Interview: New York star curator Clarissa Dalrymple

Last week, Brussels’ Xavier Hufkens Gallery opened its doors for a group exhibition curated by none other than Clarissa Dalrymple, independent New York curator who The New York Times has described as having ”an almost psychic ability to pinpoint who and what in art will matter next“. Just before the opening, we sat down with the art star curator and had a chat about the show and what really makes good art. 

Photographer Ruven Afanador

How did the collaboration with the Xavier Hufkens Gallery come about?

Xavier and I have known each other for a long time. We were having drinks and he just invited me. That was a long time ago actually, at the end of 2011 I think.

When you agree to curate an exhibition, how does that work? Where do you start?

Personally I just go through my head, recalling images and think about who interests me at the time, which varies a lot. The fact that there is a sort of communality in this show here is something that appears later rather than at first. I also thought it would be good not to have too much painting. First I thought of painting but then I gradually began to think that the images had to come off the wall and also get the possibility to move. Therefore the films. I had a long time to think about it which was really a luxury. I did see a lot throughout the last year.

So it’s a very personal selection then.

Totally. Not conceptual at all.

Do you always work this way?

I do. Unless I’ve been asked to do a certain approach. There are times when people say ‘I really don’t want any film’ and they make specific requests. It can be very nice to have parameters. Some tell me to focus on young people, for example. But here I was completely free, very generously.

When someone is struggling with their own philosophy – that’s what you want to see.

How do you choose the artists and how do you discover new talents? 

You just need to keep looking. I go to galleries and – I’m kind of embarrassed to say that – art fairs. The Whitney Biennal is great, too.   This is where I discovered Jay Heikes, for example, or Luther Price.

Do you also browse the internet on the lookout for new artists?

No, not at all. I check on the internet after I got intrigued by their works at a gallery or a fair to find out more about them.

What is good art for you?

I think a lot of it is – to make as difficult an answer as the question – hard work. It is about three or four components and oddly enough the personality of the artist counts as well. The complexity of their intention is a major point, that it’s not a one-dimensional idea. When someone is struggling with their own philosophy – that’s what you want to see in a certain way. Not personal, but quite metaphysical. Most of this comes out when I talk to the artists. And I’m also interested in material. The most difficult is painting. It’s in a way the Haiku of all art. It’s such a lonely process. Although most people work alone, actually. But you can see when people talk to themselves and are embedded in a process in their head. Then there is an energy that is hard to define.

In the 70s artists did not expect to become rich.

What got you into art in the first place? A certain piece, a certain moment?

Probably artists! I come from a quite artistic family, which is more involved in theatre, though. I did a lot with film and then I just had a lot of friends that were artists. And I got to know this Belgian woman who as working in a gallery in New York as a director and she invited me to be her assistant. The gallery closed after two months because the stock market went down. It was in the early 80s. I find it terribly exciting to learn about it all. It was like a new science to me. I didn’t know anything about minimalism and conceptualism and these things.

So you started reading quite a lot?

I did. But I still don’t know that much. Art writing is really boring, actually (laughs).

You’ve been in the art business for quite a while now. Has it changed a lot?

Yes, it has changed. When I started, or even before, in the 70s, artists did not expect to become rich. The huge difference is what artists expect. And the fabrication became much slicker in art. It became much more industrial in a way, not exactly product-worthy. Much more product-seductive, I think. And people have many more assistants than they used to. They just expect to succeed. So many more people go to art school, there are many more galleries – the market exploded, as of the 80s, really. New York has been responsible for this explosion, I think.

So being an artist these days is more seen as just another profession to make money?

Yes, exactly.

As opposed to people just doing it for their passion no matter if they’d succeed or not. 

Yes. In America you could be somebody with a realm in a certain milieu, a ‘bohemian’ for example. You weren’t expected to be a rich person but you could still be interesting and be someone.

Why should people come see your exhibition at Xavier Hufkens?

Because most of it has some real value, and it’s something to examine. Yes, something to examine.

Curated by Clarissa Darymple
Until 9th February
Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Rue Saint-Georges 6-8 Sint-Jorisstraat – 1050 Brussels