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Arts & Culture

Sarah Lewis on curating Artpace

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Sarah Lewis, the curator of Artpace IAIR 12.2, is a scholar, writer, and curator who resides in New York City. She has taught at Yale, curated at the Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art, and co-curated the 2010 SITE Santa Fe Biennial. She is currently completing her new book, Rise, projected for release in 2013. Lewis spoke with the Current last Thursday at Artpace.

For this residency, you curated artists, not art works. What drew you to bring these three artists together?
They all have this beautiful, quiet, powerful, meditative quality that is deployed in very different directions in their work. ... They can go in many different directions, as a result of how rich their inner life is. ... In an interview that Jacco [Olivier] did recently after another show, he was asked, “What is the most indispensable quality for your studio practice?” and said, “My concentration.” It's not the material, it's their inner life. And they all have a really sparkling mind. I wanted to make sure this was a collegial residency. This is a particular residency in that they are living very close to where people work on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to make sure this was a group that could not just live with one another, but enjoy one another. And it sounds like they did.

Is there anything about the three exhibits that surprised you?
Surprised isn't the word. When I selected these artists I knew — because there is a great degree of trust you have to have when you select artists not work — I knew that they could use six weeks to effect a new chapter in their work. ... I was thrilled to see that Jacco [Olivier], maybe subconsciously the space of Texas inspired him to be not just larger in his scale, but to envelop the audience more in the angles of his projection. It seems like a subtle shift, but that is an enormous development for someone who, in the Site Santa Fe Biennial for example, was the one artist of the 30-plus who wanted like almost 8 1/2 by 11 inches. That's small. To go from that is a huge departure. He sees so much, he is able to find this magic in the ordinary, but that extended to color, which is beautiful to see. I think it is a great new chapter for him. And for Mike [Osborne], it connects this idea of how the mode of display shifted during the residency. In creating the book, as an object, he started to begin to see his work differently, in vignettes. The body of the work is stories; it isn't something I heard when I first selected him. I think it is a great development. And with Leslie [Hewitt], I think the move to engage with abstraction as a mode to interrogate the archive is not something I saw coming. In all three cases, I am just thrilled by what they did.

How would you describe the Artpace residency?
Artpace is one of the most pre-eminent residencies in our field, for good reason. It is a potent institution, and remains so, because it has consistently allowed for artists to develop — it is a sort of springboard for a new chapter in their work. In a way, as I thought about having these three artists come here, I felt that I was sort of sending them to their own geography. Not San Antonio itself, but to the Artpace landscape. I reminded them to look at the history of the artists who have come through here, to put themselves in that lineage. ... Unlike other residencies, the artists here make work in the space that they then display it. And that shifts the thinking about their process. This is one of the most supportive residencies. It seems that every request is met with a “Yes, we can!” kind of an answer. That is not common.

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