Interview with curator Marion Guiraud

NY, January 2016

Marion is a curator from Paris based in Brooklyn, and currently doing research in South America. She graduated with a double-bachelor degree in Art History and Law from Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, and moved to NY in 2012 where she completed a masters in Visual Arts Administration from New York University. Over the past few years, Marion worked at The Andrew Edlin Gallery, and collaborated as The Associate Curator of Programs at The Hollows Art Space, amongst others.

MG: Marion Guiraud / AM: NY Art Maps

AM: How would you define your practice?

MG: The curator is a mediator between the artists and the public, articulating ideas and concepts that are not immediately available to the public, or that are newly activated by the interpretation, grouping, and the display of artworks. This can be accomplished through multiple forms. Therefore, my practice varies depending on the scale and type of projects. For example, last year I mostly focused on curating performances and site-specific installations as part of my collaboration with The Hollows Art Space as the Associate Curator of Programs. In doing so my role as a curator was closer to the one of a producer and collaborator. Rather than selecting artworks, I worked closely with the artists to producing works and activating forms and narratives according to the context in which the works were presented. For me, this flexibility within the practice is fascinating. The key is always to balance curatorial inputs with the respect for the artists' intention.

AM: How was your work as a freelance curator in NYC? - Did you have another job in gallery or institution?

MG: I have always combined curatorial practice with other day jobs. Two years ago I was managing The Mimi Ferzt Gallery, located in Soho while working on independent curatorial projects. Last year I was the Gallery Manager at The Andrew Edlin Gallery located on Bowery, right across from the New Museum, while also working as the Associate Curator of Programs at The Hollows Art Space, as well as on independent projects. It is really difficult to make a living as an independent curator, so having another job is quite necessary. I always think that both occupations enrich each other. When you curate a show independently you always have to do managerial and administrative works, while when managing a gallery it is always an advantage to use your critical/curatorial thinking.

AM: What was your job at the Hollows Art Space ? was it different from your practice as an independent curator ?

MG: As the Associate Curator of Programs I was collaborating with Director and Curator Piril Gunduz to develop an agenda of recurring events. I mostly worked on two programs: the NightTime at The Hollows and a series of curated screenings. The NightTime is a monthly series of performances and one-night events. The Hollows’ most important singularity is that it is not a white cube but a townhouse, with stairs, rooms, windows, doors, and moldings. With this in mind, we always used the space as a constitutive part of each event, which informed both the content and shape of the performances. The house also evokes questions of privacy and intimacy, which is quite unique in the context of an art space. These ideas and concepts are inherent to the space, and have been key in developing projects there. In that sense, working with an institution implies to modulate the curatorship to the institution’s singularities, spirit and mission.

AM: What was your first job as a curator?

MG: I curated my first show independently in 2014. I was working at Pioneer Works at the time where I met Eric Fallen, the owner of Peninsula Art Space. He told me that he had recently opened a gallery right around the corner and asked me if I wanted to curate a show. I was actually thinking of an exhibition, and thus worked further on the project. One of the artists in the proposal, Leah Raintree, ended up co-curating the show with me. It was a great experience. The show was titled “Matter To Scale” and featured works by Guy Nelson, Leah Raintree, Brian Rattiner, Christine Howard Sandoval and Laura Tack. The show explored time, scale, and environment though the direct use of natural materials and included a wide-range of medium such as video, painting, camera-less photography, and sculptural works.

Installation view of Matter To Scale, Peninsula Art Space, June 2014

Installation view of Matter To Scale, Peninsula Art Space, June 2014

AM: Can you tell us about some of the projects you did in NY ?

