General 4-16-2007

The View from Here: A Talk with Lisa Hostetler

Mason Riddle interviews Lisa Hostetler, juror for “Photocentric 2007": a show of work by MCP members who live within 525 miles - a long day’s drive - of its northeast Minneapolis location.


Photocentric 2007 juror Lisa Hostetler is the Assistant Curator of Photographs at the Milwaukee Art Museum since 2005. She’s worked as a research associate in the department of photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She’s also been the registrar at the Howard Greenberg Gallery and the Marlborough Gallery in New York, and an adjunct professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She received her PhD in 2004 in art history from Princeton University, where her dissertation topic was Photography and Everyday Life: The Case of Louis Faurer.

MR: How large was the pool of applicants for Photocentric 2007 How was their work submitted for review – slides, digital images, in-person?

LH: Submissions to the exhibition totaled 706 images, from which I was asked to select 55-60 by viewing jpegs on a website constructed for this purpose. The caption for each image contained framed and unframed dimensions, and neither the artist’s name nor an artist’s statement accompanied the images.

MR: How many images could artists submit?

LH: I believe that the artists were limited to a maximum of five images, but many submitted fewer. Each artist’s images were grouped together, so that I could see which were by the same person.

MR: So how many photos are in the show?

LH: The final selection came to 60 photographs by 51 artists.

MR: The show looks terrific; George Slade did a superlative job installing of so many works. What issues arise when reviewing such a large pool of artists, many submitting multiple images for consideration, and organizing, ultimately, a coherent show?

LH: Because this was a members’ exhibition, I felt that the exhibition should be about the members, not about me. In other words, I didn’t want to choose a curatorial concept in advance and then try to force the submissions to illustrate a particular point I wanted to make. My approach was to review the work, looking for images that were well conceived both formally and conceptually and that were not derivative or clichéd. In the process, I found that some artists’ work seemed related, and so some themes developed organically. But I attempted to keep my mind open and to keep the scope broad in order to demonstrate the wide range of work being produced by the members.

MR: Is it more difficult to narrow the field when there is no specific “theme” or “subject” for the competition?

LH: Yes.

MR: What are the perils of a “members” juried show, for both the juror and the applying artist?

LH: I can’t speak for the artist, but one peril for the juror is that in reviewing so much work in a limited amount of time using an unusual curatorial format (one does not usually select work for an exhibition using digital images exclusively) there is always the danger of overlooking someone’s work.

MR: Could you speak to the amount of applicants that submitted images using digital cameras vs. film cameras? How did that translate into the actual exhibition?

LH: The applicants were required to submit their work in digital form only, and I had no way of knowing whether the camera they used was digital or film based. This made for some surprises when I saw the actual works. I tried to imagine the size of the works when reviewing the images, but of course during the selection process I had no way of knowing what to expect in terms of print quality or final presentation/framing. Most of the surprises came in the final presentation/framing of the work.

MR: Were your curatorial duties shared with George Slade, the MCP artistic director? Does that affect the selection process?

LH: I selected the work; George installed it. I know it must have been a difficult job for him, and I think he did with intelligence and sensitivity. As it happened, some of the “sections” or groupings that I had in mind made it to the wall, so we must have been on the same wavelength there. In other cases, I’m sure he must have been wondering where I was going with the show.

MR: What are your thoughts on the range, style and quality of work in the show? What does the work say about the region?

LH: As I said in my juror statement, I think that the quality of work in this region is exceptionally high and easily matches that on both coasts. The density of talented artists may not be as high here due to simple demographics, but the work itself is excellent.

MR: Are there any common themes or issues being addressed by the photographers?

LH: Two things struck me in particular while reviewing this work: there’s a critical mass of photographers in the region with an uncanny ability to detect disturbing undercurrents in the mundane details of contemporary Midwestern life; and the quality of socially inflected documentary photography is very high here. The photographers draw from both of these wells with a profound appreciation for the absurdity of human endeavor.

MR: In a previous conversation you spoke about the photograph as object vs. the photograph as image. How does this relate to Photocentric 2007?

LH: As a curator, I firmly believe in the significance of the photograph as both an object and an image. Both of these aspects are inextricably intertwined in a work of art; they comprise its material presence, and that is what engages the viewer’s eye and mind. So in my view, “photograph” and “ image” are not necessarily synonyms. This made jurying the show challenging; however, it would have been impractical to review 706 photographs in person in the required amount of time and on a reasonable budget for MCP. Therefore, I think the guidelines of Photocentric were entirely necessary and that the surprising differences between image and object that I mentioned previously must be understood as part of the project and taken in stride. On another note, I think that the general topic of image vs. object in photography would make an excellent subject for a symposium. I would expect that the discussion among curators, photographers, and the public on this issue would result in a lively, productive, and fascinating event.

MR: What did you come away with from jurying Photocentric 2007 and visiting MCP and the Twin Cities?

LH: I came away with real enthusiasm for the state of photography in the Midwest, and I LOVE the Twin Cities. You are very lucky to have such wide support for the visual arts there, especially for contemporary art. I look forward to visiting again –in the summer. I was raised in the South, so I don’t think I’ll ever get used to winter temperatures above the Mason-Dixon line.

MR: Can you tell us something about the scope of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s photography collection and the types of exhibitions and programs that you do?

LH: The Museum’s photography collection spans the history of the medium, but is concentrated on twentieth-century American photography. Since arriving in Milwaukee two years ago, I’ve been strategically developing the collection in two key areas – Modernist photography between the wars in Europe and America and mid-twentieth century American street photography (my area of expertise) – while continuing the Museum’s decades-long tradition of acquiring work by emerging contemporary artists.

As far as exhibitions go, my most recent show was the first solo museum exhibition of photographs by Saul Leiter, in which I focused on his color street photographs from the 1950s – originally made and shown as slides – and their relationship to Leiter’s paintings and the art of the 10th Street Group. This fall, I’m curating an exhibition titled Photographs from the Ends of the Earth, and I’ll be looking at the ways in which photographers pictured the Arctic and Antarctic from the mid-nineteenth century through the present, including works from Isaac Israel Hayes’s 1869 Arctic expedition and Stuart Klipper’s photographs of the Antarctic, among many others.

In February 2008, the Milwaukee Art Museum will present Foto: Modernity in Central Europe 1918-1945, curated by Matthew Witkovsky at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, where it will open before traveling to the Guggenheim in New York and then to Milwaukee. I will be organizing and installing the exhibition here, and we are planning a number of exciting programs in conjunction with it, including a film program, a symposium, and many other exciting events. It promises to be a landmark exhibition offering new insights into the development of Modern art – well worth the trip from Twin Cities !