PRINT March 2000

Michael Auping

KATY SIEGEL: How do you think this Biennial will come to be regarded in relation to others?

MICHAEL AUPING: It will arguably be the first in a series of international Biennials, because of the way we migrate today: An artist could be born in Beijing and end up working in New York. It forces the issue of what we mean when we say “American.” There are also far fewer artists recognized by galleries.

KS: I think some gallery people are a little ticked off about that.

MA: I’ve gotten two responses. One is that they’re a little ticked off that some of their more stellar artists aren’t in. The other is that we’ve done a lot of legwork, and a number of these artists will have galleries before the opening dinner.

KS: What were the biggest contentions within the group as a whole?

MA: The Whitney didn’t provide us with a template. When we threw together our lists of fifty artists at the first meeting and there wasn’t a single overlap, I was ready to get on the plane and go home —what were we going to do, mud-wrestle? So each curator was allowed to vote 3, 2 or 1 on each artist, which was very helpful in terms of the upper and lower edges of the list. If an artist got an 18, it was unanimous. If an artist got 6, it was also unanimous. The problem, of course, occurred in the middle. Where do you make the cutoff? It got a little strange when we began to see that possibly one of our favorite artists might not make the cut. Eventually we said, those of us who have passions can make a presentation, and then we’d vote again. To be effective in these situations, you have to be able to verbalize why a particular artist is important. There were lots of arguments along the way.

KS: Who received your “passion votes”?

MA: There were no passion votes per se, but I was very passionate about Richard Tuttle —there’s such a buzz about Tuttle among younger artists, I thought it was important that he be in this Biennial, not the next one.

KS: Which of your favorites didn’t make the cut?

MA: Richard Serra —I think you can argue that his Torqued Ellipses are among the best works of art in the last decade; Jeff Koons, who completely polarizes the art world. When I argued for him in a meeting, one of my colleagues said, “I hate Jeff Koons,” and I said, “That’s the reason to have him in the Biennial.”

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

MA: One was James Drake, whose work serves as a good metaphor for the entire Biennial in the sense that it revolves around borders. I was also very much in favor of Leandro Erlich. I don’t want to sound like the Texas Chamber of Commerce, but I think he’s one of the bright young artists in the show.

KS: Is anything being produced especially for the show?

MA: This is the largest budget for a Biennial ever, but we could have spent it all very quickly if we’d decided to produce work. We did give a budget to artists who wanted to make things for the show, and tried to keep it even across the board so a Hans Haacke got the same amount as a Leandro Erlich.

KS: What would you describe as your biggest curatorial accomplishment prior to the Biennial?

MA: For me, doing exhibitions is the lifeblood of this job, and one tends to be most engrossed with the “next big project.” Right now, I’m consumed with a Philip Guston retrospective, the largest one to date. Like most people of my generation, I’m a child of Abstract Expressionism, and Guston’s role during that movement’s heyday and in finally getting us out of it and reclaiming imagistic painting for late-twentieth-century art has not been fully explored. Not long after I came to the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, I was able to do an exhibition of Arshile Gorky’s breakthrough paintings of the ’40s, and partly out of luck and timing, in the mid-’80s I had the opportunity to do the largest group exhibition of Abstract Expressionism in decades.

KS: Are there curators you would have liked to see on the “team,” people you particularly admire?

MA: Neal Benezra, Suzanne Ghez, or Paul Schimmel is an obvious candidate. For a younger generation, you might go to Madeleine Grynsztejn or Elizabeth Smith or Nancy Spector. I think it would also be interesting to have one or two people who are less obvious. I’d love to be on a committee like this with Susan Sontag. Aaron Betsky, the architecture and design curator at SF MoMA, would also make an interesting addition. And if the Biennial is going to continue to be more “international,” it would make sense to let a non-American rummage around studios in the US. Based on the fact that our committee is a kind of experiment, it will be interesting to see what the Whitney does for the next Biennial in terms of retreating or reaching even further.