CJM Assistant Curator Pierre-François Galpin and CJM Curatorial Associate Sophie Schwabacher recently discussed the research, evolution, themes, and installation of the exhibition The Yud Video Project, on view Nov 25, 2016–Jun 25, 2017, which builds on the themes of the exhibition From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art, on view Nov 25, 2016–Apr 2, 2017.
You worked on the exhibitions From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art and The Yud Video Project at the same time. What was different about these projects and what was similar?
The process was different in that for From Generation to Generation, Lily Siegel and I looked for works that made sense together and that fit the concept of the show. Whereas for The Yud Video Project, we asked the artists to submit works. Our curatorial team, the two of us and Chief Curator Renny Pritikin, selected works from a larger pool than we knew would end up in the show. Maybe that is the very first distinction between the two. In terms of the theme or at least the conceptual idea, when we were looking to create an exhibition in the Yud Gallery, we were thinking about what memory means and how we can expand that theme in contemporary art, and the theme of video specifically portraying memory was very appealing to us.
How do you see The Yud Video Project fitting in with The CJM's mission?
One of the things that I really like about The Yud Video Project is that it is really good at engaging a community that might not necessarily be in a museum, and it is able to extend the theme of From Generation to Generation, which has very Jewish roots, to people all over the community, internationally and locally. There were so many artists that came to the opening and the press preview that were really, really excited just because their work had never been shown in a museum before. I really enjoy that we're constantly trying to make the Jewish experience relevant to a twenty-first century audience but also to an audience of artists, because museums are constantly critiqued for being a place where art dies. I really liked that we were able to bring in very young and obviously living artists who are making work today.
I also want to note that we received over 700 submissions—so many from all over the world, but also a lot from the Bay Area. In the end, our selection definitely has a strong Bay Area component and that's something that we also are very committed to—local artists in dialogue with international ones. When we first talked about doing the open call, it was something that The Museum had never done before. We've done invitationals; we've done shows where we select works—that's the most traditional way of curating a show. But this time, posting the open call on different websites specifically for filmmakers and video artists was something that was really exciting for me too as a way to, as you said, engage artists or show artists that would have maybe not shown here before.
I wonder about it for them—because we have such a diverse grouping and selection of works—how they feel about who they're on the same monitor with and who they're in the exhibition with in general. Because the works are very different.
What was unique about working with the Yud Gallery? How did the space influence your ideas and planning of the exhibition?
Well, I think that's something we can both talk about. It was very exciting because historically the Yud Gallery had been used for very long, several years-long, exhibitions. In the time I've been working at The Museum and you too, we had the Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman show for nearly two years, and the annex of Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition in the Yud. Initially, this gallery had been designed for media art and specifically sound works. I think that’s also why we chose video, to try something new.
When we came up with that idea—the floating screens—it appeared to be so challenging. We have to credit our preparatorial team in making that a reality. But that space is magical, as architecture, because the proportions look wrong and right at the same time. The lights and windows really go well with these floating screens.
I think there's a lot about the space that you're constantly trying to complement; it's so beautiful, so in some ways that can be incredibly easy or in other ways, you may be actually detracting from the beauty of the space without realizing it. When you walk in, you have these four TV screens and then you have 36 windows.
In the gallery, there actually are these floating windows into someone's life and then the "real" windows looking outside to San Francisco, to the sky and that kind of upward view.
That's true, and a great metaphor.
The Yud Video Project was the first exhibition where you had more curatorial input. Did you enjoy it?
It was really satisfying. It's just so incredibly different, being able to have an idea and help problem solve to make that idea work. Because so much of exhibition planning is really problem-solving and the problems are often ones that you created.
For me, part of the joy of working in a museum was always to just work with art—to be able to think about art on a consistent basis. That is satisfying in and of itself, but being able to have artwork and artists that you get deeply invested in and you really want them to be displayed in the best way possible for those pieces, is really exciting. Before this, I had a more challenging relationship with video art in museums because I really like it, but I find myself in a museum having a hard time paying attention and committing the time that video art requires. The more you learn about video, you realize how much time is integral to the work. Video art is a time-based medium, so time is really what it's working in.
