The following interview was originally printed in the Contemporary Canadian Art catalogue that was published in conjunction with the Art Dealers Association of Canada’s public programming venture at the Armory Show, 2011. This interview was conducted by William Huffman, Association Director at Toronto Arts Foundation.
Five Things: With Denise Markonish
Denise Markonish is the curator at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA).
1) Maybe first off, give us a sense of your general curatorial interests and practice – the kinds of themes, artists and work to which you gravitate.
As a curator I have always been drawn to project based work – or large scale installations with single artists. For example, at MASS MoCA, I have worked on such varied projects as the construction of a glass house by Chicago artist Inigo Manglano-Ovalle; long-term outdoor installations from gardens and sound works to an interactive environment in an airstream trailer; to my current exhibition of new work by Nari Ward, relating to MASS MoCA’s former industrial past. I have done a number of group shows as well looking at systems of nature from landscape to mapping.
2) Very exciting news about your upcoming Contemporary Canadian survey at MASS MoCA, opening May 2012! Can you tell us a little about the motivation and genesis of the project?
A few years back I began to notice that I was being drawn to a group of artists who happen to be Canadian (artists like Rodney Graham, Janet Cardiff, Guy Maddin, Marcel Dzama, Brian Jungen etc.) It became apparent to me though, that this constituted a rather small group and that we in the United States know little about the Canadian art world outside of a select group of artists who have somehow “filtered” through. So in my mind, the best way to find out more was to embark on an exhibition that would bring me across Canada to meet as many artists as possible. At this point I have done nearly 400 studio visits across the country and hit almost every province and territory.
3) The exhibition is still in its development phase, can you tell us a little about where you’re at – let’s say with selection of artists and what you see as next steps?
I am writing now from Dawson City, Yukon on one of my last research trips. The next step, for me, is to take this experience and try to develop a show from this vastness. I want to be very careful to create thematics for the exhibition rather than just presenting a generalized survey. So over the next two months I will work on these themes as well as the final list of artists, which I hope to announce some time in March.
4) At this point, is there anything that’s surprised you about Canadian art? Has something emerged that is totally unexpected?
Absolutely! One of the biggest surprises I have come across is the prevalence of process and making – this can range from the conceptual to the craft based. There seems to be a more rigorous kind of studio practice in Canada and a number of artists that are actively involved in ideas of making – for example Shary Boyle’s use of porcelain or Luanne Martineau’s felt sculptures. Another interesting vein of Canadian art very much has to do with identity – whether it be First Nation’s artists like Terrance Houle, Rebecca Belmore, Kent Monkman and Faye Heavyshield to artists questioning ideas of both Canadian and cultural identity like Brendan Fernandes and Douglas Coupland.
5) In light of your extensive research and acquired purview of the Canadian art situation, have you observed anything that we Canadians might not know or something that we should rediscover, about ourselves?
That is a difficult question … not being from Canada and seeing the work here as an outsider to the system I am still trying to get at the root of the lack of dialogue between Canada and the United States. Part of this I think has to do with the difference between an artist run culture in Canada and a more commercial system in the States. However I think this is a difference we can get beyond and that within Canada there can be more effort to push outside the bounds of the country and similarly, the States has to open itself up more. So through this process one of the most interesting things that happened is that I ended up learning not just about Canada but about home as well.
Interview conducted by William Huffman, Association Director at Toronto Arts Foundation.
Denise Markonish is the curator at MASS MoCA where she has curated the exhibitions Petah Coyne: Everything That Rises Must Converge (catalogue, Yale University Press), Inigo Manglano-Ovalle: Gravity is a force to be reckoned with (catalogue, D.A.P.); These Days: Elegies for Modern Times and Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape (catalogue, MIT Press). Markonish also co-edited with Susan Cross the book Sol LeWitt: 100 Views (Yale University Press). Previous to her work at MASS MoCA, Markonish was the curator at Artspace in New Haven, CT where she curated the exhibitions Factory Direct: New Haven, Don’t Know Much About History, Why Look at Animals?, Boys Life, which traveled to Space Gallery in Portland, ME and Territories which traveled to the Galerie fur Landschaftskunst in Hamburg, Germany. Markonish has also curated the exhibitions Mark Dion: New England Digs at the Fuller Museum, Brockton, MA; and Past Presence: Contemporary Reflections on the Main Line at the Main Line Art Center, Haverford, PA. In addition to her curatorial work Markonish has taught at University of New Haven, Stonehill College and the Rhode Island School of Design. Markonish is currently working on multiple projects at MASS MoCA, including 3 permanent outdoor projects for 2011 by Michael Oatman, Stephen Vitiello and Jane Philbrick along with a survey of Contemporary Canadian art for Spring 2012.Read More