PRINT March 2000

Andrea Miller-Keller

CARLOS BASUALDO: In putting together the Biennial, did you have any opportunity to accommodate art beyond the museum walls?

ANDREA MILLER-KELLER: The kinds of explorations that move beyond the bounds of the museum take considerable time to nurture and develop. The absence of such public work is for me probably the greatest weakness of this Biennial. When the six of us gathered for the first time in April (and learned that the catalogue deadline would be October), we talked about choosing a theme but felt that there were hazards in making too rushed or casual a choice. We decided it would be smarter to put our efforts into showing good work by strong artists. Remember, we all had our “day jobs.” We also agreed that if we couldn’t get the strongest work available, then we would not show a given artist.

CB: It looks to me like there were other things going on—inviting non-US citizens, including a number of younger artists.

AMK: At the beginning, we talked about what kind of balance would be wise. We thought we’d aim for a show that had —these were our starting figures —maybe forty percent younger artists, forty percent midcareer, and twenty percent older. We never went back and checked to see how we did with those numbers —it wasn’t about rigid categories or quotas at all —but that was what we thought the Biennial should present to the public.

CB: Are you satisfied with the structure of the show?

AMK: No, not entirely. I think it is appropriate and accomplished given the circumstances, but it would be much better to have a curator of contemporary art at the Whitney who takes the lead on the Biennial. Personally, I had to make a difficult decision about whether or not to participate. The five curators who had left the Whitney were all people I admired and there were other curators who were invited to participate and said no.

CB: What was your main reason for taking part in it?

AMK: A lot of people see the Biennial, so I hoped I would have a chance to speak on behalf of some artists who maybe have not been in past shows. Of those selected, only thirteen have been in previous Biennials.

CB: Could you tell me about some of the people in the show you feel most strongly about?

AMK: First, I’d rather tell you about some who I wish were in the show but are not. For example, there’s Michael Singer, who made his reputation as a sculptor and is now leading architectural teams involved in major recycling projects. I think that’s something that needs to be acknowledged—an artistic vision that has both aesthetic and political implications. There are others I would have included: With her large-scale Polaroids, Ellen Carey is working at ground zero in the field of photography. Beth B’s portraits of women are art-historically important as well as beautiful. Then there’s someone like Betty Woodman, who started out in ceramics and craft and has come to a completely different place as she turns seventy. I wish we could have introduced the general public to the work of filmmakers Diane Nerwen and Lucia Davis. On the upside, I’m delighted that the Biennial includes T. Kim-Trang Tran, Mandy Morrison, Sadie Benning, Jennifer Reeder, Sharon Lockhart, Carl Pope, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Louise Lawler, Franco Mondini-Ruiz, Arthur Jafa, Bill DeLottie, ®™ark, and many, many others.

CB: In what way was the show important for your own practice in terms of how you think about your own work?

AMK: I don’t know that it was important for me, although it was a positive experience. It’s almost the total opposite of my twenty-four years of running matrix [at the Atheneum], which was small, low-key, low-profile, and independent. With matrix, each artist and I worked together in some depth, often challenging institutional boundaries, for instance, Julie Ault’s 1997 “Power Up: Sister Mary Corita and Donald Moffet,” or, in my last official show for matrix, the historical reclamation of Mierle Ukeles’s 1973 “Maintenance Art” pieces inside the very museum that had totally forgotten about them.

CB: Was the avoidance of the bigger-name galleries a comment about the art world?

AMK: Well, probably for some of us. Certainly undue influence from such sources is always on my mind. But I can’t speak for the other curators because that tendency wasn’t by design.

CB: Were there any pressures?

AMK: There were none—except for time and money! In the past I gather that it was common to turn to galleries for substantial support when their artists were selected. That would augment the budget in a substantial way, and it’s probably standard practice in many shows. I think in this respect this year’s Biennial is certainly an exception.

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