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For three years, Curator Laura Hoptman has been traveling the globe in search of the “brightest lights” in contemporary art. After much searching and deliberation, along
with the input of a committee of contemporary art experts, 38 artists were chosen to participate in the 2004-5 Carnegie International. CARNEGIE magazine caught up with Hoptman during a break in the exhibition’s installation to gain additional insight into the show.
































Inside the International:

An Interview with Curator Laura Hoptman 

CM: In previous interviews, you’ve said that much of the art in this show deals with the “Ultimates”—the big questions about the meaning of life. How does this year’s International differ from previous Internationals in this regard?
All great art deals with varying issues that touch our lives, large and small. That’s one of the definitions of what makes a work of art a wonderful and important thing. That said, each Carnegie International is different. 1999 was different from 1995…which was different from 1991…and you can go all the way back to 1896. They differ because they emphasize different schools of art. The Internationals from 1896 through the Second World War concentrated mostly on figurative painting. By 1950, abstraction had taken over. This International, compared to the last International, doesn’t have such a clean break. The work in this exhibition is more involved with issues that are philosophical and metaphoric as opposed to concrete. The theme of the last International had to do with the notion of the “real.” This one really has to do with the notion of the metaphysical.

CM: Were the works in this exhibition selected specifically because of how they relate to the concept of the “Ultimates”—or is this more a reflection of the kinds of work you were encountering, especially since the events of 9/11?
The notion of the Ultimates is an organizing principal of the show, but it’s not that all the works have to do with the notion of “God” or the meaning of life. I think the world has changed, and 9/11 is part of it. We’re also a country at war, and we went through a pretty rough recession recently, at least in some parts of the country. I think that the boom years created a sort of effervescence. I can’t speak for everybody, but the temperament of the country has changed, and I think some of the work in this International represents that change.

CM: Haven’t artists historically dealt with these same issues and questions? Why is this show different?
Every Carnegie International is different, but it would be foolish to think that it is completely different than every exhibition we have seen in the past decade. There are artists here in their 70s who could very well have been in the 1970 International. Lee Bontecou was in the 1960 and 1964 Internationals and the 1970 International. As the tenor of the times has changed, thus, the tenor of the exhibition has changed.

CM: What is the significance of the three monographs (Lee Bontecou, Robert Crumb, and Mangelos) within the International?
The monographic shows give us a chance to look at the entire careers of very influential artists. They all might be well-known and influential, but they’re not as well-known as they should be. It’s a chance to look at their entire oeuvre instead of just their latest work.

CM: Now that the show has come together, have any of the works exceeded your expectations?
All of the works have exceeded my expectations. I was continually surprised
at the work that was produced. And the galleries are so beautiful—particularly for painting—that it’s been great to be able to hang artwork in them.

CM: What was it like to put this show together over the past three years? How does the scope of the International compare to other exhibitions you’ve curated?
It’s the largest exhibition that I’ve ever curated and it’s the most varied in terms of mediums. I began my career in the early 1980s as a video person, and for six years I worked in drawing. But it’s been a very long time since I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many different mediums, including painting, sculpture, drawing, and even ceramics.

CM: Has it been difficult to work with artists from so many different countries and cultures?
No. Most of these artists are real pros and they’ve done it before. A lot of artists today—even painters—prefer to be very involved in the installation of their works. They come and help hang their own pictures or place their own sculptures. In many cases, artists have made at least one visit to Pittsburgh to scout out the space. Then, of course, we correspond by email, and that’s been a wonderful thing for us.

CM: What has been the greatest challenge in assembling this International?
The greatest challenge was to reconcile the needs of the museum with the vision of the artist. That’s what the curator does. We’re go-betweens, and we try to realize the artist’s vision but we also need to create a user-friendly, safe, affordable exhibition.

CM: What has been the greatest reward?
Being able to work with the artists, plus working with the team here at the Museum of Art. There are people on the crew who have been through 9 or 10 Carnegie Internationals. They’re unflappable and professional, and lovely to work with. It’s been great.

CM: How does this year’s International carry on the tradition begun by Andrew Carnegie with the first International?
Carnegie wanted the International to be a repository for the “old masters of tomorrow.” We’ve done our best to choose the most promising lights in contemporary visual culture today.

CM: Does the museum usually purchase works from the Carnegie International?
Yes, typically we do. Over the past three years we purchased a number of works of the artists in this International. Now that the exhibition is up, we might take a look and see what else we need to purchase.

CM: Why is the International important to Pittsburgh?
The tradition of the exhibition is enormously important to Pittsburgh. It’s one of the things people know Pittsburgh for. Pittsburgh’s famous for the steel industry, for the PPG building, for the three rivers, and Pittsburgh’s famous for the Carnegie International. It’s one of the main draws for this region, and it has been since the 19th century.

CM: Who do you expect to attend and appreciate the show?
I hope the entire region will attend. We had a huge attendance at the 1999-2000 International. Eighty-five percent of the attendees—or more—were from this region. It’s friends and neighbors. It’s an exhibition for the world—and the world certainly comes to see it—but attendance is mostly from the region.

CM: What do you hope people will take away from their visit to the International?
I hope that they’re interested, surprised, intrigued, maybe provoked, and touched.

CM: A lot of contemporary art is difficult to understand for the average person. Why do you think it is worthwhile for these people to come to the International to explore these works?
I really don’t believe that contemporary art needs to be made more comprehensible to people. I think that people are smart enough and interested enough and engaged enough to be able to understand contemporary art. This exhibition won’t talk down to non-art aficionados. Not every single work can be explained, but in general, you should be able to get something out of it no matter who you are. If the exhibition is inexplicable, then it is unsuccessful.

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