Hoptman: At work on the 2004 Carnegie
is a transcendent thing, but something we encounter every day."
most interested in art …that we can use in our life."
Carnegie International is the oldest invitational survey of contemporary
art in North America, and the 54th exhibition in the series is scheduled to
open in October 2004. Preparation
for this great exhibition takes about three years, and despite the fact
that Curator of Contemporary Art Laura J. Hoptman has not yet become a
familiar name to Pittsburghers, she has been traveling on behalf of
Carnegie Museum of Art since November 2001.
talks about her role as emissary for the museum, and as curator for the
2004 International, with Robert J. Gangewere, the editor of CARNEGIE
Robert Gangewere: Your
responsibility seems to be like that of an all-seeing eye--you have to know
what the international art world knows, and what people in some parts of
the world have not yet seen.
Hoptman: It's impossible for me to see everything. Andrew Carnegie's idea in 1896 was that
you could see everything in the known art world, and then bring back the
best to Pittsburgh. I think you
can’t say that now.
strategy is to know a lot about some things; some things I think might be
useful for people in Pittsburgh to have a look at. "Useful" means a lot of
things. It is something that will
make people happy, interest them, provoke them, something that will relate
to their world, my world, our world….
most interested in art that we can relate to, that we can use in our life.
Do you have an example of art
that you found useful?
Sure. There's a piece at the Panopticon show
now that is up at eye level, a small still life by Chardin, an 18th-century
artist. He does still lifes, mostly
small. In history he has been
thought of as a great painter of humanity, and at this time, in our country
it is a wonderful thing for me to be able to look at that still life, which
has a beaker of coffee, a few onions, and a glass of water, on the table.
Glass of Water and Coffeepot, Jeane-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, c. 1761
It is in a late afternoon glow. It speaks volumes to me about the values
that are important to me at this moment.
That is a perfect example.
Is the terrorism of 9/11 and the
current economic situation reflected in the art that you are seeing today?
values of the art are not just restricted to the memory of 9/11 and the
current economic situation. It's
what we live with every day. I think
that art is a transcendent thing, but it is something we encounter every
day. We can relate to it one on
one. Something that is wondrous, but
not necessarily meant to confound.
other important thing is that each curator brings to this task his or her
point of view. So that what you get
at the Carnegie International is not the best of the world, but rather the
best of the world according to curator X or Y. And that is what you are going to get
very important to underline that, because there are no
"inarguables" in art, particularly in contemporary art, where
history is still vague and hasn't yet confirmed our choices. I think if you look over the
Internationals of the past, certainly since 1950, you see that a lot of the
important artists who have made up the vocabulary we now use for
contemporary and modern art have done a turn here. That has been due to the perspicacity of
the directors of Carnegie Museum of
Art, who chose the people who did the Internationals. So certainly we hope to bring the very,
very best that we can to Pittsburgh.
Is the International addressed
to an elite world of contemporary art observers who have a sense of what
was new a few years ago, and what is new this year, internationally?
people are there certainly. We want
that kind of patronage because we are playing with the big boys, and we
have voice in the international art world.
But just as importantly, this is also an exhibition for
Pittsburgh. It really is. The vast majority of people who come to
this show are from the region. They
are not the art world denizens.
if the show is good--and we have had some wonderful shows in the past
decade--that is equally good for Pittsburghers, and people from this
region, as well as for denizens of the art world.
So you know the previous
course, and I know very well the 1999 International that Madeleine
Grynsztejn curated. I thought it was
excellent…from soup to nuts.
Beautifully presented, with artists of the first water. And the show was really fun in many
moments. The popularity of the steam
fountain that Olafur Eliassan did [Your Natural Denudation Inverted, 1991]
—is legion. And that is a good
example of something that really penetrated into the community, and became
beloved by the community. A great,
great work. One of the best that he
Bourgeoise's Cell II was in Richard Armstrong's International in 1995, and
now she is represented by those wonderful “eye” chairs in Katz Plaza in the
cultural district downtown.
