PRINT January 2002

World Report

Rochelle Steiner

Set like a jewel in London’s Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine Gallery is “probably the greatest art space in the world for its size,” according to Ralph Rugoff, director of the CCAC Wattis Institute for Contemporary arts (his show “The Greenhouse Effect” was presented there in 2000). Emphasizing commissions (Doug Aitken, Zaha Hadid) and collaborative ventures with other institutions (Dia Center for the Arts, MAK Vienna), the Serpentine is a small but central portal through which the stream of international art activity flows. With recent exhibitions running the gamut from Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Bridget Riley, the venue requires a curatorial flexibility equal to its name.

“I look forward to commingling my ‘outsider’ perspective with the gallery’s ‘insider’ take on London,” says newly appointed chief curator Rochelle Steiner, who arrives from a five-year tenure as associate curator of contemporary art at the St. Louis Art Museum, with stints at the Walker Art Center and as North American coordinator for the 1995 Kwangju Biennale before that. In a game of cross-pond musical chairs, Steiner replaces Lisa Corrin, also an American, who departs for the Seattle Art Museum. “It’s interesting that the Serpentine has chosen American women as curators twice in a row,” says Museum of Modern Art senior curator Robert Storr. “But Rochelle is part of a generation of curators that moves around a lot. The movement doesn’t represent an American eye being turned on Europe or vice versa, but a general mobility and sense of latitude.”

Speaking of the future, Steiner and Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones say only that they look forward to expanding the gallery’s reach without losing its intimacy. Rugoff, however, suggests that Steiner’s move—like ICA London curator Matthew Higgs’s recent migration to CCAC in San Francisco—might represent a welcome shift away from blockbuster institutionalization. “I think that creative curators are looking to ‘step down’ in order to pursue work they can’t do in larger places,” Rugoff remarks. Will this putative interest in curating for curating’s sake dovetail with the Serpentine’s glamorous profile and frankly international programming? Will Steiner manage to juggle the compelling but inimical attractions of small-scale intensity and grand-scale importance? With increased mobility come increased challenges, but few venues seem better positioned to allow for inventive solutions.

Frances Richard is a frequent contributor to Artforum.