& Colleen Grennan
T: Should we begin from the time I asked you to organize the first project exhibition? You got back to me by proposing Ree Morton. I was really excited. But it wasn’t until we really had Charles Harlan and Ree Morton under the same roof that I started to see the strong connection between the work and understand why it was the best idea (although Ree Morton is always the best idea).
C: Right, well that was part of the impetus.
T: What made you think of Ree Morton’s work in a small space alongside the work of Charles Harlan’s?
C: When you had asked me to curate the exhibition, it was very exciting because my project space, Cleopatra’s had just closed, and this felt like an opportunity to continue to flex my curatorial muscles. I’ve always been a fan of the work of Ree Morton and didn’t initially think it could be feasible for whatever reason. Originally, I had wanted to show Ree’s Regional Pieces, which felt connected to the way in which Charles works use tools that are specific to the communities he’s making work in. It turns out that series was on loan for a larger Ree Morton retrospective that was soon to open at ICA in Philadelphia. However, the nice people of Alexander and Bonin offered alternatives.
T: Do you think they know that the works are hanging in a hallway?
C: I told them it was a very small space but I did feel slightly self-conscience in my ask.
T: Don’t you think the installation is perfectly in tune with the work? Somehow, I can’t imagine it being nearly as impactful if the two pieces were hanging on a big empty white wall. The work feels more like it’s installed in an environment. Having a Ree Morton show inaugurate the series of guest curated exhibitions set the precedent really high and it got me thinking in a certain way about what would be meaningful to show in the space. And then there was the great coincidence with the NY Times article that came out at the same time as the opening… about Ree being a mother and the elements of maternity that are addressed in her work. That’s a topic you could endlessly explore in a series of exhibitions.
C: When I posted that article on Instagram (I also follow the Ree Morton hashtag) it just exploded with comments of solidarity from artists. I think it felt like therapy to a lot of people. I had some one on one conversations with some women who said that they felt they were part of the same conversation that Ree was involved in back in the 70’s about how to be a mother and an artist.
T: It’s so crazy that people in the art world still assume that having children excludes you from participation. There’s a very old-fashioned assumption that the woman is always the primary caretaker. When I was pregnant with my second child, I got advice from another female gallerist with two children “don’t let people think that you’re not there, the moment collectors think your children are distracting you from the gallery, they will stop supporting your program.”
C: Have you experienced that?
T: When I got the advice it was just before I moved to Athens, Georgia so the concept of “not being there” was a little more nuanced. But it did make me think about being a mother and how sad it is that even women uphold this idea that motherhood and careers aren’t compatible.
C: That’s what the article talks about with Ree. And this is a quote “I still wasn’t able to call myself an artist” and this is, her bio goes, that two years after getting her MFA she gets a divorce and maybe during that time in art school she had an awakening. A liberation in some way but eventually it would change her life as a mother and a wife and the labels in which she had to identify ourselves. “I still wasn’t even able to call myself an artist. I was a mother. I had children to take care of” and she continues with how her teaches in art school would talk about commitment to your work and that, that word was something that was difficult for her.
T: Well that’s why it’s so radical right? Because she was able to take the leap and be an artist and on top of that to make work that totally went against the minimalist tradition that was so popular at the time.
C: Definitely. Her work is so much about sentiment and emotion. Opposite of the minimalist doctrine. Something else that seemed like a big formative moment in her life was when she moved to NY without her children. What did you think about that?
T: It felt really relevant to a show I’m organizing a show at the University of Georgia, here in Athens next year that will include Kiki Kogelnik’s work. It reminded me of this film I watched at a solo show of Kiki’s work at The Kunsthall Stavanger last year, where Kiki talks about how to manage being a mother and an artist. This show that you organized with Ree and the coincidence of the NY Times really got me thinking about all these examples of women artists that have had to make a choice between being an artist and having custody of their children and it reminded me, of course, of my own situation being a mother and having a gallery. But going back to the exhibition, when you were here and we finished installing the show it was almost funny how perfectly the work felt situated in the incredibly funky space. People are either really turned on by the hallway or it gives them a headache. The title of the show of the show being Atmospheres was almost too poignant because that’s what the space is… total atmosphere. I joked that we should just call the project space Atmospheres because it was so hard to name the space given the shared nature of the project (between Ridley Howard and I). Sigfrids Howard’s sounds so much like a law firm. Something about the hallway reminds me of the series of exhibitions I organized in my desk at Thomas Solomon Gallery when I was the director there. Unique physical parameters tend to turn the brain on in a special way and I thought the artists I showed in Tif’s Desk responded in really interesting ways .
C: It sounds like you’re able to have your traditional gallery model but then in this other space you’re able to have this other creative endeavor which is a little less pressure than making a capital E exhibition. And you’re bringing in people from places outside of Athens to add to the conversation around contemporary art in the area.
T: Right. Ridley and I are interested in creating this third platform for inviting people to Athens to organize shows (in addition to our two separate galleries). It’s an excuse to have friends visit, but more importantly it’s a platform for conversation. It was so exciting to have all of you here for the opening and to introduce you and the work of Ree Morton to people in Athens.
C: It did feel that way. It felt really sincere. It was refreshing in many ways to go outside of the business side of things and bring it back to the art. And here we are talking about motherhood because that’s a real “thing” and so much bigger. And this conversation has been inspired by that platform. What’s coming up next?
T: Well, funny that you should ask. Lisa Williamson is organizing a show of Barbara T. Smith’s work that will feature a video called Just Passing, that Barbara made in 1979. In the video she talks about issues of femininity and sexuality. The idea to show Barbara’s work was definitely inspired by the Ree Morton show, so in a way you started a conversation in the space that will continue (whether or not Ridley and I decide to rename the space Atmospheres).
Tif Sigfrids is the owner of Tif Sigfrids, a NADA Member gallery based in Athens, GA.
Colleen Grennan is the director at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, a NADA Member gallery based in Los Angeles.