In Dialogue with Andrew Woolbright
Andrew Woolbright, a NY based artist, curator and founder of Super Dutchess, shares with Art Spiel the genesis of this lower east side art space, sheds some light on its key organizers, and describes the philosophy behind it. He elaborates on Cartoon in a Cartoon Graveyard, the 3-person current show that he has curated at the venue, with an upcoming reception on January 10th.
AS: Tell me a bit about your background and the genesis of Super Dutchess.
AW: I’m a painter. I was born in Chicago and came out east to do grad school at RISD. At RISD, a bunch of us went and saw the panel Painting Beyond Itself at Harvard, and there was a great moment where R.H. Quaytman and Amy Sillman pointed out that critics know and care about different artists than the ones artists do. It made it real that artists have the responsibility to keep other artists alive, especially overlooked ones, and since then I’ve felt a responsibility to promote other artists’ work as part of my practice. I respect projects like Raphael Rubinstein’s The Silo Project, which views curation as an act of recovery, and the way painters keep a history of other painters that is separate from those of collectors and sellers. I always feel like I owe a debt for being a painter.
Super Dutchess started as a failed show. I put together a show proposal about figural grotesquerie for a gallery but it ended up falling through last minute. So then, it was thought of as a one-month-long pop-up show with Angela Dufresne, Lauren Fejarang, Daniel Giordano, and Kathy Goodell.
At the end of the show, it felt possible to keep going and make it a real space. Not everyone wanted to keep going with it, so I brought on some friends who have a great studio practice and that also had shown an interest and skill in curating. Lauren Fejarang is beyond brilliant. She’s a minimalist sculptor working out of LA that I met back in Chicago at SAIC. Kathy Goodell is a mentor of mine and a legend- she’s a painter, sculptor, and a living library of information. Kyle Hittmeier and Amanda Nedham are good friends who had just curated a stand-out show at Springbreak- they are into discursive based shows that still find a way to have a lot of heart and affect. Kate McQuillen is an interesting artist with a great printmaking-based practice, and she’s incredibly knowledgeable about that scene. We each are responsible for curating two shows a year and support each other. I think we each have different strengths and visions for curation that complement each other.
It’s a lot of work but it’s also been healing. It can be hard dealing with bad and lazy curation as an artist. You see the same artists and the same show over and over again in different spaces. But it’s what happens when you have to sell to survive. The gallery makes us feel like we can have a productive answer to that. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but we try to bring fresh perspectives into all our shows and show work that we have a tangible connection to and that hasn’t been seen a lot. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a ladder being sent down between generations, or from Chelsea to Brooklyn, and it’s nice to be able to just focus on the level of work and not the strategy or the selling. We try to be intergenerational. And we are all trying to challenge ourselves by creating new contexts for artists and putting them in shows with people that aren’t obvious. It was this or therapy.
AS: What would you like to share about your show starting January 6th, Cartoon in a Cartoon Graveyard?
AW: I have been kicking it around for a while. The title is from Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” He says, “don’t want to be a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard,” while he notices he’s getting soft around the middle. The first time I heard it I felt connected to it specifically as a painter. I’ve always been interested in Kelley and Kippenberger, Oehlen and Lassnig, and the lengths they would go to jump the rail and avoid the reification trap, even if it meant pure contrarianism. I appreciate un-clever work by artists that understand the problems of painting and approach them head on. Ironically, the three artists in this show avoid the cartoon graveyard by driving straight through it at full speed. I think they are exploring whether the cartoon graveyard is somewhat unavoidable but can also be a virtue.
I think they all have a relationship to cartoon flatness as the armature for perceptual exploration, cut outs that try to come at Hoffman “push-pull” from a different angle. It reminds me of Mark Leckey talking about Felix the cat in his lecture on image objects, “Cinema in the Round.”
AS: Tell me a bit about each artist in the show.
AW: Craig Taylor was a professor of mine at RISD. His practice is very dedicated: he’s been working with the same shape in his abstract paintings for 8 years. It’s this biomorphic form that borders on the cartoon. It’s not any one thing- at times it’s an empty space in his paintings, and at others it’s a physical object. It’s exciting to see that approach – to cast your feet in cement in one area so you can confidently and endlessly explore abstraction through the paths that are left. And he’s always in the studio. He’s unapologetically an abstract painter and I like that his work has a relationship to pentimento. It’s an uncool/cool flex to show these incredibly worked up and struggled with surfaces- and it isn’t a struggle from a lack of mastery. It’s him wrestling the image out of the surface, working and figuring things out.
Fernando Pintado is a good friend. He came to a show I put together at a gallery I was running out of my studio in the Hudson Valley called Karst and Gorse, and then I saw his work at Ghost gallery. We talk about poetry and Blake and Goya. He’s able to communicate deep emotion and pathos in his work really well and he’s fearless. He’ll cut and repurpose old paintings and drawings and assemble them into brave sad things – a true romantic.
Alex Kovacs’ work is new to me. I came to his work through his show at Resort in Baltimore, a great artist run space. I thought his usage of ceramics as a drawing surface was interesting, and the sharp edges in his work carves the space around it well. I thought his work has the same space that a drop shadow does in a cartoon, very phenomenological.
AS: What is your vision / philosophy for the gallery?
AW: Curation as a gesture. Transitive curation. We talked in the beginning about having the experience of being at shows we’ve curated at other spaces and on the night of the opening thinking of all of the different ways the show could have also been done, like the endless possibilities in Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths. So initially every show had to have at least two rotations, the same curatorial idea but tried in at least two different ways. It’s like aesthetics chess and there’s a modesty to it that we appreciate, shows that are a possibility of an idea rather than a statement of fact. We still like to do rotation shows, but we’ve found that it works well when there are also some longer duration shows mixed in. When we were doing only rotation shows it was like a graviton.
Other than that, radical non-hierarchy. Avoiding algorithm shows. Trying to bring in new aesthetics and looks and non-conventional pairings of works while avoiding convention at all costs. We really want a gallery that builds a scene and feels like a big family or community. Something that gets the band back together.
Individually we all have different goals and aesthetics. It’s very egalitarian, so everyone does the show they want to do without it getting changed by anyone else. Personally, being a representational/ figurative artist, I’m interested in finding ways to curate representational work without making “body” or “figuration” or “narrative” shows. Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I’ve always been appreciative of curators who have found surprising contexts for my work, mysterious connections, and didn’t think of curation as redundancy of idea. I think good curation is like good painting, where the image forms in the back of the eye at the last possible second; the individual pieces all come together and forms a resonant connection right as you’re ready to leave the space.
AS: Would you like to shed some light on your programming for 2020?
AW: The artists we show usually end up with bigger galleries after they show with us. That makes us very happy for the artists, but we’d like to stay ahead of that and not announce our programming. We’re excited to be working with more international artists and bringing them to New York for the first time. And I can talk about Super Duke, which is what we’re calling our offsite project shows. We just did a show up in the Hudson Valley in the rented-out rooms of this small motel lodge. We have some exciting things planned exploring alternative spaces in addition to our programming at Super Dutchess. The Super Dutchess and the Super Duke will be very busy in 2020.
All photo courtesy of Super Dutchess
Cartoon in a Cartoon Graveyard will feature the work of Alex Kovacs, Fernando Pintado, and Craig Taylor and will be on view January 6 – February 23, with an opening reception Friday January 10 from 5-7