I have been in New York since the summer of 2011, when I moved to the city upon graduating from the MFA program at VCU in Richmond, Virginia. My interest in ‘curating’ probably stemmed from having an interest in making new meaning simply by putting together things that already exist. When I was very young, I was really into the original version of Sim City on Super Nintendo and then the computer game, Age of Empires. I would build elaborate cities and civilizations out of frugal means. Once I got a little older, I made mix CD’s for all of my friends, especially my ex-girlfriends. By the time I got to art school, I started to hang my paintings and other works, and was beginning to think of them as sentences. I still find this to be a novel way to look at works of art, though I suppose it’s easier to do so with wall-based art. Later, I devised ways to apply this to my writing and other projects. Eventually, I decided to give it a shot with other folks’ work and tried to legitimately assemble a ‘proper show.’
I started by co-curating a show at the incredibly progressive, yet somewhat short-lived gallery, Reference, in Richmond. Props to them for showing so many great artists before they became majorly hot commodities!
Anyways, I curated this show, titled Exit Light, with Michael Kennedy Costa, who at the time was a fellow VCU graduate student. Reference was a gallery that was beginning to gain a reputation as a space that showed a lot of Internet art and new media work, and the guys who ran it were really lovely, and great party hosts.
Michael and I thought it’d be interesting to create a show that served as a loose metaphor for the arc of a party, where the works wrapped around the perimeter of a gallery from the ‘start’ to the ‘finish’ of the ‘party.’ We used no Internet art and really no new media, at least as far as 2010 was concerned. This exhibition included many artists for whom I have endless respect, and many who have since found a great deal of success, including Joshua Abelow, Talia Chetrit, and EJ Hauser.
The show also propelled my ongoing interest in collaboration. In the past three years, Michael and I have begun making work and putting together shows under the name Picture Menu. This is a fairly open, cooperative practice between the two of us, and one project often leads into the other, naturally and organically. Picture Menu has become a gallery, a press, and we’re open to see where it goes from here.
Aside from Picture Menu, I have been working on many other curatorial projects. I recently hosted a closing reception / performance event at Open Space in Baltimore for a show I curated there, titled Liberti(n)es. I am co-curating two upcoming three-person shows with Rachel LaBine. One is titled Style Points & Substance Pangs and will take place at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Philadelphia; the other is titled Style As Substance and will take place at David Shelton Gallery in Houston. These two shows will both concurrently open on April 5th, and as evidenced by the titles, are designed to be semi-complementary exhibitions.
Something that I think has strongly affected my relationship to making art and curating art is my sort of unorthodox artistic background. I came to art later than a lot of my friends who are artists, including Michael and Rachel. I didn’t start making art until I was in college. I grew up playing team sports and playing in somewhat wild bands. So I was sort of initiated with a sense of camaraderie I haven’t been able to shake. I went to school for painting. Like anyone, I need my alone time. But unlike some painters, I can’t revel in the precious alone time of the studio. Whenever I read interviews with or articles about artists who are able to do that, part of me gets jealous. I just can’t work that way. But I also don’t sleep much, and I can’t help but bounce ideas off people and work with other people.
When working cooperatively, I tend to enjoy some element of trust and comfort; I think it’d be weird and uncomfortable to be assigned to co-curate something, like what happens with monumental survey exhibitions. Much like the relationships I’ve forged with teammates, bandmates, or best friends such as Michael, or with my girlfriend, Rachel, I believe it’s true that your biggest critics are those closest to you. If I work on projects with those closest to me, I believe that we’ll scrutinize each other’s ideas in a fruitful and productive manner, for the sake of the others involved.
I am not simply interested in putting together art shows, or at least the sorts of art shows I think we have come to expect and accept. This goes for me working by myself or with others. I think I am really eventually interested in bringing back a vaudevillian vibe in opposition to the spectacle that has become the art world, without all the superfluous and superficial associations. I suppose I just want exhibitions to have more energy. I want to create environments that are at once inclusive and jarring without claiming to have some sort of political agenda like relational aesthetics. I think I’m more interested in relative aesthetics— or how text relates to image, which relates to sound, to space, and back to text.
By. Keith J. Varadi