From artist to administrator

October 31, 2008

Posted by Nick Sarno


The following was originally published in Sketches: Organizing Arts and was written by Rachel Weiss:


At a certain point I discovered that I had transformed from an artist into an administrator. This happened, apparently, because in the course of making work for an audience, I became concerned about who they were and what, exactly, that audience was experiencing.

I didn’t particularly mind the demotion at the time, because I considered it basically a problem of semantics and misunderstandings.

At some point-a certain one, though I couldn’t say exactly which-I discovered that I was actually a curator. This seemed to be because the work I was doing, which I thought of as championing artists and works and ideas that were important to me to audiences I was interested in, was something I was doing in museums, and that involved assembling artworks, or people, into conversations with each other.

I didn’t particularly mind the promotion at the time, though I began to suspect that it came with a price I was not sure about.

Some time later, which I should probably not call a ‘point’ because it was too gradual, I decided that the process of thinking through what artworks meant to me, what I thought they could do, what I wanted from art-all these questions, were intensely important for me. I discovered that I was actually a writer, though by then I was really perplexed because meanwhile I had started working on the problem of what I thought ‘administration’ actually was and how it might be taught and learned. And this was along with questions about what art is, who audiences are or should be, etc. Anyhow, I was being asked to provide something called ‘texts’ for various contexts and institutions, which I did as much as I could, though I found the process very difficult and full of confrontations with limits.

I didn’t particularly mind the translation at the time, though I did begin to wonder how many more times I was going to have to change my name-something a bit worrisome, in terms of honesty, since what I had realized more and more was that I had been working on basically the same questions and problems and limits all along.

What, then, were they? I kept having to stop myself from naming them as impulse directed: revolt, utopia, aesthetic experience. Those names were too big for a humble artwork to measure and, anyhow, they were the same names used by people I completely disagreed with. At some point I began to realize that, strategically speaking, I was interested in regaining ownership of all those names, and all those things they had been pointing me toward and helping me deal with all along.

Things got even more interesting then, because with the idea of strategy came a different relation to power. The differences and contradictions, not to mention the vanities and absurdities, of all of the above, could become rightfully problematic-in the good sense of the term, meaning something I could actually work on.

When I travel to a new city these days and visit a museum, these are what I tend to look for, roughly in this order: Velásquez, early conceptualism (preferably by the few artists who make my head spin), and evidence of a struggle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: