Sunday, October 10, 2010

"5 ALive Emerging Curators" - Hrag Vartanian

Last but far from least, I have the great pleasure of wrapping up the “5 ALive” Emerging Curators edition with a not so New Kid on the Block, although relatively new to the curating world, Hrag Vartanian.  

I became familiar with Hrag and his uber hot, beta blocking, meta successful, art blog as a result of participating in the #class exhibition at Winkleman gallery last spring and also Hyperallegeric’s zany, humorous, and fun review of every single art piece in Brucennial 2010, in which Hyperallergic writer Brent Burket painstakingly acknowledged/reviewed each one of the hundereds of Brucennial participating artists, myself being one of them (see 184 and 202.)

Now I am starting to get bit more passionate and emotional (hankie please) because this is how the blogosphere has changed artists lives and given us all more of an opportunity to achieve our potential and reaching for our dreams.  Lest I digress Hrag, my lil rant here is due, in part, to your efforts in helping artists to connect with each other and to expand their communities through social media and beyond.

Additionally, the artblog-o-sphere has taken alot of heat from more “established” media outlets and art world intelligentsia as being dumbed down, trite, and a “rookies night out” sort of thing.  My blog may very well be/have been grouped in this arena by some.  However, as you may see/read by the quality of content and participants posted  recently, this lil blog has become the “lil train that could.”  

Three cheers for  “populist” social media art blogging.

Ok, back to business.  After reading through Hrag’s answers to my Q/A, (which I appropriated and re-worked from Bravo’s Work of Art casting call application) it dawned on me once again how there are no short cuts to success.  Hrag’s professional development and growth within the New York City art world has come through an organic progression of being curious about art, writing for various publications, establishing a world wide web presence, and now, as a curator.'s very own Hrag Vartanian

Hrag's answers also reveal the limitations of this somewhat oversimplified, straightforward query, which I utilized as a result of everyone’s “hyper” active and busy work schedules.  I now have many, many, more questions for “Five ALive Emerging Curators” Alison Beth Levy, Annelliis Beadnell, Olympia Lambert, Michael Connor, and Hrag Vartanian, which I follow up on in the future.  I also strongly suggest that readers leave comments/questions to these posts in order to further the discussions taking place.

Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Hrag  Vartanian.

AL:  Could you briefly describe your career progress and current status, as well as a personal point or two that you think relevant/fun/interesting?
HV:  I’m new to the curating game, the first show I curated solo opened in August, but I have been an art critic for over a decade, blogger for four years, and a writer all my life … with varying degrees of success. I guess I’m too hard on myself to talk about something called “career progress” since I’m impatient but I do love what I do.
Hrag being interviewed by Loren Munk @ Storefront Gallery, Bushwick, Brooklyn.

AL:  If you had to brag about the four biggest accomplishments in your career, what would they be?
HV:  Yikes. I don’t know if I’d brag about these but I do consider these accomplishments and while some of them may not seem directly related to my career they are.

I moved to Beirut in 1997. I had never been there with the exception of landing there on my way to Aleppo, Syria in 1985 and witnessing the plane surrounded by soldiers who were protecting it from a potential hijacking … or so I was told. I remember seeing bombs blowing up in the horizon. I guess it must have left an impression on me because I moved there 12 years later and loved it, though I’m really happy I’m in New York. Beirut is a great place, but more a return than a one-way trip, if you know what I mean. I stayed for a year. It taught me to be fearless.

I was really proud to be the last person to interview the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink a few months before Turkish nationalists assassinated him. It was like speaking to an idol that I had long admired from afar. I think in some ways it was the worst interview of my life because I was so nervous but I did it. When he was killed in January 2006 I was numb. The anger I had at that was part of the reason I started to blog. It taught me that one person can make a difference.

I have been lucky to have amazing mentors in my life, mostly much older women and men. Starting with my mother, and including curators, philanthropists, even a retired postal worker who recently passed away, all of whom taught me so much, particularly that diversity in crucial to life.

And finally … starting Hyperallergic with my husband, Veken. It has been amazing and it has taught me the power of dreams.

AL:  Please list what you consider to be your career credits, including any training, etc.
HV:  I have a graduate degree in art history from the University of Toronto, which I’m discovering is a major asset for curating. It’s important to know the past. There’s not much else I want to mention.

AL:  Do you make your living through your curating?

AL:  Do you have another job to supplement your income?
HV:  Yes.  I’m the director of communication at an amazing Armenian nonprofit organization and I edit and run Hyperallergic and do other freelance things here and there.

AL:  Does your family support your career choice? Please explain their views.
HV:  My husband supports me, it's pretty incredible how gung-ho he is about it. My parents gave up on trying to figure me out years ago. I didn’t become a doctor or lawyer but they supported my undergraduate studies in art history. I fully supported myself by the time I got to grad school. My father couldn’t care less what I do, my brother and mother are supportive and loving about it even though they don’t always understand it. They trust me and support me. My In-laws are the wild card, because they seem to be interested but I have to say I'm not sure I understand more than that. I don't know why I just don't ask them, but we end up talking about other things or food or children.

AL:  Have you ever worked or do you currently work for a gallery, museum or artist?
HV:  Nope, and don’t want to. I’m a writer and my subject matter is art. The reason I started curating is because I have a pretty good ability to arrange things spatially and I love to look, understand, and be challenged by art. But I’m not into the objectness of it — though I love it — as much as the ideas. I love the ideas of art.

