Claudia Gould

The Big Apple curator is bringing some New York daring to the University’s art-smart Institute for Contemporary Art.

Photo by Gregory Benson

The new director turned the inside outside in her first event at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Claudia Gould draped the side of the building that faces Sansom Common with a plain white tarp to show passersby the videos being screened indoors by curators, video artists and whoever else was attracted by the event.

Alas, the lights of Sansom Common made the videos hard to see, but the sound effects were loud and clear. And so was Gould’s message — that the ICA was of the people, by the people and for the people.

The 20-video event — an “open call” or wild-card chance to get into the ICA, one of the top contemporary art centers in the country — netted six videos for future screening.

It was the first signal that Gould, who arrived in October after returning focus and fiscal solvency to Artists Space in New York City, had plenty to offer the ICA besides fiscal responsibility.

Gould answered questions a couple of weeks before the video event.

Q. What attracted you to the ICA from Artists Space and the Big Apple?
If you look at the contemporary art centers across the country, first of all there aren’t very many; number two, this has a great reputation; and number three, it’s a good space.
I love that it’s part of a university. I think it’s an extra plus that it’s an Ivy League university. It’s a huge resource. It’s a huge resource.

Q. What is it that the university offers?
Lectures. Interesting people — visiting scholars, visiting architects, visiting artists, faculty of art history — just minds, brilliant minds.
   And the next question is how would I use them here?

Q. Mm-hmm.
I think on a case-by-case basis. I’ve had a chance to meet with art history and I’ve had a chance to meet with architecture, and you know the University [of Pennsylvania] Museum [Director] Jeremy Sabloff, and all the other cowboys and Indians in between. I’m just beginning.
   There’s one thing that we are doing now. Starting Oct. 20, we’re doing my first thing here called “Open Video Call.” The idea is that [some of the videos] would be curated into a mezzanine gallery.
   Ideally I would love to have it outside, but it’s going to be too cold on October 20. In the summertime, it would be great just to have it out there.
   In New York, after the first or second time, we realized that gee, we should invite other people, so we would invite people who curated at the Whitney Biennial and people who were curators at the [Museum of Modern Art] and people from Lincoln Center Film Video Festival. And actually their works did get out there, three artists were in the Whitney Biennial one year, next year two, Lincoln Center Film Festival.
   So the next time we’ll invite different people from the Painted Bride or Ann Temkin [curator for 20th-century art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art] or the curatory staff there or different places that actually show, are interested in video, or even not. It’s word of mouth.

Q. Do you have any plans for diversifying the ICA audience?
I think our reputation is known better outside of Philadelphia than it is in PhiladelphiA. The openings were only open to members This is changing immediately. Everyone’s invited. It’s free. It’s open to the public.
   I can’t understand why there are no students here, or why it’s not a hot place to come. It’s free to Penn people; it’s free for members.

Q. Do you foresee the ICA showing local artists?
Oh, yeah. I believe that they’ve been doing that. It will continue. We’re also doing a project space that we’re starting in September that will be smaller and dedicated to probably younger, emerging artists.
   I would like to build a café on the terrace.
   And as I mentioned, we are going to do a mezzanine video gallery for artists from the video call.

Q. At Artists Space, you instituted artist-curated shows. Will you do that here?
At Artists Space it was founded on artists selecting artists. So it’s not like I invented it. I just brought it back. You know, the artists have their ear to the ground like no one else. They’re a community. So I think it’s really important. I would love to have an artist-curated show next year. Artists are the barometer of the community, and they really do know more what’s going on than curators.

Q. I understand that you have strong financial credentials.
Listen, if I was an interesting creative person but in fact I wasn’t conservative financially, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.
   What’s different here is that this is not an institution in crisis. Artists Space was, so I really had to be quite severe and spend my first two years doing that. In an institution, you’re as good as your staff. I have a pretty good staff here.

Q. In terms of finances, what are you going to do that’s different?
I actually think that before I came, they did a lot. They’re in really good shape. The University has been generous since I’ve been here. We’re a team here.

Q. What’s your take on the brouhaha at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, as director of the institution that started the Culture Wars?
Actually Artists Space was.

Q. It was?
Everyone keeps forgetting that it was “Witnesses Against Our Vanishing,” which was an AIDS show that Nan Goldin curated in 1989. And it predated by a few months this [the Robert Mapplethorpe show at the ICA]. The NEA had given Artists Space $10,000 and [the late artist and AIDS activist] David Wojnarowicz wrote an essay in the catalog, and it was an outrageous essay — a fantastic essay — and the NEA caught wind of it and said that we’re taking away your money, and it began there. What’s interesting is that I have been to work for two great institutions that have really been pioneers in First Amendment rights in the arts, but I have not been the director [then].

Q. And I take this as a statement of support for the Brooklyn Museum?
Yes, it’s a huge statement of support for the Brooklyn Museum. I would not want to be [BMA Director] Arnold Lehman for anything. Everyone says this is so good for institutions, but it’s not. It wears them down. In the end there’s always a huge fracture with the board. I’m not saying Arnold Lehman is going to get fired, but it’s never good for the institution.

Q. Did you see the show?
Yes, it’s good. That piece [“The Holy Virgin Mary”], if it was called something else, no one would have ever known. It’s so interesting the power of language. Everyone says it’s the visual image, but really it’s in the word. This woman does not look like the Virgin Mary for anything. There’s more problems with the other pieces.
    So it’s sort of interesting that he’s got the wrong artist, the wrong piece, but he’s using the religious wars here. I can’t help but believe people thinking that Giuliani looks completely uninformed. Everyone’s losing here.

Originally published on November 11, 1999