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PRINT November 2002

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Robert Storr

LATE SUMMER brought the announcement that Robert Storr would curate SlTE Santa Fe’s Fifth International Biennial-following in the footsteps of Bruce Ferguson, Francesco Bonami, Rosa Martinez, and, most recently, Dave Hickey. Hickey’s iconoclastic, pan-generational “Beau Monde: Towards a Redeemed Cosmopolitanism” vastly upped the profile of both venue and event, leaving SlTE Santa Fe—and its newly appointed curator—with a challenge on their hands.

In landing Storr, until recently senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the New Mexico art space has surely met the challenge. As for Storr, he’ll stake his claim with an about-face response to Hickey’s pageant of beauty: by examining the idea of the grotesque—what he calls the “counterterm to artistic idealism”—as represented in contemporary practice. With two years of preparation ahead (the show is scheduled to run July 17, 2004, through January 9, 2005), Storr is tight-lipped for now about his selections. He says only that this is a theme he has “thought and written about for a long time.” The claim is borne out by his having mounted “Deformations: Aspects of the Modern Grotesque” at MoMA back in 1996 and is evidenced in writings from his 1992 catalogue essay “Do the Wrong Thing: Eva Hesse and the Abstract Grotesque” (for the Yale University Art Gallery’s retrospective) to last year’s essay for “Eye Infection,” an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum that featured the work of Robert Crumb, Mike Kelley, Jim Nutt, Peter Saul, and H.C. Westermann, artists who, Storr writes, mirror “the deformations of our own features.” Regardless of the final cut, Storr’s biennial promises to be a veritable freak show.

Last May it was announced that Storr would leave MoMA to become the first Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, a position for which art historians Molly Nesbit and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh were widely named as candidates. At MoMA, he organized this year’s “Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting,” as well as retrospectives of Tony Smith and Chuck Close in 1998 and Bruce Nauman in 1995. “In the past few years, I’ve generally worked with older artists,” he admits, “so I’m looking forward to working with a younger generation. I’ve been tracking new work, and this is a chance to put that knowledge to use.” Regarding shifting roles Storr says, “The professorship means that I’ll be standing more on one leg than the other, but I’ve always stood on two, or actually more,” he laughs. “I taught, wrote, and made exhibitions the whole time I was at MoMA, and I’ll continue to do so.”

Of SITE Santa Fe’s director, Louis Grachos, Storr says, “His only expectation of me is that I produce a lively show.” One hope that, faced with such a Rabelaisian scheme, the director’s—and audience’s—stomachs are as strong the curator’s.

Michael Wilson is a New York-based writer.