Contemporary Arts Museum Houston curator Dean Daderko inaugurates our Art Chat series — with talks of time travel, Hieronymus Bosch, museum envy and which artists he’s tracking now. (Psst: See whom from Texas is on that list.) Executive editor art + features Catherine D. Anspon poses the questions. Portrait Brent Bruni Comiskey.
WHAT WAS YOUR EARLIEST ENCOUNTER WITH ART?
I remember copying artworks like Picasso’s Seated Bather and I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold by Charles Demuth in crayon onto paper plates at my grandmother’s house. We clothes-pinned them to a line on her front porch for the neighbors to come by and see.
FIRST PIECE OF ART YOU REMEMBER GAZING UPON?
When I was about 5 years old, I was entranced by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, which I saw in a Jansen’s History of Art book one of my aunts had for a college class she was enrolled in. I got a piece of posterboard and my bowl of crayons and worked for hours to copy the reproduction from that textbook. I wish I still had it.
YOUR ABSOLUTE FAVORITE WORK OF ART ANYWHERE THAT YOU WOULD TRAVEL TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH TO SEE?
Though there are definitely works of art I’ve traveled to spend time with, what I’d really like to have a time machine to visit some exhibitions I didn’t get to see: “L’Informe: mode d’emploi [Formless: A User’s Guide],” organized by Rosalind Kraus and Yves-Alain Bois at the Centre Pompidou in 1996; or “J. M. W. Turner: The Sun is God,” an exhibition of unframed paintings by the British Romanticist at the Tate Liverpool in 2000 that included his incredible seascapes; and Harald Szeeman’s 1969 exhibition “Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form (Works – Concepts – Processes – Situations – Information)” are all be shows I’d love to beam myself into.
Outside of the state, what are your top museums anywhere for an art pilgrimage? Exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem are always a pleasure to visit, and I think their public programs are some of the best and most vibrant in New York City. Joseph Beuys’ “Werkkomplex,” also known as the Beuys Block, is a series of works that have been installed in a wing of the Hessisches Landesmuseum (a museum of natural history) in Darmstadt, Germany. For me, places like this — Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas is another — interest me as examples of totalized artistic visions that can deliver a new appreciation for an artist’s work. The contemporary art center Wiels in Brussels, Belgium and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands both present progressive and critically sharp programming that I’ve been following with great interest . Living in Rome, Italy was also formative for me: both the Etruscan artifacts (made between the 9th and 2nd centuries BCE) on view at the Villa Giulia in Rome, and Gianlorenzo Bernini’s funerary monument Blessed Ludovica Albertoni at the Church of San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere have touched me.
OUTSIDE OF THE CAMH AND YOUR COLLEAGUES BILL ARNING AND VALERIE CASSEL OLIVER, WHAT FELLOW CURATORS ARE YOU FOLLOWING?
While the list of curators whose work I appreciate is much too extensive to print here, it’d definitely include: Charles Esche, Lynne Cooke, Elena Filipovic, Vasif Kortun, Helen Molesworth, Ute Meta Bauer, Ingrid Schaffner, Bisi Silva, Sabine Breitwieser, Franklin Sirmans, Naomi Beckwith, Michelle White, Sofía Hernández, Chong Cuy, Thomas Lax, Alhena Katsof, Lanka Tattersall, and the curatorial collaborative Suplex which recently formed here in Houston.
WHICH ARTIST WAS YOUR BEST STUDIO VISIT EVER? WHERE AND WHEN?
For me a studio visit is the beginning of my dialogue with an artist, which I see as an ongoing process rather than a once and done deal, and I’d hesitate to single out a particular one as “the best” — I learn different things from every visit I make. For me, studio visits are an opportunity to get to know an artist’s practice and to keep pace with how their work develops. It’s rare that I wouldn’t continue checking in with an artist whose studio I’ve already visited. This said, I always enjoy checking in with Fabienne Lasserre. She and I have had ongoing conversations about her work — and my own curatorial practice—during repeated visits for more than five years. Lasserre’s work was included in my recent CAMH exhibition Outside the Lines. I’ve also had very memorable visits with Daniel Bozhkov, Ulrike Müller, MPA, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Darius Miksys, and Benny Merris.
WHAT EXPERIENCES BEST PREPARED YOU FOR CAMH?
