanding speculation on my part)? The smells of barbeque art-show could be in the air and in the grand scheme of art shows, this may not have been that important. Jacob and Justin Gibbons raised the bar for completion of a theme; not only was the work congruous, the walls were painted black, they cranked heavy metal during the opening, and the grub was definitely what my headbanger friends would have noshed on.

Seattle Art Museum, Kurt
A Kurt Cobain shaped cookie
The Kurt show at the SAM had a cringe factor to it. Two things chapped my ass when I arrived at the press preview. #1: Artists that have a cookie-cutter process just so happened to have a cookie shaped like Kurt. Jack Pierson and Scott Fife were two of these. Their bodies of work are repetitious and happened to have a work related to Kurt. Besides, the Jack Pierson piece seems like an oh-so-likely pluck from the Virgina and Bagley Wright collection. Promised gift? Or promised exhibition?

"brings interpretations"? Stretch.
The other ass-chapper (#2) is that many of the artist's work have nothing to do with Kurt Cobain. Joe Mama-Nitzberg's and Marc Swanson's photograph seems stretched to fit in; dated 2007, I suspect it was a gimme to round out the exhibit. Same with Melanie Smith's "groupie" photograph, the token nude in the exhibit; check out this groaner of a wall text.

Ouch My Eye, Breast
Ouch My Eye's Breast show probably captured the most democratic form of curation. There was an open call to artists and the show was... well... better than most open call shows I've seen in Seattle. For once we stayed on subject - albeit a simple one: boobs. Surprisingly the inspiration came not from a barbeque but a nearby strip club and rumors of a new Hooters in SODO.


There's room for barbeque curators (why not?) but it's not how things are done in the art biz (or is it?). Is true integrity of an idea when a curator has a vision for a group show and effectively pulls together works that execute that vision? Friends curating friends for friends is safe, and the danger isn't in perceived nepotism but in its effect: it can limit growth and exclude new voices.