Curiouser and curator
Betsabeé Romero is an artist from Mexico City. She’s been in the world spotlight since the 1990s. However, until this year, she’d never had a solo show in the Western United States.
Romero’s been lauded by the New York Times for coming up with a good solution to a common problem. “On the one hand, [art] wants to speak to the largest population. On the other, it wants to participate in conversations that only a handful of people are knowledgeable about—philosophy, say, or politics, or art itself.”
JoAnne Northrup faces the same problem as a curator. As director of contemporary art initiatives at the Nevada Museum of Art, she’s been tasked with raising the museum’s international profile. At the same time, Northrup has tasked herself with not just exhibiting “art that speaks to the few.”
“I would say that I have always been kind of a populist curator,” she says. “I want to reach out to new audiences. I’m not just preaching to the converted.”
She grew up near San Francisco, earned a masters degree at the University of Southern California, worked at museums in Southern California and France, spent 10 years as a curator at the San Jose Museum of Art, traveled to Germany as a Fulbright scholar, then came to Reno in 2012.
How has working in all these places affected her perspective?
“I adapt my vision to wherever I’m living at the time,” she says. In particular, she’s quick to notice when the art-world zeitgeist overlaps with a particular region’s general cultural outlook. In San Jose, a major technology hub, for example, she organized an exhibit by Leo Villareal, a pioneer in computer-programmed LED sculptures. In 2011, that show made a stop in Reno, especially fitting since many people here know Villareal’s work from Burning Man.
Similarly, Northrup’s idea for the fall 2014 exhibit Late Harvest came about as a result of keeping an observant eye on her environment. She’d been traveling between California and Nevada frequently while relocating to Reno. She noticed that hunters and casinos displayed taxidermy in Nevada, while at the same time artists in Brooklyn and Belgium used it in sculptures, and it was de rigueur décor in hipster bars in San Francisco.
In efforts to stay internationally connected, she also brings NMA patrons to museums and art studios abroad—this year to Israel—and casts her net wide when seeking funding. A 2016 exhibit features Anthony McCall, another artist who’s prominent internationally but hasn’t been shown much regionally, a British-born New Yorker who’s turned cinema projections into light sculptures. That exhibit will be funded by a $50,000 grant Northrup secured from a foundation in Switzerland.
While Northrup’s solution for to how to address the art elite and general audiences alike is largely based on making personal connections around the world, artist Romero’s solution is equally down to earth: cars.
To address consumer culture and traditional culture on many levels at once she uses car bodies as art supplies, tires as sculpture materials, and custom-designed tire treads as printmaking tools. You could look at Romero’s work from a theorist’s point of view or come at it fresh from the auto store, the print studio, or the elementary school and connect easily.
It’s no surprise Romero’s work is right up Northrup’s alley. The two met in San Jose a few years ago, and Northrup organized Romero’s first solo exhibit in the West. It’s at the museum right now, and it’s the basis of just one story among many that Northrup will tell at her upcoming Capital City Arts Initiative talk, “Bringing the World to Northern Nevada.”