It's been incredibly rewarding for me to cultivate more patience in myself and have patience for the artwork, and that's what I tell everybody when they're going into the exhibition—don't try to see all of them, just commit yourself to a few and really watch them and think about them. Because for me that would be really hard; I would have the temptation to kind of video hop, and they’re only five minutes long.
It's very doable.
You're right. It’s something that maybe unconsciously we were thinking about as a viewer experience; to have four TV screens with only six or seven short videos on them was a really good goal because of that certain impatience. Sometimes you want to quickly look at something, "get it," and move onto something else. I appreciate that this exhibition requires you to watch something for longer. But as you say, encouraging people to browse, not committing to watch the whole show. It's interesting because that also reflects our own curatorial process of selection on this show; we all had to commit to watch videos as well.
How do you think the audience interacts with the exhibition? In what ways is the show accessible to them?
Since the show opened a couple months ago, I've been in the From Generation to Generation gallery and the Yud Gallery, just looking at viewers and observing. Everybody that I saw watching the videos seemed really engaged and stopped in time. I actually think the floating screens are quite attractive-looking and really invite you to stand or sit, and to just watch videos.
Some people have told me that the problem sometimes with video art is: why can’t I just look at that work at home? I can look at it on the internet if I want to. I say, first of all, not all the works are available online. Also, I believe that there is a context that is specific to museums and exhibitions to be looking at video art. Because most of the videos we're showing are meant to be seen within a gallery space. There's something to be said about some of the videos—and I'm thinking of Guillaume Levy-Lambert’s video for instance—that would make sense to be seen across any kind of technology, because of the content of the work.
It’s almost a statement for me in our world where we can actually, yes, browse through videos all over screens on our phones. But I like that the gallery offers a time, like a space-time bubble almost, that you can enter, open the door and just do that for a few minutes or an hour or depending on how much time you have. Then I was thinking about the whole selection process that we had which was, speaking of time, also pretty time-consuming. It was also fun and very rewarding to be able to take the time and just be amazed. I was so amazed, and I think you and Renny were too, by the diversity of the works we have. It was just incredible to be receiving a video from Poland or from Israel, from different countries. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that process of watching the videos and selecting.
So many of the artworks were incredibly endearing and beautiful and sweet to me that it got to a point of liking so many that we weren't able to show and liking so many that didn't fit our criteria or maybe nobody else would like in the world.
Yes, obviously our job is very subjective because we had to select works that fit our criteria but also that would speak to our, in my own case at least, emotions a lot of times. Or emotions and also mind; some of the works we chose I voted for because they made me think about things that I maybe hadn't thought about before.
In the voting process, there was something kind of beautiful about the point where the three of us aligned. Most of the videos in the exhibition are ones that we all felt very strongly should be there. After watching so many videos I started feeling very subjective, so reaching a point where all of our opinions aligned was really very beautiful. It felt like an unexpected eclipse. Then to even take that one step further on some of them maybe just two of us voted yes but one of us voted no, there was a bargaining period of “Can I get you to see the eclipse? Like, can I get you to appreciate this work with me?”
The Yud Video Project is on view through Jun 25, 2017.
Pierre-François Galpin is Assistant Curator at The Contemporary Jewish Museum. His interests overlap between photography, new media, and performance art with a focus on conceptual art and storytelling practices. Prior to The CJM, he has worked at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Independent Curators International, New York; and CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, among other places. His writing has been published in such media as The Exhibitionist, Art Practical, and for RITE Editions. His recent exhibitions include In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art—Kota Ezawa and James Kirby Rogers; From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art (co-curated with Lily Siegel); and The Yud Video Project (with Chief Curator Renny Pritikin and Curatorial Associate Sophie Schwabacher).
Sophie Schwabacher is the Curatorial Associate at The Contemporary Jewish Museum and holds a degree in Art History/Arts Management from the University of San Francisco. Before coming to The CJM, Sophie interned at Fraenkel Gallery and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among other organizations. In her free time, Sophie dabbles in broadcast radio, fine art framing, and jewelry making.
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