AL:  Please list recent shows/projects you have curated.
HV:  Solo shows: “On Display” at Storefront in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and “The Social Graph” at Outpost in Bushwick, Brooklyn, opens next month. I’m very excited about that.

AL:  What are some of the topics of the shows you have recently curated? What about in the past?
HV:  I’m not going to discuss shows from years past. Though I did enjoy contributing to the “Blogpix” show at Denise Bibro Gallery last year.

“On Display” was about looking in new and exciting ways and putting together art works that isn’t traditionally shown together. “The Social Graph” will explore the intersection of social media and art. I feel like its time to give it some serious consideration.

AL:  How do you find your inspiration?
HV:  I fixate on things and if I can’t figure it out, then I know it’s probably the kernel for a show. If I can’t figure it out then, I tell myself, other people may be wondering the same thing.

AL:  Describe your artistic community and how you think people in that community see you.
HV:  I’m not really sure. I know people know me for my interest in street art and my sense of humor, but the rest you’ll have to ask them. My corner of the art world is diverse and accepting, though not blindly. The art world I belong to — I like to think — sees through bullshit, even mine.

AL:  Why are you a curator?
HV:  see two questions up

Hrag Vartanian

AL:  What curators have affected your vision, shows that have been most inspirational? And how/why?
HV:  Inspirational shows tend to be the ones that are off the beaten path and take chances. I don’t really care if they have faults but they have to have some amazing things about them, like a few wonderful works that inspire you, or an overarching idea that shakes me to the bone. I was deeply impacted by Prospect.1 in New Orleans because it felt like a wonderful sprawling experiment.

I also love mainstream shows that are scholarly and well thought out. I loved the Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese show last summer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I couldn’t even write about it because I didn’t know what to say. It just seemed perfect and it didn’t need me to contribute words ­­­… though I probably tweeted while I was there. There’s more to a show than the art it in, it’s about creating a perfect moment and that seemed to be the perfect one for that show. There’s nothing better than Venetian Renaissance luxury in the midst of an American recession.

AL:  Who that you know personally has most affected your life/work?
HV:  See above.

AL:  What artists do you consider overrated and why?
HV:  Most of the artists of New York’s second gilded age (2002/3-2008) and mostly those centered on the art scene of the Lower East Side. It feels like it was the tail end of the art history narratives that began in the 1970s and 1980s rather than the beginnings of anything that will continue in the decades to come. They were really able to play the media narratives well since the dead tree media knew the score and were too lazy to think outside the box. They ate it up. It was a scene that loved themselves to no end. Masturbation was the name of the game. I moved to Brooklyn in 2000, and boy am I glad I did. In New York, I think the Brooklyn Rail was the antidote to that scene. I started writing for them in 2002. The art blogosphere showed up years later.

AL:  What is the most scandalous thing you have done in your life as a curator?
HV:  It’s too short to have anything to report. I’ll keep you posted.

AL:  What annoys you about artists?
HV:  I think they forget that if you want to be considered a professional you have to act like one. Which means responding to email, having an easy to access website, not taking things too personally, yadda yadda yadda

AL:  What is cliché in the art world right now?
HV:  Hmm … older people saying they don’t read blogs, people thinking they just discovered the internet and they’re the best thing on it, gallerists who pretend they don’t do things for their bottom line, collectors who pretend they are really in it for the love of art, and established curators, critics, and artists who think that they are beyond scrutiny.

AL:  How would you describe yourself in one word?
HV:  Hyperallergic, really.

AL:  How might someone else describe you in one word?
HV:  Different.

AL:  What would someone close to you describe as your best and worst traits?
HV:  Best: creative, energetic, insightful; worst: impatient, intense, frank.

AL:  What is the biggest misconception others sometimes have about you?
HV:  Some people think I’m more serious than I am.

AL:  What are you like in a group setting? How do you think you affect group dynamics?
HV:  I definitely raise the energy in a room.

AL:  Describe your most embarrassing moment… and/or describe what you wish was your most embarrassing moment!
HV:  I have many typos and grammatical errors that I release into the world. I wish they would never happen but they seem inevitable considering how much I write and edit. I’m started to learn to love them.

AL:  What is an odd fact about you or an unusual talent you possess?
HV:  I can put my left leg above my head.

AL:  What makes you nervous?
HV:  Being around people I admire. I recently worked up the guts to invite painter Don Voisine to a talk about abstract art I organized at Storefront Gallery during the “On Display” exhibition. I really love his work and I honestly didn’t know what I would talk to him about but I just wanted to be around him. Maybe I thought I could sunbathe in his genius. I think it worked, though he probably thought I was weird.

AL:  What are your favorite books, magazines, TV shows, movies, plays?
HV:  I love looking at what I like to call the river of information in my Tumblr dashboard … that’s better than TV or anything else for me. I love superhero movies because I used to love comic books. I love the writing of Ian McEwan though I could never write like him. The movies of Wong Kar-Wai are amazing. I like to walk city streets looking for street art. I like to browse Flickr for photographs. I also love reading theory, watching Jersey Shore, Law & Order: SUV, American Dad, and reading poetry … I just finished the Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan, which was nice. Though my all time favorite is Ben Okri’s An African Elegy. Okri’s “To One Dying of Leukemia” is one of my favorites. It gives me chills each time I read it.

Thanks Hrag!  You can find Hrag @