PRINT March 2000

Lawrence Rinder

JULIE CANIGLIA: How do you think the 2000 Biennial will come to be regarded in relation to others?

LAWRENCE RINDER:. It’s more eclectic in form and spirit. We agreed from the start not to have a theme, for example—but I’m interested in seeing whether one emerges from the mix.

JC:What would your ideal Biennial look like?*

LR: Well, I like this Biennial! It might even look like this one.

JC: Who were the lesser-known artists you championed?

LR: This selection was generally made not by artist but by artwork. We tried to bring to the table specific works, and the artists sank or swam on that basis. If anything is going to make this a rich and exciting Biennial, it’s that. We had the freedom to propose works by artists who might be completely unknown, and it also meant that we might pass by some who might seem obvious.

JC: Did you come to the table knowing that a work was available for the show?

LR: In some cases, we knew a work was available. Sometimes, after there was consensus about a piece, one of us would have to go out and try to secure it. Of course, in a show like this, there’s always a dynamic, organic process, and there were instances when an artist would complete a major new work after a previous one had been approved. In such a case, we’d likely defer to our colleague’s opinions and allow a substitution.

JC: Did you deliberately avoid artists considered part of the “trendy gallery” set?

LR: No, that was a nonissue, because what we were looking at was, again, specific works of art.

JC: What was the biggest surprise about the process?

LR: Given how little consensus there was at the beginning, that we got the exhibition done at all is testimony to the fact that we had a system that worked.

JC: So you were surprised by the lack of overlap in the first lists that you and the others submitted?

LR: “Shocked” would be a more appropriate word. Of course, the six curators are people with very different aesthetic sensibilities, so learning about each other’s passions was not just about a neutral engagement, it was really a matter of accepting that there are widely divergent points of view and seeing the value in what wouldn’t normally cross our radar screen. That’s where this Biennial will succeed or fail: The diversity and clash of sensibilities will either be illuminating and exciting, or just discordant.

JC: Was there any aspect of the process that was particularly contentious for you?

LR: Of course, we had our tense moments, especially toward the end. There were many works that I believed in and fought for that didn’t make it. But when you see the writing on the wall, finally you have to let go. With such an overwhelming amount of work to do, if you carry a grudge about one piece, you’re doomed. You had to be looking toward the larger goal.

JC: What was the biggest challenge?

LR: Initially, it was overcoming the negative spin about the Whitney—not letting people’s opinions about the Whitney get in the way.

JC: If this is the “least gallery-driven” Biennial in a while, what quality predominates?

LR: I’m waiting to see the exhibition to decide. My gut feeling about what might be going on is that there’s a quality of reflection or contemplation in the work that is more than just some sort of Zen disengagement. Even works that are taking on some heavy social or political subjects seem to have an internal, reflective quality. That measured tone may pervade this exhibition.

JC: How did you come to curating and what do you consider to be your most significant contributions to the field to date?

LR: I began in museum education and made the switch to curating back in 1987. As the Berkeley Art Museum’s matrix curator I enjoyed working with emerging as well as more established artists who wanted to try something new. Berkeley offered a lot of creative latitude, and I think they really deserve credit for giving me and Nayland Blake the opportunity to curate “In a Different Light,” our exhibition exploring the resonance of gay and lesbian experience in twentieth-century American culture. In 1997 I left Berkeley to become the founding director of the Institute for Exhibitions and Public Programs at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and San Francisco. The Institute is a new model for exhibition practice in an educational context. Our international, contemporary exhibitions and programs in the fields of art, architecture, and design have helped to catalyze CCAC’s transformation into one of the most forward-looking art schools in the country.