Q&A with Susan Brundage on the Early Days of Curating at SVA

December 10, 2013

On view at the SVA Chelsea Gallery through December 19, “Primary Sources: Documenting SVA and the New York Art World, 1966 – 1985” revisits early exhibitions by some of the most important American artists of their generation through a selection of posters, press materials, photographs and other rarely seen documents in the SVA Archives, along with original art. Among the curators during those years was Susan Brundage, who organized solo outings with Ken Price and Frank Stella and a group exhibition, “The Intimate Gesture,” among others. Throughout, she was a quiet but persuasive champion for creative freedom. Currently director of the Appraisal Department at the Art Dealers Association of America, Brundage was director of the Leo Castelli Gallery for 25 years, has lectured on contemporary art and edited books on Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman and James Rosenquist. SVA Close Up caught up with her by phone recently.

TheIntimateGesture425How did you approach your first exhibition at SVA, “Frank Stella: The Series Within a Series” (1978)?
I was thinking about what would be interesting to students. Now students are surrounded by galleries, so there are many opportunities to see contemporary work. Back then, there was no “Chelsea,” and SoHo wasn’t established yet. Frank’s series of relief paintings, Targowicka, shown alongside the drawings and models for the full-scale works, was sort of perfect as an illustration of the evolution of a work of art.

In “The Intimate Gesture” (1979), you brought together a really eclectic mix—there was a sculpture by Charles Luce about a fictional traveler [on view in “Primary Sources”], photographs by Eleanor Antin and Lucas Samaras, in performance, and sculptures by H.C. Westermann and W.T. Wiley.
The wonderful thing about working with SVA was there was no restriction. You didn’t hand in a list of artists and art to be approved. “The Intimate Gesture” gave me an excuse to get to all these shows I wouldn’t have otherwise.

You wrote in the press release that art was dominated by formal intellectual issues then—art meant “engaging the mind of the viewer more directly than his emotions.” How did the show go over?
I don’t know how it registered with students, but these artists weren’t as well known as others I showed. It was work students wouldn’t normally see, with very distinctive styles. At the time, it seemed the antithesis to the minimalists.

In the press release about “Kenneth Price: Architectural Cups” (1980), you wrote about how he walked the line between fine art and craft, and acknowledged the influence of Indian, Mexican and Asian folk traditions. Here he is, 33 years later, with a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art!
Back then there was a resistance—almost the same as with photography—that ceramics and the applied arts were the stepchildren of the fine arts. You also had resistance from New Yorkers to West Coast artists. But Ken was interested in form and color. Every side of each cup is different, and they have the energy and visual interest of much larger works.

Photo: “The Intimate Gesture,” installation view, 1979, photographer unknown.

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