- Mary Annunziata
- Q Chen
- Lawrence Chow
- Elena Corrado
- Elizabeth Daicos
- Vanessa Dumais
- Rachel Fender
- Cressida Frey
- Shannon Garden-Smith & Polina Teif
- Maha Haider
- Nahin Islam
- Angela Jargstorf
- Christina Kim
- Jenny Kim
- Michelle Lun & Farhad Manouchehri
- Alexandra McCarthy
- Anna Pearl
- Konstantinos Polyzois
- Andrew Rutherdale
- Eva Sampson
- Elias Saoud
- Katherine Tucker
- Ellyn Walker & Corrie Jackson
Interview with Barbara Fischer
By Nahim Islam
Angel of Light, 2010 Custom gobos, 10 scanner lighting fixtures, MaxMSP Program Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries Gallery.
In the beginning of August, 2011, I got a chance to interview Barbara Fischer (BF), executive director/chief curator of Justina M. Barnicke gallery. She was also the curator of the Canadian Pavilion for the Venice Biennale. The interview mostly focuses on her curatorial practice and the current show “Don’t Stop Believing” by Kevin Schmidt at the Justina M. Barnicke gallery.
Nahin Islam (NI): You have been part of many great shows including the Canadian Pavilion for the 53rd Venice Biennale and many more. Could you tell what inspired you to become a curator? What major challenges and problems did you face for the position of an “art curator” in the beginning of your career?
BF: I studied visual arts studio as I initially thought I wanted to be an artist. I learned quickly that I was not a very good artist, but that my passion was to think about, look at, read, write about and produce contemporary art. As I started to shift my priorities, I had the opportunity to volunteer at an artist run centre and I was completely in my element. Many things I had been interested when studying art came together in curating: it is a spatial practice whereby one produces meaning through bringing together works of art; it always seemed to me that curating was very close to the processes of making art. So, it was a perfect fit, and it allowed me to become part of a bigger and amazing community.
NI: Now talking about the current show, “Don’t Stop Believing" by Kevin Schmidt I have noticed that there are six artworks included in the exhibition. Some of them are related to Christianity, and it seems there is a thematic link in between the artworks. However, the Sad Wolf seems to be an exception to this. On what basis did you select these specific works out of the large oeuvre of Schmidt's work?
BF: Sad Wolf is a part of Kevin’s interests in reflecting on the role of art in contemporary culture. The Sad Wolf is a metaphor for the role of the artist, and Kevin’s ‘home-made’ jury-rigged devices are ways in which he counters spectacle, as an artist, and seeks another way.
NI: I have noticed that in June the JMB gallery arranged a special screening for the public of two of Kevin’s earlier and important works. Can you discuss these works and the reasons for not including them in the main show?
BF: The reasons were logistical and also because they had been shown in Toronto already. Long Beach Led Zep was in “soundtracks” an exhibition shown at the U. of T. Galleries in 2003, and I showed Wild Signals at Nuit Blanche in 2008.
NI: In a group show the curator often takes a leading role in deciding what the exhibition is about, and which artists and artworks best represent it, but in a solo show like this one I imagine the process is more collaborative. Is this the case? If there are differing opinions between the artist and the curators how do you reconcile them? What are the negotiations between the curator and artist in the way artworks are exhibited/curated?
BF: Yes, it is a deeply collaborative process and Kevin and I discussed the grouping in great detail, changing our mind and settling on the final grouping after making changes to the initial plan to serve the works best. There are logistical things involved: sound interference, light interference, scale of projected image (it has to be the right size for what it represents), wall construction, budget, flow, appropriate scale of room (Sad Wolf was perfect for the ‘back room,’ in the hidden and slightly off-sight location), equipment choices, audience familiarity with some works and not others, contextual ideas (how works relate to each other)… among other things.
NI: The JMB gallery is well-respected as a contemporary Canadian art gallery. How does the reputation of the gallery play a role in your decisions about which artists to present? Do artists have to have advanced careers to be exhibited at the JMB?
BF: The gallery’s reputation is based on the artists and exhibitions that are produced here; we made the gallery’s reputation through the artists and exhibitions, and it does not precede the artists/exhibitions. We show artists at ALL levels of their career (check out our website), from very emerging and young artists to major, established artists. I do not base curatorial judgement on whether an artist fits the reputation of the gallery, but rather, how the artist’s work would be an honour and exciting and important to represent at a particular time here in Toronto. So, the answer to why and whom to present at the Gallery has more to do with what makes sense – in the city, in the program, for the artist. Curating is an exercise in developing meaningful content and context through art exhibitions. Most importantly, it is an activity driven by an excitement about interesting and great artists and their work.
NI: Given there are many shows at the JMB gallery each year, how do you arrange the schedule of these shows?
BF: We try to make connections between a sequence of exhibitions, but we do not make this a priority. The fall and winter exhibitions usually relate to each other in some way so that we are better equipped to create more meaning with and through the exhibitions in outreach programs, talks, and so on. So the “Traffic” exhibition, which was looked at Conceptual Art history in Canada between 1965 and 1980, was accompanied by a conference, many talks and lectures, tours, etc., and it was an historical exhibition that was then followed by an exhibition of a younger artist whose work is strongly influenced by and develops further some of the ideas one could see in the more historical exhibition.
NI: What is the response from the audience to the current show? To what extent does the response of the audience affect curatorial decisions? What kind of audience do you usually cater to?
BF: The guest book gives an idea about what the audience things. We don’t cater to an audience so much as the gallery hopes to stimulate a broad audience’s curiosity and make young and old, students and professors, artists and writers, etc, and people from all walks of life excited about contemporary art.