What are your duties as the
curator of the next International?
emissary for Carnegie Museum of Art I have to do all kinds of things. I go to conferences, I give talks, I
attend meetings, I write catalogue essays for other people's
exhibitions—all under the auspices as my role as curator for the
How will the Hoptman approach
differ from the Armstrong and Grynsztejn approaches?
tell. It's a high bar. Richard and Madeleine, and Lynne Cook and
Mark Francis  set a very high standard. But it's got to be different. I'm also curating in a different
time--that's the beauty of these sequential exhibitions. They are never the
same because things change so quickly—and especially because we are now in
a very interesting moment.
Where did you study as an
undergraduate, and how did you evolve through the ranks as a curator?
born in Washington, DC, that great capitol of free museums, and my family
went to museums all the time. I knew
from the time I was very young that I wanted to work in a museum. I went to Williams College and studied
Art History, and then I immediately went to the Institute of Fine Arts at
NYU for my Ph.D. studies. I worked
at the Bronx Museum, in the South Bronx, during my studies—a great little
place. It specialized in emerging art, contemporary art, and it was good
for me, since very quickly I got a good vocabulary for the younger artists
living in the New York area. From
there I was hired at MoMA in the Department of Drawings and spent seven
years there. I worked on their
“Projects” Program, which is for the junior curatorial staff to experiment
with young artists. I did many
projects with artists such as John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, Luc Tuymans,
Maurizio Cattelan, John Bock, and my last show was with Ricci Albenda. With my projects at MoMA I really made my
name in the field. The “Projects”
series is like our “Forum” series—a small single artist exhibition for an
emerging artist. It's a great way to
look at the work of younger artists in the museum context.
John Bock, Farmslave
in Massachusitz (small stage), 1999.
A recent acquisition that Curator Laura Hoptman brought into the collection
What does the profession of
curator, as you have practiced it, require of someone? To be happy? To be good?
talked to a group of graduate students in curatorial studies from Bard
College, last night, in fact, at MoMA.
I said, "Don't try this
at home." It's a great
profession, though. You get to look
at great art, and you get to hang out with great people. I think artists are great people. I married an artist. So I really love artists. But while it is totally great—it has its
drawbacks. It's a peripatetic
life. You travel a tremendous amount. I'm an old school person—I have an Art
History degree, not a Curatorial Studies degree. So I had to learn my craft, the craft of
hanging pictures by trial and error.
And I'm still learning.
sincerely believe that you have to know your art history. I went to the Institute of Fine Arts at
NYU, which is like the Courtauld Institute in London. I have my degree in
Modern Art, and my expertise starts in 1699. That is what is considered Modern. I'm very proud that I know my 18th
century French from my 19th century French.
I believe that our culture is a kind of fabric—and you have to know
what is in the cultural fabric.
can't just know what is happening now.
I can't just decide about what is interesting because "I like
it." Because I have a different
taste than you do. And I have to
justify why I think the work I have chosen might be important to you. It's not just because I say, "It's
The Advisory Committee for the 2004
prestigious committee are consultants and critics for the curator, selected
for their global knowledge of contemporary art, and their demonstrated
expertise at presenting and analyzing it.
Bonami, the Manilow Senior Curator at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art,
has served as curator for many notable exhibitions in Europe and the United
States. In April 2002 he was chosen
to organize the 2003 Venice Biennale.
Garrels, Chief Curator in the Department of Drawings at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York, brings to the International a deep knowledge of
curatorial practices, having organized several important exhibitions at the
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Matsui, a Tokyo-based art critic and scholar, has written extensively on
Japanese and Western art and culture, thus combining a strong regional
focus with an international outlook and reputation.
Medina, a critic and art historian with an estimable academic reputation,
teaches at the National University of Mexico and serves as a visiting
professor at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies.
Tiravanija is a Thai artist who was born in Buenos Aires, studied in Canada
and the United States, and now lives and works in both Berlin and New York,
where he teaches at Columbia University.
Armstrong, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art and
curator of the 1995 Carnegie International, serves as a de facto committee