Exclusive Interview with San Jose Museum’s Robin Treen, Part Two

In the final days of the San Jose Museum of Art’s excellent Momentum exhibition, I’m posting some previously unpublished remarks from a November 2014 interview I conducted with exhibition co-curator Robin Treen. The first installment (archived here) explores Momentum‘s origins, as well as its bold concept of “interveners.” Today’s conclusion gets into the joys and complications of organizing the exhibition itself, and the chair’s unique place in conceptual art.

Elizabeth Ivanovich: What happened when a piece [in the exhibition] didn’t get an official artist response or pairing?

Robin Treen: This actually provoked a lot of discussion amongst the staff, particularly between myself and [exhibition co-curator] Kat [Koh]. We realized right away that certain pieces would be more attractive than others, and so decided to limit it to one [per intervening artist]…We knew there wasn’t enough room in the gallery for each piece to have an intervention. We knew we were going to have 30 pieces in the core exhibition, and only 10 interveners…we didn’t want three people to intervene with the same [piece]. We did not stop them from intervening with a second piece if they wanted to. Carl Rohrs, the calligrapher, really had two pieces in mind when he created [Changing Direction]. One was Susan Manchester’s drawing called Solstice, and the other was Andy Goldsworthy’s Burnt Patch…I think that reference isn’t really clear in the beginning, because the piece wasn’t up. [Burnt Patch hadn’t been installed in the gallery at the time of the interview, and had been scheduled to be added the following week.] But that was also part of the concept for the exhibition, that it would change over time. So, what’s here on the day the show closes won’t have been here the day it opened.

EI: When I saw the Rohrs and Manchester pieces, I couldn’t help thinking of Joseph Kosuth’s conceptual piece One and Three Chairs, and wondering if there was an intentional connection there…

RT: I don’t know if [Rohrs] thought about that either, because you are right about that. There is a whole class at Stanford that’s famous, the chair design class [officially called “The Chair”], and it’s multidisciplinary. It’s physics students, design students, art students, it’s a whole conceptual thing, designing a chair but mixing all those things as well. Yeah, Stanford’s kind of famous for that. Interestingly, John Edmark, who created the intervention with Calder’s Big Red, is one of the teachers for that chair design class some quarters. So, I expected that we might get a chair from somebody, but I didn’t expect it to be Carl! [laughs] That was a happy surprise.

Momentum is on view through February 22nd at the San Jose Museum of Art, 110 South Market Street, San Jose. Phone (408) 271-6840 or visit sjmusart.org for more information.

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