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On Process and Color

A conversation with curator Jordan Tate and artist Sherwin Rivera Tibayan

Color Shift, a group show curated by Jordan Tate, is on view at Mixed Greens in New York until February 9. The exhibition explores and revisits modernism’s reductive approach to medium, material, and color and its influence on contemporary art production. It includes new work by the artists Arabella Campbell, Wyatt Niehaus, Zachary Dean Norman, Rick Silva, Kate Steciw, Sherwin Rivera Tibayan, and Alex Walp.

Color Shift group exhibition at Mixed Greens. Image courtesy of Mixed Greens.

Paula Kupfer: Jordan, did Mixed Greens contact you with a proposal, or had you been thinking about these ideas already?

Jordan Tate: Courtney Strimple and Heather Dacry Bhandari contacted me and asked if I had an interest in curating an exhibition for Mixed Greens to start off the year. After giving it some thought, I proposed the idea of Color Shift to the gallery directors and we got started.

PK: Where did the inspiration come from?

JT: I believe that modernist methodologies (distinctly different from modernist aesthetics) are being utilized by a growing number of artists. Given the important role that photography played in catalyzing modernism, I find the medium functioning similarly following the popularization of the internet. I also define photography very broadly, and tend to think of it as a mode of inquiry more than an idea that rests on fixing light on a surface—objective reality be damned.

PK: Many of the works in the show involve photography, but most come at the medium in oblique ways. You identified five influential artists—Ellsworth Kelly, Yves Klein, Robert Irwin, Ay-O, Barnett Newman—whose legacy you sought to explore through this exhibition. How did you arrive at this list? What other criteria did you use? Were these five the basis for your participating artists’ responses, or was the curatorial process more of an open conversation?

JT: As I mentioned earlier, I view photography as a philosophical exchange more than a medium, and in that manner, I think it is nearly impossible to find an art object that isn’t in some way governed by our relationship to photography and image-making. I wanted the artists to try to approach this Herculean task from a place of seeming simplicity. The biggest ideas are born out of the simplest questions.

I chose artists whose work I trusted to be good and relevant, people who were aesthetically, historically, or methodologically concerned with the theme of the exhibition and capable of addressing it in a sophisticated yet accessible way. I gave the artists virtually no prompting other than the press release. Sherwin, does that seem accurate?

Sherwin Rivera Tibayan: Right, I remember receiving the email from Jordan and understanding the exhibition proposal as an introduction and an opportunity to continue working along the lines I had, over the past year, been traveling. In terms of the other artists in the show, I was happy to see a mix of new artists whose works I could engage with and others I had been following for some time.

PK: Sherwin, your two pieces were created on site, at night, in the gallery?

SRT: Two nights even!

JT: I think he was locked in, too!

Sherwin Rivera Tibayan Installation View (MOMA, Blue Monochrome, 1961, Yves Klein),2012

Color Shift group exhibition at Mixed Greens. Image courtesy of Mixed Greens.

SRT: To be honest, the nights went pretty quickly because the labor involved required so much of attention. The folks at Mixed Greens were very generous and provided me with all the materials I requested, showed me where the fridge was, and let me connect my phone to the gallery sound system so I could listen to some music. Because I was constructing this work with blue tape on sheets of drywall, all that was remained was making sure I kept my taped lines straight and tight. This was important for me because I wanted the viewer to have at least two experiences with the work. From a distance, I needed it to look like the uninterrupted blue of a Klein monochrome, while up close, where the individual lines of tape could be discerned, I wanted a depiction of the space that housed such a work. In the end, each piece required around fifteen hours of taping.

PK: Sherwin, your projects negotiate art and photo history. How did the requirements of site-specificty creation add to these two works?

SRT: I tried to think of this project as operating between different types of site-specificity, both material and immaterial. For a few years I’ve been interested in the ways we now come to encounter historical works of art and photography. Like many people who don’t live in a major art center, my most frequent encounters with works of art are with documentary images—especially online images—in forms like the installation-view photograph. Because of this show’s themes and the fact that the exhibition would be on view in New York, I wanted to make pieces that were also informed by an institutional space within the city, about a work of art I’ve never seen in person. In this case, I began by using tourist snapshots of Yves Klein’s Blue Monochrome (1961) at the Museum of Modern Art that I found on sites like Flickr. (The work, according to MoMA’s website, is not currently on view.) Lastly, since I was working with six-by-four-foot pieces of drywall (the dimensions of Klein’s piece) and blue painter’s tape that is often used during exhibition installations, it felt appropriate to construct the objects inside the gallery during the week of the install.

Above: Color Shift group exhibition at Mixed Greens. Below: Sherwin Rivera Tibayan, Installation View (MOMA, Blue Monochrome, 1961, Yves Klein), 2012. Images courtesy of Mixed Greens.

PK: Why tape? Can you describe your process in arriving at the two final Installation View pieces?

SRT: I’ve always associated blue painter’s tape with installation and exhibition preparation. In that sense, it was an easy fit. But more importantly, I loved how a roll of tape can encompass both digital and analog metaphors. Left alone, it showcases a kind of continuous and unbroken nature. But in order to use tape, to get that form to function, we have to cut it up into discrete units. The transformation that the tape undergoes seemed to fit rather well with my interest in the digital experience of actual works.

In the months leading up to the exhibition I began collecting photographs online depicting the site, at MoMA, where the piece was on display. I wanted to deal with the multiplicity of images and angles available to depict this one object and selected two that I felt best introduced this collection. Ultimately, I see this as a series of between seven and ten similarly sized tape constructions.

PK: This was a commission-based exhibition. Jordan, how did that change the process for you as a curator? Were you surprised by the outcome?

JT: It was risky given the time frame, but I chose people who I thought would rise to the challenge. It was still very difficult to have that little curatorial agency—a little terrifying, even. It was my first attempt at a lack of curatorial control and that was tough. I saw most of the works about forty-eight hours before to the opening, though some of the artists sent me JPEGs prior to the installation. That said, installing the show gave me great latitude in creating conversations between works and helping the overall flow.

As for your second question, I don’t know if I was necessarily surprised, as most artists were already considering these ideas in their studios. I don’t think it was a stretch for any of them—but I was very curious about what I would end up with. I guess I thought that the connections between these artists were perhaps not readily apparent, though they were certainly prevalent to me. I also wanted to focus on artists from a broader geographic spectrum.

SRT: I think a lot of people enjoyed the geographic breadth of the roster.

PK: Was this in response to other curators’ New York–centric approach?

JT: Yes. That said, I am not making any judgments of the geographic diversity of exhibitions in this city. I feel there is a lack of diverse representation in the majority of shows—but, to be fair, there are a disproportionately large number of artists in New York. I thought this would be an opportunity for showcasing work from other regions, too.

PK: I want to return for a moment to the element of surprise. For instance, I was surprised to see Kate Steciw, who is known for her digitally manipulated photographs, presenting works in oil. Do you think the artists viewed this as an opportunity to explore materials or themes outside the normal bounds of their practice?

JT: I found that all of the artists made work that was true to their aesthetics and concerns in some fashion. When I say I wasn’t surprised by any of the works, it’s because I didn’t have rigid expectations of how they would approach the exhibition. I expected them to do something great—and they did!

Paula Kupfer is the assistant editor for Aperture magazine.

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