An Interview with Steven Matijcio - Curator at The Contemporary Art Center

Steven Matijcio is heading into his fifth month as the new curator at The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC)-one of the nation's oldest and most celebrated contemporary art institutions. According to Raphaela Platow, the CAC's Alice & Harris Weston Director and Chief Curator, he is especially committed to “broadening access to contemporary art and his global curatorial perspective.” We met in the Cincinnati in the First Floor Lobby of the CAC, which Matijcio describes “as the lifeblood of the center. We want the lobby to be our movie trailer to the world, inspiring curiosity and setting a tone for the programs to follow.” We talk about his influences, past curatorial experiences, and future plans at the CAC heading into the 75th anniversary in 2014. Matijcio spoke frankly about his views and describes a curator as a “sculptor of space.”

Steven Matijcio Steven Matijcio

Christopher Hoeting: Who was influential early on in your education/career as a mentor? What did you learn from that individual that you currently carry on in your curatorial practice?

Steven Matijcio: The most influential curators in my education & career were as formative for the ways they carried themselves personally as they did professionally. Public perceptions of the curator are unfortunately mired with examples of aloofness, insensitivity and arrogance. I strive to work against these stigmas by looking to curators that were generous in mind and spirit. A few that especially stand out: Michael Parke-Taylor, the now retired Curator of Modern Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario; Ivo Mesquita, Artistic Director of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; and Jose Roca, Adjunct Curator of Latin American Art at Tate, London, and Artistic Director of FLORA ars+natura, an independent space for contemporary art in Bogotá. They each, in their own individual way, made art more human for me.”

C: Can you talk about your time working in Canada? Where did you work? How did this early experience shape your view of organizing exhibitions?

S: My time in Canada has fundamentally shaped my approach to exhibition-making, as well as to gathering the resources necessary to successfully realize projects of all sizes and shape. I worked as an intern/assistant at the Blackwood Gallery (University of Toronto); the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery; the Art Gallery of Ontario; the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Queen’s University); Plug In ICA (Winnipeg); and the National Gallery of Canada. Public funding is a cornerstone of these, and many other arts organizations in Canada – which conditions the need to communicate one’s programming effectively, and to a broad audience. You’re justifying the merits of each project, which galvanizes a thesis and – in an ideal world – builds an audience into the infrastructure of the idea. This instilled in me the need to regularly step outside my subjectivity (and all its attendant biases) to become a surrogate for the larger community.

C: Is there a particular exhibition that you can use as an example?

S: The 2007 exhibition Scratching the Surface: The Post-Prairie Landscape at Plug In ICA received funding from Federal, Provincial and City levels of government as it confronted enduring legacies of landscape and mark making in Canada. The project included public projects and numerous cross-disciplinary programs and panel discussions.

C: Can you discuss/summarize your residencies/projects in Korea, Poland, and Germany? During your time working internationally was there a project that you think exemplifies your achievements as a curator?

S: Every residency has its respective idiosyncrasies and instructions, but cumulatively they’ve expanded my perspective of art’s role in the urban ecosystem. Being a resident in Gwangju during the Design Biennale shed light on the instrumentality of art and design in the race to become the art capital of Asia. My Berlin residency’s focus on the relationship between art and science reminds me what an archipelago the art world can be: discovering new islands as a city relearns itself through entrepreneurialism. Organizing the Narracje Festival in Gdansk, Poland was one of the most profound moments of my personal life and professional career. I witnessed firsthand the way art and interventions could lead people though the corridors of city history and contentious urban planning. Every reading of every work was enriched by the site, while the physical mythology of the city opened up through the lens of these projects.

C: At your prior appointment in North Carolina, can you describe your inside/out project? How where you able to bring art into the public and promote community engagement?

S: Inside Out: Artists in the Communities II was a continuation of SECCA’s highly successful artist in residence public art program that ran through the 90s into the new millennium. These were longer-term projects meant to have an extended physical presence. I wanted to take the 2nd iteration of this project into a more ephemeral, experimental, and unexpected direction. It spanned video projection, performance, scored walks, temporary sculpture and what the artist Roadsworth calls “pedestrian street art”. Despite the variety, every project was a platform to partner with different organizations and activate different communities – turning the familiar into the unfamiliar. They were temporal gestures meant to inspire new readings of an urban landscape in post-industrial flux.

Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio

C: How do you plan to bring these past experiences of working both internationally and locally to the CAC?

S: I’m drawn to cities on the so-called “periphery” – outside the metropolis and mainstream – whose eccentricities are embedded in the respective identity of place. I find deeply compelling fodder for exhibitions in the mining of socio-cultural archaeology and the ideas pursued by local artists. There are intrinsic discourses to be tapped in the “local”, which are then enriched through international dialogue. By exploring a theme, issue or idea from a range of global perspectives, it makes for a more resonant “dinner party.” I plan to bring all of these threads together at the CAC, building on what has progressively become a hub for local, national and international artists to cross-pollinate.

C: What exhibitions are in the works for you over the next year?

S: The CAC is at a confluence of three major anniversaries over the next three years: the 10th of the Zaha Hadid building in 2013; the 75th of the organization in 2014, and the 25th of Robert Mapplethorpe’s Perfect Moment in 2015. Rather than looking exclusively backward in reminiscence, I’m most interested in the unpredictable flight of legacy: the way subjective memories re-shape original events into unstable documents. As such, the exhibitions over the next year will be seeking to re-perform (or perhaps “misbehave”) seemingly fixed structures – encouraging audiences to consider alternative behaviors and perceptions.

C: What future opportunities do you envision for public engagement at the CAC?

S: I want to make the CAC a more porous space, encouraging the co-mingling of projects inside and outside our walls. The current JR exhibition (curated by Pedro Alonzo) is a shining example of how outreach and art can function as one: activating sites around Cincinnati and enriching the work on display at the CAC. I will work more regularly with artists on installations and interventions that circulate throughout the city. As a contemporary art space we have the capacity to cultivate greater cultural awareness by supporting projects that meet people halfway. This, in addition to a consistent series of public programs (panels; talks; films; workshops) will make art a catalyst for conversation.

C: What artist, group of artists, or art movement do you think exemplifies the next exciting movement in contemporary art?

S: The artist Lee Walton dubs himself an “experientialist” – I think there’s something there that will only continue to expand into the future. We’re now well into the era of the de-materialized art object, where art lives increasingly outside physical presence, categorization or description. The landscape is wider than its ever been in the history of art-making (or at least that which could be colonized as “art”), pointing to an exciting place where more people will be touched by an art experience – even if they never set foot in a gallery. This is not to say that a painting, print, sculpture or drawing is any less capable of inspiring epiphany or arousing wonder. Instead, it’s to embrace a wider, more convoluted and amorphous spectrum where everything and anything can be art if we want it to.

 

Christopher Hoeting is the Vice President of the Board of Directors for Museum Force. 

This article is also published in the October edition of AEQAI (http://www.aeqai.com) and has been graciously shared with Plinth for this special edition.