Interview with Chief Curator from the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, John Cox. Cox was born in Nassau and later attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in the United States. He has a BFA in Illustration and an MAT in Art Education. Cox is an artist, an Associate Professor at the College of The Bahamas and the owner and director of Popopstudios- Center for the Visual Arts. Cox joined the NAGB team in January 2012.
What do you think the role of the curator is?
John: I think the role of the curator is to use a metaphor, it is like being a conductor of an orchestra, so it is about responsibility, leadership, delegation and creativity. It’s like being a Director, in the context of creating a film, in the sense that there are people doing filming, people doing editing and casting, so it’s about being on top of the entire dynamic structure of the exhibition.
I think that is what the act of curating is about. It is the sensitive handling of the creative process that didn’t begin with you, but ends with you.
A: Have you curated anywhere else?
J: My first experience doing curatorial work was at RISD, I didn’t think of it as curating though. RISD was my first experience doing it, but I didn’t think, “I am curating an exhibition now”.
I must have been about 19 or 20 when I did that, but I felt that it was a craft in and of itself, the ability to hang the shows and present the work, it was like the final follow through of any individual artist’s process.
A: What would you say makes a strong curator then?
J: I think that it is someone who is very fluent in the language and is able to translate, to basically be the interpreter. The curator needs to basically interpret the language of the art that they are responsible for. The resource of your gallery should also be taken into consideration, the physicality of the space, what kind of equipment you have that can support the work and so on.
What you really want to do is elevate the work, you don’t want to take it down a few steps, and you want to take it up. I think that is the goal of it, to bring a sense of clarity to the art.
A: Is that how you would define a ‘good’ show versus a ‘bad’ show, as in something that wasn’t translated in a digestible way?
J: It needs to be as digestible as it should be. The idea should not be to ‘dumb’ it down. You need to clear the path from the work to the viewer, that’s your responsibility. That’s what a gallery is really, its an artery, a conduit from the art to the audience, and all its staff should be focused on enhancing that experience. So what we try to do is to make the work as engaging, informative and provocative as we can based on how we install it, the colour of the walls, wall text, education, programs, labels and so on.
A: You mention something about consciousness; do you think that it helps the curating process? Each individual is different and you tend to have more of an organic style, does having or not having consciousness help?
J: In terms of me being more organic, I think it is based on my experiences of finding myself having to make curatorial efforts now with paste experiences of previously being responsible for education. I find that the source of my knowledge in curating is experience.
I’ve had different ways attaining experience and I think that my knowledge is based on the fact that I know what it is like to make art. I have a pretty good understanding of a broad range of processes even though I don’t actually do them. I think that is what people want to know, they want to understand the processes, what would have motivated someone to do this or choose to tell their story in that way.
I think really, what it is, is that curating is telling stories with art.
A: So it seems that being an artist has really helped you do this.
J: Yeah, I think so. I think that artists have become very fluent at figuring out what languages they need to speak.
How you establish yourself is as a curator, is by being consistent for a long period of time. I think many people are thrown off, that if they’re not popular they think that they need to change their philosophy so that they’ll be more popular. What you need to do is be responsible in the beginning, set up your own ideology and stick with it for the long term because if you are very clear and thoughtful in your statements and what you’re doing, people will start to gravitate towards you. I believe that people respect and understand consistency more than anything else.
A: Yeah, you need to be able to trust the institution.
J: Yeah, I think trust is huge. If you don’t gain the trust of the art community or the artists that you are dealing with it is very, very difficult.
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