Interview With Catharina Manchanda, New Wexner Center Exhibition Curator

Thu, Sep 11, 2008

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, including one or two of your favorite past projects or exhibitions?

imageI came to the U.S. in 1990, on what was supposed to be a one-year graduate scholarship; I enjoyed the experience so much that eighteen years later I am still here. Along the way, I spent 10 years in New York City where I received my Ph.D. in art history at CUNY. One of my favorite projects was to work with Robert Storr (who gave the Lambert Lecture last April) on a retrospective of Gerhard Richter's paintings at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as a publication on the artist's famous series of “October” paintings, which take as a point of departure media images that relate to the controversial deaths of core members of the German Red Army Faction. Another favorite was Beauty and the Blonde, an exhibition that I organized last year at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis. It examined how artists since the 1960s have used stereotypical images of blondes in their work to address aesthetic, political, and racial questions. (Among others, it featured work by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Mel Ramos, Dara Birnbaum, John Baldessari, Cindy Sherman, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ellen Gallagher, Lorna Simpson, and Nikki S. Lee.)

What particular areas or directions in contemporary art or culture do you consider your specialty (or specialties)?

I relish contemporary art because of its diversity, but I do have a particular interest in conceptual art and its offspring, as well as photography (and all that it implies with regard to visual strategies). In the increasingly complex global arena of contemporary art, I also have a special appreciation for artists who address political, social, and cultural issues (The Beauty and the Blonde show can be seen as one example; another might be a small virtual exhibition, Vital Signs, that I was able to organize for VISUAL AIDS in New York a few years back).

Are there certain kinds of shows that you particularly enjoy working on—i.e., thematic shows, artist's projects and commissions, retrospectives?

In my mind, each type of exhibition serves a particular purpose and I enjoy them all. Working with an artist on a specific project or commission is one of the great pleasures of curatorial work because one engages in a dialogue—the process is perhaps as important as the final project or exhibition. By contrast, thematic shows take a larger view, they allow us to rethink works in a new configuration, let us reinvestigate the familiar or point out continuities or gaps. Whether a show is large or small, monographic or thematic, it is important for me to provide a meaningful context for contemporary art, a context that allows us to ask new questions about it relevance and historical dimensions while also being mindful of the ways in which we prioritize and frame our discussions.

 

What excites you about coming to the Wexner Center and Ohio State?

I have been a fan of the Wexner Center for many years. A unique institution among the pantheon of university art museums, it has a tradition of promoting exhibitions, publications, and programs that tackle complex topics. Apart from showcasing groundbreaking new work, the Wexner Center also has an impressive record of promoting artists who have been overlooked or forgotten and encouraging viewers to reconsider familiar historical narratives and assumptions. I am greatly inspired by the interdisciplinary nature of the Wexner Center with its visionary initiatives in all areas of performance, film, new media, and exhibitions. It is a thrill to be here and to be able to contribute to the Wexner Center's future exhibitions and programs. Above all else, I look forward to working with a team of distinguished colleagues and an amazingly dedicated staff and to getting to know the larger academic community.

How are you, your husband, and the twins settling into Columbus?

We are having a great time exploring the city and we look forward to getting to know the larger Columbus art community. Still on our wish list: a recommendation for a great weekend breakfast place—any suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

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