MG: At The Hollows I initiated a monthly video art screening series, which I found particularly interesting to work on. The first screening that I curated was titled “Ego Sum Communicatio” after an article by Paul Chan titled “The Unthinkable Community,” published by e-flux. The screening presented videos that explore the relationships between digital forms of communication and narrative. I selected works by three New York-based artists: Ryan Brennan, Gautam Kansara, and Sophia Le Fraga, which reflected on the nature and methods of digital modes of narration. In his video, Ryan Brennan used YouTube videos to explore the clumsiness of our voyeuristic and exhibitionist online experiences,  while Gautam Kansara’s addressed the malleability of memory as digital devices facilitate processes of saving, updating, and transforming. In “TH3 B4LD 50PR4N0; or, English Made Easy,” Sophia Le Fraga recomposed Ionesco's 1950 play, The Bald Soprano, in the format of a recorded Gchat. The piece underscored a new semiotic relationship between images, language, and symbols, which emerged from digital communication. The grouping of these videos created an interesting dialogue reflecting on the drastic transformation of the way we communicate, receive, and process information. While writing the press-release I was thinking a lot about how these new techniques and forms of narrative have become a constitutive part of our cultural identity, but also created a tremendous generational gap. For example, the generation of our grand-parents would be unable to understand, but even more to read Le Fraga’s scripted video. I believe this is an interesting point to think about and to reflect upon. We have created a new form of linguistic. Maybe digital communication will become, in a near future, the contemporary version of the Tower of Babel: a world in which everyone would share one language.

The screening that followed was the presentation of three videos by Israeli artist Ruth Patir. For this screening I selected works that reflected on her singular filmic process through which she interweaves multiple plans of fictional and real narratives, playing with the documentary genre.

Then, my experience with the NightTime at The Hollows series was also fascinating. We launched the series in November 2015 with dancer Charlotte Colmant who choreographed a 3-person performance that drew inspiration from somnambulism states.  The performance unfolded throughout The Hollows’ two floors, and occupied the space of the spectators, who had to physically moved in symbiosis with the dancers. The entire performance was built around the two ideas constitutive of the NightTime series: the night and the house and explored binary concepts such as public and performer, intimacy and viewership, privacy and exposure.

Last May, we invited French artist Clara Claus to perform one of her graphic score pieces, for which musicians interpreted filmed-versions of her drawings and 3-dimensional works. The curatorial process for this show was really interesting: the piece was composed of five music performances, and rather than presenting each act into a singular, static space - as it would have been in another art space - Piril Gündüz, the artist, and myself sequentially choreographed the musical performances throughout the house. The event took place on two floors of the Hollows, occupying four different rooms. Again, the public was invited to follow a path throughout the house, which was activated by a play of light and sound, making their movement an essential activator of the performance itself.

Installation view of Nothing Will Be Lost, Peninsula Art Space, December 2014

Installation view of Nothing Will Be Lost, Peninsula Art Space, December 2014

AM: How would you describe the NY art scene?  What is it you like the most?

MG: New York’s art scene is quite unique in its dynamism, diversity, and abundance. I don’t think a place like this exists anywhere else in the World. New York has such a concentration of art spaces, commercial and non-profit galleries, museums, institutions, residency programs,  cultural centers, artists and art professionals…etc., which makes it unique, highly inspiring, and sometimes quite overwhelming. You can find cultural activities about almost everything and anything there.

New York has also a particularly structured art scene, revolving around a few neighborhoods which have their own history and identity. The Upper East Side, which was the main art neighborhood in the 50’s  where abstract expressionists publicly flourished, is now the house of  seminal museums and well-established galleries with a focus on modern art. Chelsea houses an unquantifiable number of galleries - all designed under the same uniform model, which represent the most well established internationally recognized artists. Then you have, Soho which is withering as an artistic center but which was the epicenter of the art scene in the 70s. The Lower East Side is, in my opinion, the most interesting art neighborhood. It houses a determinant concentration of “human-sized” galleries representing emerging to mid-career artists and a few independent and artists-run spaces. Multiple Chelsea galleries are moving out there, which is significantly shifting the youngish vibes of the neighborhood, giving it a more commercial taste.  New York’s upcoming art scene is concentrated in Brooklyn, mainly in Bushwick. A few years ago Bushwick was nothing more than “Williamsburg’s Industrial District,” but is now the house of hundreds of artists studios, with a growing numbers of galleries and art spaces freshly opening there.

There are also in New York wonderful opportunities for art professionals to be inspired and stimulated. You can sit at a coffee shop and in a few seconds meet various art professionals and interesting people, with which you can end up doing a project.  The endless options one you could find to grow, artistically and professionally, makes NY quite a unique place as well. Besides universities and museums which offer art programs, there are multiples institutions and art spaces, which give classes, symposium, and talks about quite everything and for everyone.

If I had to say one thing about New York’s art scene: it’s busy!

AM: What is it you like the least about NY art scene?

MG: As previously explained, New York’s art scene is divided into various neighborhoods, each one having their own identity. As such, there is a sort of homogeneity in the diversity that New York’s art scene holds. There is a lack of surprises.

