«Perhaps you have attended one of Spectrum's many concerts, panel discussions, trivia nights, or the annual Oktoberfest at The Cloisters museum and gardens. Now the group would like to bring you closer to the Met and introduce some of the staff members that make the Museum such a special place. This post is the first in our "Spectrum Spotlight" series, which will introduce some of the Met's rising stars on the curatorial staff. Look for more installments throughout the year, and, of course, please attend Spectrum events!»
As co-chairs of Spectrum, we recently had the opportunity to speak with Ian Alteveer—curator in the Met's Department of Modern and Contemporary Art—who organized the current installation, William Kentridge: The Refusal of Time.
Spectrum: Modern and contemporary art are your areas of expertise. How do you stay on top of emerging artists and new media in the art world today?
Ian Alteveer: There are lots of great ways to keep up with what's going on. Technology can be fantastic, but at the same time a bit overwhelming in this regard. For example, I probably get some twenty to thirty emails a day that are announcements for gallery exhibitions, art fairs, lectures, screenings, and the like. That can be a bit much, so I find digest versions much easier to handle. An artist and professor at the School of Visual Arts makes one such list that arrives in my inbox about once a week and includes almost every single gallery and museum show in New York. It is super condensed and one of my favorite ways to keep up.
Spectrum: How did you first come across William Kentridge's work, and why did you choose to collect his drawings and produce the installation, The Refusal of Time (with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), for the Met?
Ian Alteveer: Since the 1990s, William Kentridge's work has been very accessible to an international audience, and the Met has been following it for a long time in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art—since well before my time here. The current installation of his works on paper, In Praise of Shadows, involves objects that were collected, to a large extent, by my predecessors as well as my colleagues in other departments, including Samantha Rippner from the Department of Drawings and Prints. Many of these works were already shown about ten years ago in a series of installations here [at the Museum].
The Refusal of Time is a slightly different story. We knew, to some extent, that William would be making a new commission in summer 2012 for dOCUMENTA—an international survey of contemporary art that happens every five years in Kassel, Germany—and also that he would be lecturing at Harvard the winter before. One of the first things my boss, Sheena Wagstaff, asked me to do when she [came to work at the Met] was to go and see the final lecture. From that, it was already quite evident that the ideas behind what would become The Refusal of Time were so exciting and so powerful that we wanted to see more. We were completely blown away when we saw the finished work in Germany last year.
Spectrum: We understand that the gallery space used for The Refusal of Time is quite unique. Can you tell us about it?
Ian Alteveer: The site chosen for the original installation of The Refusal of Time in Germany was a disused freight terminal at the far end of a railway station at the north end of town. The artist used the derelict, abandoned feel of its rough cinder-block walls to great effect and, in subsequent installations of the work, the artist and his creative team have striven to create equally unique spaces. One of Kentridge's collaborators is the very talented set designer Sabine Theunissen, who worked with us [at the Met] to design a space that—through fairly simple techniques and little tricks of the stage such as shades and hues of gray paint, large fiberboard planks, and masking tape—made a fabulously strange environment out of what was once an essentially pristine white gallery on our second floor.
Spectrum: What is the most exciting or interesting part of being a curator at the Met?
Ian Alteveer: I always say that the best part of my job is working with living artists—visiting them in their studios, talking with them about their work, working with them on how best to display it—but I guess that doesn't fully answer your question. Working at the Met is particularly exciting because, on the one hand, under this roof are five thousand years of human endeavor and creativity on which to build a context for those who work creatively today; and, on the other, there are all of my amazing and brilliant curatorial colleagues who are specialists in so many diverse [areas] that I am not, and who are always ready to explain in wonderful and brilliant detail their corner of the world in their particular field and era. The Museum is truly encyclopedic in that regard, because of all the objects here and all the people who work with them.
For more insights from the Met curators, including Ian Alteveer, visit the Connections and 82nd and Fifth features on our website.
For more information about Spectrum, or to sign up for our newsletter about future events, email firstname.lastname@example.org. And, be sure to look for an upcoming Spectrum event related to William Kentridge: The Refusal of Time in 2014.
Above images: William Kentridge (South African, born 1955). Gallery views of The Refusal of Time, 2012. A collaboration with Philip Miller, Catherine Meyburgh, and Peter Galison. Jointly owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase, Roy R. and Marie S. Neuberger Foundation Inc. and Wendy Fisher Gifts and The Raymond and Beverly Sackler 21st Century Art Fund, 2013. © 2012 William Kentridge
Photo of Ian Alteveer by Jackie Neale Chadwick