The Foggy Bottom Association was created in 1955 in an effort to enhance the community’s awareness of what was going on. Today, it has incorporated other mediums to improve the neighborhood’s awareness and its unique role to D.C. The FBA began the Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit three years ago to reintroduce sculpture beyond the garden gnome. We always hear interviews of what inspires an artist to make a certain artwork, but people may often forget the work that is required to get the artwork into an exhibit, which is the role of the curator. Below is a phone interview with this year’s FBOSE curator, Laura Roulet.
TSA: How did you first hear about the Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit?
LR: This is the third iteration of the exhibit, and the first time I’ve curated. The directors were looking for something new. I wanted to expand concepts of what outdoor sculpture can be, and bring in what I thought were the top outdoor sculptors in the region, and they liked the idea.
TSA: What do you hope the sculpture project will accomplish?
LR: It includes local artists who appreciated the opportunity to exhibit outdoors for 6 months. There aren’t a lot of chances for artists to do that in Washington DC. This exhibit also brings the public to a new part of Washington to see art. Artists like Dalya Luttwak , Barbara Liotta, Foon Sham, Joe and John Dumbacher, who installed site-specific and large pieces, saw this as a chance to get their work out there. Dan Steinhilber did “Cast Angels” as part of a residency for a Washington Project for the Arts’ sponsored residency at Socrates Sculpture Park. Part of the agreement was that whatever was produced there could come back to Washington to display. The WPA hadn’t found a place to show that yet so I offered to show it in Foggy Bottom.
I also wanted to include figurative sculpture that was not bronze statues, so in addition to Steinhilber’s concrete angels, I included Yukiko Nakashima, a New York-based artist, who made the fabric, child-size figures in “Play Residue.”
Yukiko Najashima, Play Residue
TSA: How did you get permission to use the front yards of people’s homes for the foggy bottom art?
LR: The Foggy Bottom Association has built up a network of homeowners who were willing to let us use their private property. The three co-directors of the exhibit were extremely helpful in neighborhood liaison. We did add a few houses this year. I walked around the neighborhood with some of the artists and we talked about how their work would look at different sites. Dalya saw the modern house on 26th Street and immediately wanted to put her work there. The homeowners had not participated in the past, but the directors called them and they were excited about being included.
The Hughes Mews area had not been used in the past, but part of my intention was to encourage the viewer to seek out work in unexpected places. Eh-Co chose to put his billboard-size poster on a blank wall in the Mews.
TSA: How do you decide which art to show?
LR: Quality is my top criteria. I’ve worked in Washington for over 15 years so I know a lot of local artists. Every curator has a mental filing cabinet of artists that they’ve worked with and whom they want to work with, so I thought of artists who would be appropriate for this exhibit. The whole theme would be expanding what outdoor sculpture can be. I wanted to include new media; I did an open call to graduate students to draw in new media. The internet-streamed work “Craigslist Unrequited” by Peter Lee and Blake Turner, Pat McGowan’s “Cone Tower #3” and Adam Nelson’s “Atmospheres” came from that call.
I consider Lina Vargas de la Hoz’s mobile garden to be new media. The artist has a very social practice, and she had a good proposal for this exhibit, which is intended to unify the neighbors caring for the garden. Linda Hesh’s on-going bench project, “Trust and Doubt” are included in the exhibit, is also a good example of her participatory, socially-based practice.
TSA: How do you pick a theme for each exhibit? Or do you figure it out as you go along?
LR:It depends. In this case, I knew that I would be able to include up to 15 works but ended up with 13, because two artist duos are included. The theme kind of emerged but the main idea was to bring new forms of outdoor sculpture
TSA: How as the artwork that you’ve chosen changed over the years?
LR: Definitely. I’m always open to new art. I go to a lot of exhibits, openings, and am constantly meeting new artists, doing studio visits, and checking out their websites.
TSA: Is there something that you enjoy most about being a curator?
LR: I really like working with living artists instead of just objects. You get to know living artists which is always fascinating. I also care about exhibiting and writing about under-recognized artists, which includes Latinos, African-Americans, women, and most artists in Washington.
TSA: Do you also make art?
LR: I write about art. I have an art history background. I grew up with collectors, my mother worked at the Cleveland Institution of Art. Art was always a part of my life. I love art history. I just realized that contemporary curators have an important role as interpreters of visual arts. A lot of my job seems to be answering: why is this art? I recognize that most people don’t have visual art training so I try to give them a handle on contemporary art forms. Just some way to understand what they’re seeing and get something out of the experience.
TSA: How is curating different than writing? Is there one you prefer over the other?
LR: Usually curating an exhibit involves writing about it too. Both are about bringing contemporary art to public attention, interpreting it for various audiences, and displaying the art to its best possible advantage.
TSA: What other kind of work interests you?
LR: I work a lot with Latin America art. My husband is Puerto Rican and I lived there for 7.5 years so I got to know a lot of artists there, whom I continue to work with. I worked on the Ana Mendieta retrospective at the Hirshhorn. She is Cuban, which expanded my knowledge of the Caribbean. Since then I’ve organized four exhibits at the Organization of American States (OAS), Art Museum of the Americas. The last one was called “Traveling Light, Five Artists from Chile.” And I just got back from organizing a show in Mexico City, called “Medios y ambientes,” with artists from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
TSA: Do you have a role model? Where do you find inspiration?
LR: I learned so much from working with Olga Viso, the curator who organized the Ana Mendieta retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum. I learned a lot about rigor, thoroughness and how to accomplish what I wanted as a curator.
TSA: Do you have a favorite time period?
Foon Sham, Curve
Arts in Foggy Bottom is sponsoring a twilight tour of its exhibit Sculpting Outside the Lines, followed by an art-full gathering at the River Inn on Friday, July 6, at 8 pm. Come see the sculptures in a new light: darkness. Meet at 8:00 pm at the corner of New Hampshire Ave. and I St., NW in Historic Foggy Bottom. Tour is free, cash bar at the River Inn, 924 25th St, NW.
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