Also, over the past few years, things have started to change with Chelsea’s galleries moving to The Lower East side and Bushwick, The Lower East Side’s moving to Brooklyn, and Brooklyn’s moving to The Lower East Side. These movements are the reflect of drastic real estate investments, which have been shaping the city for decades, endlessly displacing artists and creative industries. Today, New York is facing a radical gentrification of its neighborhoods such as Brooklyn, Queens, and Harlem, which has a serious impact on the creative world with rents increasingly raising and artists studios turned into condos, reducing the space for creation and experimentation. As real estate investments transform the city at a light speed, the question of New York art scene’s potential to survive over the next few decades is still pending.

AM: Which is your favorite NY museum, institution and/or gallery and why?

MG: I am particularly fond of the Drawing Center. Located in Soho, the institution takes drawing as a starting point to explore the medium’s connection with other disciplines. This cross-disciplinary approach pushes forward the definition and implication of drawing as a media, craft, and tool, encompassing various fields such as poetry, music, painting, technology, and architecture. I really like how they go beyond the primary definition of drawing and play with malleable concepts.

The New Museum is also a fantastic institution that alternates between solo and group exhibitions presenting emerging, mid-career, lesser-known or under-represented international contemporary artists. Their last summer group show titled “The Keeper” was outstanding and offered an incredible perspective on the act of preserving objects and images, which oscillates between artistic endeavor, life-long obsession, and scientific taxonomy. In our digital age, where everything became replaceable and disposable, it is good to be re-considering the multifaceted significances that the act of collecting entails.

Two performing arts events are also of great significance for New York’s art scene: the annual month-long Crossing the Lines Festival organized by the French Institute, Alliance Française and the Performa’s Biennial organized under the helm of RoseLee Goldberg.Though distinct by their missions and curatorial sensibilities, both events offer an incredible glimpse into the international performing arts scene.

AM: Do you have a role model curator, or someone you admire in the ways of approaching work and life as a curator?

MG: I don’t really believe in the concept of “model” in creative practices. Inspiration comes from diverse sources, as much from other curators, as from artists, and other fields such as music, literature, and dance.

AM: What is your favorite young upcoming art space- institution or project?

MG: Pioneer Works holds a privileged place for me. I was involved with the institution at the very beginning of their adventure in 2013 and saw them increasingly expanding over the years. They offer a multidisciplinary platform to support and foster creativity in all fields and disciplines such as visual arts, music, science, technology, education, and performing arts. Through residencies, programing, classes, and exhibitions, they truly abolish all boundaries between categories, and I believe that is at the core of contemporary art, but also of our contemporary world.

This multi-disciplinary approach is also at the core of The Hollows Art Space’s curatorial venture, headed by Piril Gunduz. I believe that this open-minded type of curatorial thinking is what encourages creative endeavors and experimentation.

The seasonal open-studios are also unique to New York’s upcoming art scene. As I explained earlier, New York’s young art-scene is mostly located in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, each one organizing its annual weekend of Open-Studios. They usually include a wide-range of events and special exhibitions. Located in Bushwick, Greenpoint, and Gowanus, these weekend-long art events offer both visibility to artists that aren’t represented by galleries, as well as a glimpse into artists’ processes.

AM: You told us you traveled to Latin America to do some curatorial residencies in Argentina and Brazil. Can you tell us about those projects? what motivated you to do this ?

MG: I grew up in Paris where I received a very academic formation in Art History and moved straight to New York after graduation.  After four years working there, I needed to enlarge my horizons and go beyond the Eurocentric vision that draws a straight art historical line between Paris and New York,  which also predominated my art education. I’ve always had an interest in Latin America Art, so I decided to see what was happening out there.  I applied to La Ira de Dios’ residency program in Buenos Aires, where I spent one month as their first curator-in-residence. 

La Ira de Dios is an independent project wonderfully directed by Pablo Caligaris and Carolina Magnin. They hold three residency sessions per year as well as exhibitions, classes, and programs year-long. The November session was curated by Brazilian curator Juliana Gontijo who proposed to reflect on the theme of “Future Narratives,” which became the framework for readings and weekly discussion meetings.  My goal for the residency was to deeply apprehend, understand, and integrate Buenos Aires’s art scene from the institutions, to the independent spaces, passing by emerging and established galleries, and of course to visit artists’ studios - which I did. I also conducted research on the contemporary responses to the dictatorship era. I was really interested in how the recent past is approached by contemporary culture and represents a fundamental part in a process of construction of a national identity.

