MoMA’s Postconceptual Curators

Installation view of ‘Sites of Reason: A Selection of Recent Acquisitions’, The Museum of Modern Art, June 11–September 28, 2014. (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Thomas Griesel)

Installation view of ‘Sites of Reason: A Selection of Recent Acquisitions’, The Museum of Modern Art, June 11–September 28, 2014. (© 2014 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph: Thomas Griesel)

Ever since 2009, when the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) expanded its Department of Media to include performance art (it is now the Department of Media and Performance Art), it has been both praised and criticized for its focus on acquiring transdisciplinary and postconceptual work that is often ephemeral, like sets of instructions passed on by word of mouth — things that belong to everyone.

A new show of MoMA’s recent acquisitions, Sites of Reason, displays works which blend  disciplines and media and challenge the curators to build the art in situ. It provided an opportunity to examine some of the more interesting aspects of contemporary curation.

So I sought out an interview with curators David Platzker and Erica Papernik in order to gain some insight into what is involved in acquiring time-based and transdisciplinary art. Platzker, who’s been with MoMA for only one year (following his stint as founder and president of the project space/bookstore Specific Object), is curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints, while Papernik has been assistant curator in the Department of Media and Performance Art since 2010. They worked closely together and with the artists to develop Sites of Reason.

Read the full interview here, on

June 25, 2014 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

ANNE L. STRAUSS…and the Big Bamboo | March 2010

“They said, “You’ll never get the insurance for that; it’ll never happen.”But I had faith in the work.”

Anne L. Strauss, Associate Curator of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum, talks to The Art Machine about the Big Bamboo, and the challenges of bringing the Starn Brother’s  latest project to the roof of the Met.

The Starn Brothers, Big BambooThe Path Most Traveled

It is a scorching 103 degree summer day when I meet Anne Strauss to discuss her role in curating the Met’s most ambitious rooftop project to date.  But Ms. Strauss doesn’t seem fazed. Congenial and relaxed, she begins answering questions and chatting with me as we enter into the Big Bamboo, through which she has kindly volunteered to guide me.

During our leisurely walk, Anne stops to talk to some assistants. They are expanding a pathway that’s roped off for now, and I get to quiz them about their work on the project. They are all rock climbers and the atmosphere is very friendly and communal. I ask them if they enjoy it up here in the heat and they tell me they consider it a lot cooler than down on the ground. “You tie those knots real tight,” I tell them.

Big Bambu installation view_s0747Image: Big Bambú installation view, March 2010 Photo by Doug and Mike Starn © 2010 Mike and Doug Starn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Anne and I talk mainly about what it took to get the city permits and the proper insurance for the daunting exhibit.  She considers the Met’s legal council, the Starn Brother’s studio managers, the structural engineering consultants, the building department administrator, and all the city officials they had to meet with, to be one large team that worked together to take the Big Bamboo from the Starn Brother’s studio in Beacon, NY to the rooftop of the Met.

That attitude of proactive cooperation, along with her sense of cool-headed grace, is exactly what it took, in case you were wondering, to make it happen.

As we entered, and again as we exit, Anne takes plenty of time to talk with staff and to answer questions for the many visitors who notice her authority and gather for some easy answers. She knows the schedules, advises them about footwear, and talks to them enthusiastically about the sculpture: “It’s getting higher… it’s getting more complex..there are more pathways going in with each and every day that the artists are here…  it’s an ever changing structure… all about complexity and chaos.”

Finally we settle into a shady spot to talk. The Talking Heads, Heaven is playing, a perfect background to an artwork that is about change.

TAM: You are so sporting! Are you called upon to be available to the public like this?

AS: Well, I’m up here a lot as are the artists — there’s one of the artists right now — that’s Mike Starn coming down with a couple of guests.

TAM: Did he take them on a personal guided tour?

AS: They’re friends, collectors of Doug and Mike’s art. Anyway, I do a lot of tours. it gives me great joy and pleasure to be up here.

TAM: But It’s not your official role as a curator.

AS: This is an out of the ordinary experience. And it’s been overwhelmingly well received… it’s wonderful to be a part of that.

TAM: You’ve gotten a lot of good press.

AS: Yes. I’ve just been amazed by the ongoing requests from the press to come and talk to us all here.

TAM: Do you work hand in hand with the PR and marketing people? I mean, what are the challenges to marketing a show like this?

