PRINT November 2000


Carlos Basualdo

“The role of this institution is not to be a collector but rather a producer of culture,” explains Carlos Basualdo of the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University in Columbus. He has just been appointed chief curator of exhibitions, replacing Sarah J. Rogers, who had been with the Wexner since its opening (in a building designed by Peter Eisenman and Richard Trott) in 1989 and its director of exhibitions since 1993. Rogers’s departure followed that of curator Donna De Salvo for a job at London’s Tate Modern. Paraphrasing the legendary early-twentieth-century curator Alexander Dorner, the thirty-six-year-old Basualdo says, “It should be a place that produces energy, that produces the public sphere (at a time when that is so threatened), a kind of powerhouse.”

Although Basualdo has amassed considerable curatorial experience over the past few years—for instance, organizing major exhibitions of artists such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Hélio Oiticica and thematic shows like the recent “Worthless (Invaluable)” at the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana as well as serving on Okwui Enwezor’s six-person team for the next Documenta, in 2002—this is the first time he’s taken a staff position. But his intentions sound well adapted to the Wexner’s focus on performing arts and media as well as on exhibitions—not to mention its ambition to be, in director Sherri Geldin’s phrase, “a creative laboratory” supporting the production of new work by artists as diverse as sculptor/architect Maya Lin, filmmaker Chris Marker, and photographer/video artist Lorna Simpson.

As a model for “a kind of powerhouse,” Basualdo recalls a place that was a big part of the reason he began traveling in the ’80s from Rosario, Argentina, where he was born, to Buenos Aires. In a country recovering from dictatorship, the Institute for Inter-American Cooperation became, he says, “a place where you could go to read, have a coffee, and meet fantastic people, from fashion designers to poets”—place where you could feel you were at the center of culture. After studying modern English and American literature, he moved from Argentina to New York in 1994. At that point he still thought of himself primarily as a poet, but he quickly became more active as an art critic, serving as a vital link between the resurgent art of Latin America and the international art scene.

Basualdo also looks back to heady days when bringing modem art to museums was a new and risky endeavor and cites curators like Chick Austin of the Wadsworth Atheneum as cultural animators on a grand scale. Early-twentieth-century museum practice, Basualdo insists, shows that “interdisciplinarity is embedded in the history of modern art. We should be thinking about art history in such a way that it doesn’t become autonomous, but overflows its boundaries.”

Barry Schwabsky is a frequent contributor to Artforum.