For the final exhibition, I presented a video with a publication, which constituted a reflection on the interwoven and complex imbrication of art and politics, memory and education, institution and national identity, across time and borders. The starting point for the video was the election of Trump on November 9th. This day, we visited The Centro Cultural Haroldo Conti, a former detention center where prisoners were detained and executed during Argentina’s Military Dictatorship. The camp was re-inaugurated in 2008 as a cultural center devoted to the advocacy, promotion, and fostering of culture and Human Rights. This convergence of events spurred multiple symbolic associations, and led me to reflect on how the coalescence of past and present events could help thinking about the future. The video is a collage of recorded computer screens, which include pictures, videos and internet research. I choreographed a dialogue between different realities, which I overlapped in order to generate symbolic and semiotic relationships rather than literal. It goes from the presentation of Juan Carlos Romero’s virulent “Violencia” shown at The Buenos Aires’ Museum of Fine Arts, which is then overlaid by Trump’s election speech, to pictures of works interrogating Argentina’s current politic, to the presentation of a French philosophy magazine featuring Hannah Arendt’s revolutionary research on authoritarian regimes…etc.  I won’t describe the entire video but here you get an idea. This video really constitutes a personal reflection taking Buenos Aires’ cultural and political scenes as a starting point but which is drawn from my personal history, research, and culture. For me, this video is a puzzle that invites the viewer to read through texts and images, using an analogical and critical thinking, to question multiples political and artistic realities, and the role of art in shaping our past, present and future.

Marion Guiraud,  Puzzle(d) , HD Video, 8:63” (still)

Marion Guiraud, Puzzle(d), HD Video, 8:63” (still)

Marion Guiraud,  Puzzle(d) , HD Video, 8:63” (still)

Marion Guiraud, Puzzle(d), HD Video, 8:63” (still)

AM: From your research and experience, what are the different curatorial approaches in Latin America vs NY?

MG: There is in Argentina as well as in Brazil an undeniable will to forge and reinforce a sense of national identity through the presentation of cultural productions, as well as a irrefutable determination to assert their respective integration into the international art scene. This dialectic is manifested through curatorial discourses, which constantly oscillate between international and local/national concerns.

The 32nd Bienal de São Paulo constitutes a prime example. Titled “Incerteza Viva,” or “Live Uncertainty,” the Biennial looked at the world’s political, economic, social and environmental instabilities and takes the resulting uncertainty in which we live as a ground for creativity. The curatorial approach that reflects on our world in crisis has been the foreground of multiples international exhibitions such as the 2015 Venice Biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor, “All The World’s Futures.” In that sense, the curatorial preoccupations of the Biennial follow an international trend, and assert Brazil’s integration into the international cultural discourse. In the meantime, the São Paulo Biennial greatly succeeded in showing Brazilian artists into an international context, as well as overtly addressing the question of indigenous identity, asserting its singularity as an unparalleled platform for reflecting on Latin America’s history and culture.

In Rio de Janeiro, The Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art, fabulously designed by Oscar Niemeyer, presented last September two exhibitions that well reflected on this dialectic as well. The first floor featured Turner Prize-nominated Isaac Julien’s Installation, Ten Thousand Waves (2010), which was previously shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, thus aligning the local museum with both seminal institutions. On the second floor was simultaneously presented an exhibition titled “Guanabara Bay: Hidden Waters and Life,” which gathered collaborative and experimental projects by artists, scientists and local communities, examining environmental issues caused by the pollution of the eponymous bay’s water, where the museum is located. Through this exhibition, the museum created the agency for uniting communities as well as representing social and local concerns.

Last September, The Museo de Arte Moderno de Rio de Janiero also presented an outstanding exhibition entitled “Linguagens do corpo carioca [a vertigem do Rio],” translated as ”The languages of cariocas’ body [The vertigo of Rio].” which took the body as a starting point to examine the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro’s social identities. Through photographs and videos showing political gatherings and contests, segregation and poverty, favelas communities, Samba as well as Bossa Nova fiestas, the exhibition beautifully highlighted the richness of Cariocas’  singular culture and demonstrates the role embraced by the institution to create a sense of cohesive identity.