Prior to coming to Houston more than two years ago, I worked as an independent curator in Brooklyn. That necessitated managing fund-raising, press, education, and installation efforts. Now I have a team of gifted colleagues who specialize in these areas, and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with them to present shows at CAMH. Your curatorial repertoire is wide and vast. Where do you discover rising talents like LaToya Ruby Frazier, Josh Faught, or Abigail DeVille? Can you talk about how and when you met each artist above, and the experience of working them? I get introduced to artists and their work in myriad ways, but for me the most important way this happens is through recommendations from other artists — I pay special attention to the opinions of folks whose practices I respect.
I was introduced to LaToya Ruby Frazier by our mutual friend Edwin Ramoran in 2009 while he was a curator at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, and was immediately impressed with her laser-precise eye and critical acumen. The first time we worked together was in 2010, when I included a video and photographs she made in an exhibition at Larissa Goldston Gallery called Pièce de Résistance, and we’ve maintained a friendship and dialogue ever since.
Our most recent project together was her solo exhibition “LaToya Ruby Frazier: Witness” at CAMH. If hope we’ll continue to work together in the future. The way that Frazier personalizes her relationship to the history of social documentary photography, and instrumentalizes her work to share vital and urgent information about well-being with the public is singular and visionary.
I’ve never met Josh Faught in person, but I’ve been a fan of his work and have had the opportunity to see it on a few occasions — including in solo shows at Lisa Cooley’s gallery in New York. I like the way he celebrates queerness and trashes useless hierarchical and binary distinctions like “art versus craft,” or “high versus low” culture. Faught’s work is currently included in [Daderko’s exhibition] “Rites of Spring,” and I’m happy to have this opportunity to present it [CAMH, through March 9].
I was introduced to Abigail DeVille by LaToya Ruby Frazier, and visited her studio for the first time when I was teaching in the graduate program at Yale University, where she was a student. From jump I knew that she was a force to be reckoned with, and Television Torus (2014), the installation she created for ‘Rites of Spring,’ is convincing proof of her wild, cosmic vision. Her work combines her interests in sciences like astronomy and topology with science fiction and poetry. DeVille began the installation by trashing the room it’s located in. Piling it to the brim with scavenged materials, she manages to evoke visions of black holes, wormholes, and distant galaxies. I’m so pleased to have had her at CAMH to create this work for our show. [Daderko portrait with Television Torus.]
YOUR BIGGEST BREAK TO DATE IN THE ART WORLD?
Getting hired as curator at CAMH has definitely been a game-changer!
WHAT’S UP NEXT ON YOUR CURATORIAL PLATE?
CAMH’s upcoming exhibition “Houston Snapshot: Volume 1” (August 22 –November 30) is an exhibition I’m working on with our director Bill Arning and senior curator Valerie Cassel Oliver that will focus on local talent. I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with Carrie Schneider whose work as an artist and collaborator is inspiring to me.
Another of my upcoming exhibitions is “Double Life” (December 19 – March 13), which will bring together works by the Paris-based choreographer Jérôme Bel; a video installation by Wu Tsang that will include footage that will be shot during a performance he’ll present at DiverseWorks in March; and a sculptural installation by the Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang. The exhibition explores the margins of performativity in a way that should allow viewers to feel like they’re going behind the stage at various theatrical scenes.
WHO ARE YOU CURRENTLY TRACKING ON YOUR WISH LIST TO BRING TO CAMH?
Matt Keegan and Kay Rosen’s work will be included in the exhibition “A Traveling Show” (June 27 – September 21). In 2008, following an interview they’d done together, Keegan sent Rosen some pages torn from a dictionary and a small drawing as a gift. She responded by sending Keegan a drawing of her own based on a press clipping. This was the beginning of an exchange of more than 50 mailings that is still going on.
They’ve traded unique drawings, photographs, clippings, Xeroxes, notes and other ephemera that point toward mutual interests, and offer insightful commentary on each other’s work. A chronological display of all of the contents of Keegan and Rosen’s exchanges to date will occupy the center of the gallery. I imagine that it will function like a legend or decoder ring in relation to a selection of works by each of them that will be installed in the space, many of which share an interest in language and the printed word. Daniel Atkinson, CAMH’s manager of education and public programs, has organized a vibrant series of events that will bring literary figures Marjorie Perloff, Christian Bök, and Kenny Goldsmith, among others, to Houston.
WHICH ARTIST’S WORKING IN TEXAS AT THE MOMENT DO YOU FIND MOST INTRIGUING AND WHY?
