Sussing out the artistic climate | Curators in residence

We speak to Netherland-based curators Suzanne Wallinga, Mare Van Koningsveld and Lennard Dost, who will be making their way to Malta as part of a Valletta 2018 initiative. Apart from participating in the newly announced Curatorial School, one of them will also be given the chance to oversee a collaborative artistic project between Malta and the Netherlands.

Lennard Dost
Lennard Dost
Mare Van Koningsveld
Mare Van Koningsveld
Suzanne Wallinga
Suzanne Wallinga

Suzanne Wallinga

One of the issues you’ll be focusing on in Malta is the environment. Why do you think this is an important issue to explore creatively, and especially in Malta?

Although I live in the city, I grew up in the countryside of the Netherlands, and was taught to have a great respect for nature. I also have a background in Industrial Design Engineering and am in great favour of a systemic approach to human problems, in which technical, environmental and social aspects are integrated.

Since Malta is an island, it is a sort of 'closed system', with a very dense population, and it was only natural for me to wonder how the actions of the people on the island have effected the environment. I read that the country needs better resource management, a more holistic approach to solving environment-related problems, a better understanding of how decisions affect the business community and better environmental education. Artists can help – to build genuine awareness.

You are also interested in issues related to art funding. How would you say this issue is currently unfolding in the European scene at large?

Recently, we have seen the rise of right-wing populist parties in many European countries. This shift, in combination with the consequences of the global financial crisis, has led to major cuts in the governmental budgets for the funding of the arts and culture. As a result, many European art institutions closed down, or needed to rethink their position.

One of the most significant changes that occurred in the art world is that we see a stronger focus on sponsorship and on private art collections – with exhibitions of private collections at museums and collectors working as curators. At the same time, there are debates regarding the post-colonial heritage and funding of some larger European museums.

Another important change is that we see more international and local collaborations – between curators, organisations, institutions, and a rise of artistic presentations that include other disciplines and forms of creative production.

Mare Van Koningsveld

What would you say are some of the key preoccupations of young artists in Europe?

There’s a lot going on in Europe at the moment: the (aftermath of) financial crisis has affected politics on a European and national level as well as many ordinary people’s lives. Naturally these events end up having an impact on the many artists whose works are based on contemporary life and culture.

But I also think that this is just one of the things that interests today’s artists. The art world has lost a lot of its boundaries; the (art) world is the artist’s oyster and everything is possible. Some artists are less interested in what’s happening outside and are more focused on materials and art itself, and its potential. The endless possibilities of art is something that is very exciting, especially for us curators. We can’t wait to see what’s happening in Malta!

How would you say the internet has changed the landscape of art criticism?

I don’t think the function of a critic has really changed: it’s still his or her job to seek out and interpret interesting art exhibitions, to put them in a context, as well as to qualify them. The environment of the internet offers extra possibilities that traditional platforms lack: the critic can add extras – like links to other web pages and short film material – and has the possibility to post updates as well.

An additional advantage for the critic who writes for a blog is that he or she is free regarding his or her choice of subject and his or her writing style and input. This element of unlimited possibilities can also be a disadvantage: everyone can be a critic and therefore the quality of reviews varies. Readers have access to a large number of articles from authors around the world; it’s up to them to be selective and to determine which authors are interesting to them and which ones are not.

Finally, the role of the reader has become a more active one – even more than this was the case with traditional media – because one can now respond to the review text as soon as it’s placed online and one is now able to send it to many other contacts by using social media and email.

Lennard Dost

As someone with a special research interest in comic books, how would you say that particular art form ‘re-frames’ our perception of mainstream art?

In general I think comics, or at least the independent (‘indie’) comics I read (though I read a lot of mainstream comics as well), are just as layered as good art. To me Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware are as important as, for instance, [contemporary mainstream artists] Jeremy Deller, Steve McQueen and Anri Sala.

The first exhibition I ever organised as curator was about comics, and was called ‘Reading the Drawing – Narrative in Contemporary Art and Comics’. It included art that was influenced by comics, and comics that could almost be qualified as art.

I think a lot of “underground” comics might be a bit more ironic and/or sarcastic than the contemporary art you normally see in galeries and museums. Art often takes itself very seriously. Comics tend to put things into perspective. I like this putting into perspective and I think art can learn from this tongue-in-cheek attitude of comic book artists. Comics offer a humane approach to our world. Sometimes I miss this approach in the art world.  

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