A similar logic can be found in Argentina with exhibitions constantly bouncing back and forth between internationalism and national identity. 

For example, from October 29th to November 13th was held the Biennial of the Moving Images in Buenos Aires. The Center for Contemporary Art (MUNTREF)  housed two exhibitions: the first one, “The permanent imminence of the fatal,” showed works by twelve contemporary artists including Chip Lord, Orit Ben-Shitrit, Kamal Aljafari, Valérie Jouve, Luiz Roque, respectively from the U.S, Palestine, France, and Brazil - none of them from Argentina. Alongside this exhibition was presented “Memory Exercises,” which featured ten videos by Argentine artists who have been invited to create works that would propose “a new space of reflections” on the Military Dictatorship, forty years from the civic-military coup. This exhibition seemed to me sort of accidental, and manifested the will of the curatorial team to use the Biennial as a pretext to generate contemporary responses to argentine’s collective history. For me, it clearly showed how cultural institutions vigorously participate in processes of remembrance, education, and self-reflection that the country is currently activating.

This fall the mind-blowing Centro Cultural Kirchner, Buenos Aires, presented an exhibition titled “200 years. Present, Past and Future,” which celebrated the bicentennial of the independence of Argentina. The exhibition was divided into four thematic sections, including “Meetings,” “Landscapes of Our Land,” “Identity,” and “Innovations and Future.”  As part of the “Identity” section a site specific installation by Marcos Lopez titled “To be National” gathered images and objects referencing argentine’s culture such as the Ford Falcon cars, football games, indigenous people, as well as well-known politicians and artistic personalities. After visiting this exhibition I was wondering: would such thematic exist in New York or in France? Could there be an exhibition titled “To be French”? “To be American?” In the current context of political upheavals, which drastically divides Europeans and Americans alike, this problematic would appear conservationist and nationalistic rather than integrationist and forward-looking. I realized that such a title would -sadly- be impossible for a contemporary art exhibition in France or in The United States. In this kind of situation you really got to think about what is nationally relevant at a certain time and place, what kind of processes a nation is in, and what are the roles of cultural institutions in the activation of these processes.

From the examples cited and multiple other visits, I could irrefutably feel the urge of institutions to use art as an agent to create a collective identity, leading both Argentines and Brazilians to think about their respective past, present, and future as cohesive nations.

As opposed to these cultural approaches which take a look inwards, there are in the U.S increasing attempts to look outwards.

There is in New York an unquestionable curatorial will to engage with a global point of view, integrating previously marginalized nations in exhibitions and -slowly but surely - abandoning the Eurocentric canon of art history. Examples are ubiquitous and I would not make an exhaustive list here but I can cite a few relevant exhibitions such as: Jens Hoffman’s 2014 “Other Primary Structures,” staged at the Jewish Museum, which revisited the 1966 historic show “Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors” including artists working in the 1960s in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa -  as to redeem these artists of the place they would have deserved in the original show. The Jewish Museum also held an interesting series, titled “Sights and Sounds ” which presented since 2011 exhibitions showcasing artists from around the world, each iteration was dedicated to a specific country and curated by a local curator. The countries represented included: Cambodia, Brazil, Romania, Peru, Canada, Angola, China, Israel, Vietnam, Hungary, Nigeria. Last year, The Museum of Modern Art also staged an interesting show titled “Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980.” Drawn from the museum’s collection, the show traced a parallel between artists from Latin America and  Eastern Europe active in the 60s and 70s, revealing interests in the cultural productions and exchanges between two part of the worlds outside of the Central Europe-North American axis. Here we can also mention the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Initiative as well as its UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, which show the institution’s commitment to showing and collecting art from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa.

These divergent curatorial approaches naturally reflect on historical and cultural differences. Both Brazil and Argentina - in the midst of political turmoils -  are in a context of national reconstruction after disastrous military dictatorships, undertaking processes to integrate minorities - indigenous and/or africans -  into their collective history, while also affirming their determinant voice into the international art scene. By contrast, the Western art world - which epicenter is New York -  is irremediably trying to overcome the institutionalization of a history of art, which for well too long merely looked at other things than itself.

AM: What are your projects for the future?

MG: I am going to pursue cultural/curatorial research abroad for a little while.

To know more about Marion and her amazing projects check out her website:

You can also follow her on:  instagram- @marionguiraud or facebook !