Texas’ cultural community is vital and engaged, and I’m having a great time visiting with and getting to know artists all over the state! I feel fortunate to have presented work by Houston-based artists Chris Cascio, Rachel Hecker and Katy Heinlein in two of the three shows I’ve organized at CAMH thus far. And Texas-based collectors have generously loaned works by artists outside of the state that they’ve acquired. That said, I’m pleading the Fifth with regard to singling out any particular artists. Let’s just say I have some surprises up my sleeve.
CAN YOU NAME A FEW THEMES MOTIVATING YOUR WORK RIGHT NOW?
Lately I’ve been thinking about queer and hybrid identities, how to integrate live performance into static exhibitions and how to create dialogues between the visual artists and the literary and performing arts communities.
WHERE DO YOU DISCOVER NEW TALENT?
I try to keep open eyes and a receptive mind at all times, since I never know when I’ll come across inspiring work. It could be during a visit to an open studio, critiques at a university, online, or visiting exhibitions at other museums, galleries and fairs. And I always value the recommendations I receive from artists and other colleagues working with cultural institutions.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT IN TERMS OF:
Exhibitions: I’m really looking forward to traveling to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the upcoming Bienal “How To Talk About Things That Don’t Exist.”
Films: Yance Ford’s documentary Strong Island, and American Promise, a documentary by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, are both films I’ve been eagerly anticipating.
Books: I’m excited to be diving into Hilton Als’ White Girls, and will read anything by Argentinian writer César Aira that I can get my hands on. I’m also looking forward to the release of Ulrike Müller’s Herstory Inventory, published by Dancing Foxes Press.
WHAT IS YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE?
Food. A bottle of Brunello Di Montalcino, a dinner at Oxheart, or a box of macarons from Ladurée will all put a huge smile on my face, though I’d hesitate to say any of them make me feel guilty.
I’d like to have some time to explore Beirut, Istanbul and Seoul, all of which are all very intriguing cities for me.
WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU WANT TO BE “UNDER THE RADAR” IN TOWN?
If I told you, I wouldn’t be under the radar anymore! I can say that working in my garden is always a nice way for me to press my reset button.
WHO DO YOU HAVE HANGING IN YOUR OFFICE?
I have a drawing hanging over my desk that was a gift from William Cordova, whose work was included in my first exhibition at CAMH, “It is what it is. Or is it?” Made in ink on a stained napkin, there’s a message on it that says “walls turned sideways are bridges.” It’s a very special object for me. I am also lucky to have a painting by Fabienne Lasserre and a photograph by Irvin Morazan around to keep me company.
WHAT’S ON VIEW AT YOUR CASA?
I think people imagine that I must have walls that are covered with art from floor to ceiling, but that’s not my style. The first piece of art I ever purchased — a black-and-white photograph by Sharon Lockhart — is hanging in my bedroom, and large color photograph by Jayson Keeling will soon be joining it. On my walls, I’ve also got works by Ginger Brooks Takahashi, A. K. Burns, Eve Fowler, K8 Hardy, Simone Leigh, Benny Merris, Adriana Minoliti, MPA, Matt Rowe and Megan Whitmarsh, among others.
THREE TIPS FOR A BEGINNING COLLECTOR?
First, follow your heart, eye, and gut. When you’re putting together a collection, don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses — it’s important to pay attention to your own proclivities and develop your particular taste.
Second, it never hurts to develop personal relationships with artists whose work you collect, provided they’re interested to do so. It’s always nice to let an artist or their gallerist know if you’re willing to consider loan requests, and to ask their advice about installing or caring for work.
And last, understand that nothing is set in stone, and that collecting, like making art, is an active process. As you come to know more about your motivations, know that your tastes may change, and that things that once looked good to you may no longer float your boat. And pay attention to those things that do remain inspiring over time — they’re the keepers.
HOW DOES TEXAS COMPARE TO OTHER PLACES YOU’VE LIVED AND WORKED IN TERMS OF THE ART ECO-SYSTEM? WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST UNIQUE HERE?
Houston has a vibrant cultural community and support for the arts here is unparalleled. It’s great to be a part of a community where people ask questions and are direct about their likes and dislikes.
I often find that with contemporary art, folks assume that there’s a particular message one is supposed to glean from it. I think it’s quite often the opposite — artists are motivated by personal questions; I find this true of my own curatorial process — it’s way more engaging, if occasionally a bit scary, to willingly venture into unfamiliar territory. This is the place where real discovery and change can happen.