AS: Yes. We have our usual press list, but this has really generated a lot more interest.

TAM: So what happens to this when the exhibit closes?

AS: It will be dismantled. The artists are saying right now that they would like to maybe carve out several sections to have as sculptures that they would take away, but that would just be a small portion: the rest will have to be untied and the pieces will be taken down. And then we will bring back the cranes to hoist all the materials off the the roof. And that will probably be a three day venture.

TAM: Seeing as you’re so calm, I take it there have been no emergencies yet?

AS: No. The structure has been very well tested to meet safety requirements. It’s been load tested, and there’s a lot of redundancy in the structure.

TAM: Redundancies! Yes. (I tell her that I was at a party the other night whimpering about my fear that the structure was bamboo for godsakes and an architect had comforted me by saying that he had  “faith in redundancies” and that the Starn Brothers’ sculpture had many joints supporting each pole so that if one failed, another would pick up the load. It was, he’d told me, safer than most construction scaffolding — an assurance that I had hoped was an understatement.)


REdundancyFaith in Redundancy. Nice Brightly colored redundancy.

AS: We worked with structural engineers, we worked with surveyors and we worked with an architect: so it’s 100% guaranteed that this is a very safe structure. You know, bamboo is used for scaffolding in Asia instead of metal. It’s light weight, it’s incredibly strong — and they build skyscrapers that are sometimes 30 or 40 stories high.

TAM: What about wind? I noticed it was incredibly windy a few days ago: I wonder if you had to shut it down?

AS: Wind goes right through the piece.  And it’s tied with a whole lot of static cords — really lashed to the building. It has come through several raging storms and it hasn’t moved.

That said, when the winds are very high we don’t have visitors coming through. Just as we don’t when it’s raining. That’s why we always say “weather permitting.”

TAM: Did you have to purchase any special insurance for this exhibit?

AS: The museum has its blanket policy but we did have to get additional insurance specific to the structure.

TAM: Are you allowed to have a favorite piece?

AS: Well, it’s a battle between the Roxy Paine “Maelstrom” and this.

Both of them really addressed the site. And that’s what really interests me in bringing artists here;  this is a unique place where we can actually work with artists and address these incredible settings.

[Earlier, speaking to some visitors, Anne had mentioned that the Roxy installation had been “almost magical” and that the Starn Brothers piece would never have received approval from museum administrators had it not been for the precedent of Maelstrom which was also very interactive and took up the entire rooftop.]

TAM: When you saw the Big Bamboo in Beacon, did you see how it could work on the roof of the Met?

AS: Well, I did. Because of the complex play in that piece: it’s looking at our world, it’s looking at our relationship to people and all those concepts that are at play and I thought that would really engage the public… I think it’s a very relevant piece to our times.

You know I talked to them and had a conversation 40 feet up — which is not my usual place to speak with artists. We had to free climb up in that piece, but I’m very comfortable doing that. I was enthusiastic, they were enthusiastic. And then I went back to the museum and began that conversation. And then I came back to the museum and began that conversation with our directors. And that was in Ocotober of last year.

TAM: When you first brought this up with administrators and staff, did anyone say, “Cuckoo?”

AS: Yeah, yeah, they did: I mean, I brought it up and the color completely drained out of their faces. But I believed in it. They said, “You’ll never get the insurance for that; it’ll never happen. You’ll never get the city’s permission..” But I had faith in the work.

TAM: So did you have to take your request to the city?

AS: As a group. We got the artists’ studio managers, structural engineers, a rep from our council’s office, the buildings department administrator and we worked together with the building commissioner and the department of environmental affairs to get the permits we needed.

TAM: You did your homework.

AS: … and it all happened very quickly. But meantime the artists had to get all their materials and it was all kind of going on simultaneously.

TAM: I noticed in your interview with the Starn Brothers that they talk a lot about how climbing in the structure contributed to their experience of their own piece. Do you recommend getting up in there in order to really understand it?

AS: To my mind, yes. It’s an added experience… you can sense the swell and the troughs of the wave beneath our feet.. here you’re on a stone deck. There you’re up in this organic structure and you’re one with it. That’s not to say that it isn’t pleasant down here. This is like walking through a bamboo forest.



Anne L. Strauss interviews the Starn Brothers about the Big Bamboo

The Guided Tour Guidelines

Day-of-Tour Certification and Agreement

February 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm Leave a comment


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