White Room Bob Nickas – “Recent Acquisitions, Gifts, and Works from Various Exhibitions 1985-2007”
Works by: Richard Aldrich, Jules de Balincourt, Thomas Bayrle, Huma Bhabha, Gil Blank, Pearl Blauvelt, Matthew Brannon, Henri Cartier Bresson, Jeff Davis, Jay DeFeo, Benjamin Degan, Trisha Donnelly, Walker Evans, Charles Henri Ford, Wayne Gonzales, Adam Helms, Daniel Hesidence, Louise Lawler, Judy Linn, Lee Lozano, Brendan Majewski, David Malek, Adam McEwen, Dave Muller, Steven Parrino, Walter Pfeiffer, Stephen Shore, Josh Smith, Meredyth Sparks, Gert and Uwe Tobias, Arthur Tress, Kelley Walker, John Waters, and Anonymous mug shots.
White Columns is proud to present the first project in a new, occasional exhibition series, in which an individual curator will be invited to present a “history” of their exhibition-making process and collaborations with artists. The first project is by the New York-based independent curator and writer Bob Nickas. Since the early 1980s Nickas has organized more than 75 exhibitions in the United States and Europe. A former editor of Index magazine and curator at PS1, his is arguably amongst the most influential – and mercurial - curatorial voices of the past 25 years. For his White Columns’ presentation Nickas will present works by a group of 30+ artists, including works originally included in exhibitions he organized; gifts from artists; and recent acquisitions. Parallel to the exhibition White Columns will publish a scrap-book publication of material drawn from Nickas’s archives*, including an introduction by Joan Wallace, and a conversation between Nickas and White Columns’ director Matthew Higgs.
The following is an excerpt from the conversation:
Bob Nickas: Your idea to let a curator present their own, or in my case so-called, retrospective — where did this come from? And it's going to be an annual event at White Columns?
Matthew Higgs: Curator's work is rarely acknowledged. We know very little about individual curator's histories, which is surprising given the proliferation of curatorial activity in the past twenty years or so, and the parallel debates around exhibition-making. Curator's resumes tend to circulate only behind the scenes. Consequently there are many "secret histories" — of exhibition-making, curators' writings, collaborations with artists, etc. that remain largely unknown. The idea behind the series — which will be an occasional invitation to a curator to present themselves at White Columns — is to allow aspects of their histories to come to the fore, hopefully creating an informal and ongoing archive of individual curatorial practices.
I wanted to create a platform, just as White Columns has done for artists, whereby a curator could represent themselves — and their activities, both past and present — in any way that they feel appropriate or relevant. Just as there are no rules in terms of how individual artists present themselves at White Columns, there are also no limits as to how a curator might interpret the invitation.
This is equally interesting — and important — to me, i.e. how an individual curator will elect to elaborate on often complex social entanglements and personal relationships that might have unfolded organically over many years. One option might be to present a more archival or documentary-like display, but obviously this isn't the only possibility. However, given the size of our project spaces, it is clear that these exhibitions cannot be definitive "retrospectives", especially when a curator has been active for two decades or more. Instead, each will have to rationalize their approach to exhibition-making and histories of working with artists in idiosyncratic ways. I'm curious as to how you a) responded to the initial invitation, and b) how you determined what approach to take?
Bob Nickas: When you first asked me to do this show, I knew what I didn't want to do, which is to represent my activities through all the ephemera — announcements, posters, catalogs, and so on. I thought that I should do what I've always done, which is to show art. The last time I showed works from my collection was about four years ago. Since then I've bought many works, both by artists I've been associated with and ones that I admire, and I've been fortunate as well to have been given a number of works by artists in appreciation for my support. That could be anything from writing a catalog text, helping them to install an exhibition, selling works, or even offering an idea for a work when I invite them to be in a show. Most importantly, the selection of artists and works for this project at White Columns will in almost every case refer back to shows that I've done in the past twenty years. Some works, in fact, come from specific shows. Not bought at the time of the show — that would be wrong — but after the fact. Jack Smith once complained that museums and collectors buy art and then hide it away, and he's right. In the case of works that have gone directly from a studio to me, I feel that they should be exhibited publicly, that they shouldn't "disappear." The ephemera, and a complete list of my shows, along with a complete bibliography, will be presented in a kind of scrapbook/catalog.
* Publication available for $20 (plus postage) from White Columns. (First edition of 100 signed copies.)