whitehot | February 2009, Noah Becker In Conversation with Ajay Kurian
Noah Becker talks to Ajay Kurian
Noah Becker: You have been working as a curator recently. Tell us about your recent projects and what is coming up in 2009?
Ajay Kurian: Well, recently I started a project space that sporadically appears across New York. The idea behind the space is to do something outside the dominant gallery model. It's not to suggest that this is in any way better, only to have a supplement. In any case, there isn't really an owner in the traditional sense since there isn’t really anything to consistently own, or a stable of artists or anything like that. I consider myself the facilitator to projects. I did, however, curate the first show, which was entitled, "Singular Friends: Heaving up on one another's shoulders." I wanted to start this whole thing with a show that was about a kind of fractured sense of community, or rather, how a community always starts as fractured or complicated. It began as a way to think about this new kind of conviviality we’re seeing in contemporary art where I was beginning to think there was a false sense of unity. Actually putting the show together cleared away my early feelings of cynicism and allowed for a wonderful experience (and complicated the idea of what community means for me even further). The show itself turned out very well, a high point being when Robert Gober introduced himself and congratulated me on a fine show. I think I was just mentallyelsewhere for the rest of the evening.
Basically all the artists were friends or friends of friends of mine. Some had representation and others didn't. Somehow, through studio visits, artist's involvement, and luck, the show came together very well. The project space doesn't have a name either, it only has a moniker, which is a golden grasshopper. It's the family seal of Sir Thomas Gresham, who was a 16th century British economist who essentially saved Britain from financial disaster. Anyway, what he's most commonly known for is Gresham's Law. Now, I know I'm simplifying hugely, and perhaps past imprecision to misinformation, but the law basically draws a distinction between "good money" and "bad money". "Good money" being when there is a correlation between exchange value and commodity value, bad money when there is a discrepancy. The idea was to subtly associate art with "bad money". The grasshopper also carries a whole history of myths and fables with it that I enjoyed and thought were interesting baggage. And of course lastly, the gallery jumps just as a grasshopper does.
As far as future projects are concerned, I've been speaking with Bob Nickas and I think we'll co-curate a show sometime in September. We have a couple of ideas, but I'm going to sit on them until further notice. I've also begun working on some proposals for the project to take over other spaces so that I don't have to handle the financial burden...(the first location that I chose was 41 Wooster...not cheap real estate.) So that's it on the curatorial front. Keeping that in check with my own practice and with my job is enough to have me running around most of the time.
NB: Who did you include in the Golden Grasshopper exhibition? What was the work like?
AK: There were 13 artists altogether: Uri Aran, Darren Bader, Graham Caldwell, Ara Dymond, Zipora Fried, Tommy Hartung, Corinne Jones, Yasue Maetake, Brendan Majewski, Stephen Miranda, Andrew Rogers, Martim Smith-Mattsson, and myself. The work was pretty wide ranging: painting, sculpture, photography, installation, video. There was a similar aesthetic that ran throughout the show which really tied it together, but I didn't focus on a particular kind of practice to inform the content of the show. It would take far too long to talk about the works individually, and I'm resistant to turning my friends into sound-bytes, so I suggest looking at some pictures online of the past exhibition. (www.greshamsghost.com). I hope that wasn't too shameless.
NB: That's a great way to direct people towards more information about your project. Don't feel guilty about it, or should I say, you are asking the wrong person if promoting yourself is bad. What is interesting to me is how shy you are about this. In your life you also work with galleries and artists. Are you still assisting artists with their work and are you currently working with a gallery? Does being paid to promote artists feel more honest in some way?
AK: Yeah, I know. It's not necessarily a helpful attribute for success in the art world, but I've been going about it my own way, I guess, and so far it's been working out. That being said, your comment has given me a bit of a backbone in saying that my first curated show was really a wonderful project and a huge success. The quality of the work was very high and a couple of the artists actually got further shows because of curators seeing their work in my show. I am still assisting an artist. I work for Banks Violette and have been for the last year or so. I'm a studio assistant and a sort of liaison between galleries and museums. It's a full time job and honestly it's the best job I've ever had. Without divulging too much of the secret life of a Banks Violette studio assistant, I can say that we work hard when deadlines come around (all four of us, including Banks), but it's so much fun. Banks is a wonderful boss and a really good guy. He's given me opportunity after opportunity and I'll never be able to thank him enough.
What I do for him though, isn't promotion. He has Team Gallery (and Maureen Paley and others) to take care of that. I stand behind him and would stick up for him, but there's no reason for me to promote him, I think he's pretty well known already...
I did work at a gallery for a bit, a very short bit. I worked at Gladstone Gallery for all of three months as Barbara's assistant. It was...not a good fit. That being said, Barbara is, as far as I'm concerned, truly one of the best in the business, if not the best. Just to see her work and see how she runs the show was quite an education. Whatever anyone says about dealers, Barbara always put her artists first. It was quite encouraging. The stress in a blue chip gallery though is much higher than you might expect...
It's not that I feel dishonest promoting myself, it's that I have trouble really putting myself out there. It stems from a kind of cowardice, I suppose. Fear of being distasteful, maybe. And this is in NO way a jab to those who are more capable at self-promotion. It is not at all my place to judge the methods of dissemination. I've always found it easier to talk about other people's work rather than my own. But I'm trying to get more comfortable with it seeing as I'm finally developing a more rounded body of work.
NB: At one point in my life I was really good at self promotion. Now everything I touch could be considered a form of promotion. Even as I write this I know we are talking in a non-private manner to other people. This feeling of creating a document is interesting to me. It is a valuable thing to do in terms of leaving something behind or creating a new stream for others to pick up on. What drives you in terms of your reasons for being involved in something as intense as the international art world?
AK: Hm. Well, I guess it started with wanting to be an artist, wanting to have that life. Then after realizing that being an artist is more than just knowing how to draw and paint, that there was a world to it, in fact multiple worlds, then it was a matter of deciding which game/world I wanted to take part in. It was a dream of mine to somehow be a part of the art world that included the canonized "greats". I was shaped by the conservative annals of art history, to be sure, and so my idea of greatness is largely tailored, and I know that. In any case, I think part of what drives me now, in my own work and why I work, is the need to follow contradictory instructions. To want to make work quietly in a studio, essentially hermetically, and then to also be a part of such a public and fame-oriented external world. To strive for something to leave behind while knowing there's really nothing that will be forever left behind. And currently something I'm thinking about is to tell a story or hint at a story that is impossible to tell. Dealing with resistant narratives. It's always felt like a very ethical way to exist. To remain either in suspension or to try to do both at the same time. In Buster Keaton's "Sherlock Jr.", right after the opening credits comes a proverb which says: "Don't try to do two things at once and expect to do justice to both". I like the effort in trying to do justice to both, regardless of whether it's bound to fail. I don't consider this a dialectical move, but more along the lines of a productive and paradoxical simultaneity. This and this, both at once - like trying to catch the sky once it falls.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief