Assistant Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art
1 1/2 years
first dip into the art world began as an intern in the Museum
of Fine Arts, Houston.
Photo by Daniel R. Burke
Unearthing objects from the dead (think Indiana Jones) was Elyse Gonzales first love. Family trips to places like Abe Lincolns log cabin and natural history museums fueled the Texans love of objects and archaeology. But today Elyse Gonzales is enamored with the stuff of the living.
No longer just a spectator in a museum, Gonzales is now on the other side of the display, handling, touching and framing modern art for others to see as assistant curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art. She played a key role in the ICAs current exhibition, Drawings by Amy Cutler, and helped organize the museums inaugural Slide Slam, a sort of open mike event for emerging artists.
Q. What are some of your current projects?
A. Theres an exhibition that I curated. Its devoted to drawings by Amy Cutler. ...I selected the works to be shown and, of course, since we work with living artists, their voices are sometimes present in exhibitions. I went through the drawings [I wanted], and I was actually very lucky in that she approved of all of them. There wasnt any difficult back and forth about what should and shouldnt be in the show.
Q .But sometimes you work with difficult artists. How has that been?
A. Sometime its the most frustrating thingbut the most rewardingbecause the reason we work with the artists we do is because theyre so passionate and so committed to their work.
Q. The ICA just hosted its first Slide Slam. How did that come about?
A. The concept for Slide Slam merged out of two different sources. We have whats called an Open Video Call that happens once every exhibition cycle, so three times a year. With that, we take the first 20 video artists [who show up] and we show three minutes of their pieces and thats it.
We paired this Open Video Call with an idea from the Asian Arts Initiativewhere they invite artists to come and talk for 15 minutes or so about their work with slides. We heard about this idea and thought, wouldnt it be great if we paired [these two ideas] together? And instead of stealing their idea, why dont we come together [with the Asian Arts Initiative] and cosponsor this event.
The first 20 artists who signed up were given three minutes to discuss [and show] their work. They could show one slide or 80 slides depending on what they wanted to do.
What I think is very invigorating about Slide Slam in comparison to Open Video Call is that you have artists speaking about their work. In Open Video Call, they just do a brief introduction. We found out what people are doing in Philadelphia in the art community that maybe we would never run into.
We all took it as sort of this idea that wed be giving artists some skills as well. Oftentimes when you do run into somebody like a curator or a gallery director, you dont get 20 minutes to talk about your work. Here you get three minutes. Whats most important about your work? What do you want to say that is going to reach people, that might engage people?
Q. How is the ICA different from the other art venues on campus?
A. Right now we are committed to the work of living artists. Thats pretty rare. Maybe you just read about [these artists] in Art Forum or in The New York Times and now youll see them at the ICA. Thats not often the case even in many big cities, much less on a college campus. Were pretty proud of that.
Its really nice to be a part of the University. Theres so much intellectual fervor here and so much excitement about learning. Its this think tank that sort of explodes.
Q. How would you describe the Philadelphia art community?
A. What I think is exciting about Philadelphia is theres a can-do spirit in the city. Ive only been here a year and five months but Im struck by how warm everybody in the Philadelphia art community is and how inviting. If they feel they dont have a voice in some of the museums, they say, OK, fine, well just make our own space. I think thats so exciting becauseI cant tell you how many times Ive just been walking home and have come across this new gallery or this new space. That definitely forms the foundation of a very active and lively art community.
Q. What are some of your favorite art spaces?
A. I always go to Vox Populi. Arcadia is fun too. Ive been to Reset. Its in an old bathhouse. The tile work is just so amazing. Of course, Specter Gallery at 5th and Bainbridge. I just recently went to the University [City] Arts League which is at 42nd and Spruce. Its in some great old house thats now an exhibition space. I think whats also really great about Philly is that all of these spaces are in sort of quirky spacesan old house, an old bathhouse, an old warehouse, a storefront.
Theres a new space that just opened at 40th and Walnut, Slought Networks. I think its going to be great for West Philly.
Originally published on October 31, 2002