April Art Talk will examine connection between culture and contemporary art
Aaron Moulton, the senior curator of exhibitions for Salt Lake City’s Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, is looking forward to giving April’s free Art Talk at the Kimball Art Center on Thursday.
Moulton, who moved to Utah in 2012 from Berlin where he founded of the exhibition space FEINKOST, said giving talks is a way for him to explain what a curator does in the contemporary art world.
"These opportunities help me unpack ideas and explain my research and approach and help (shed light) on the process involved, which, at times, I feel can be a murky or an opaque business," Moulton told The Park Record. "I’m very much interested in how one can open windows on these things and use exhibitions as case studies."
Moulton’s subject during the hour-long presentation is Curatorial Anthropology, which, he says, is an "interesting way to discuss what the fundamentals of good curating is about."
"A curator is a caretaker of culture and objects with the purpose to maintain and present collections to the public," he said. "A curator also helps make connections between histories and cultures through these objects.
"In a contemporary art sense, a curator (is) more of a person who casts a net and uses a compass to find pathways of things that are happening in culture," he said. "In doing so, the curator gathers objects and ideas to present a thesis or a statement that helps illuminate the way (the public) can see what is ultimately a very diverse and enormously vast territory of cultural and art practices."
The anthropological aspect is focused specifically in the language of the art, he said.
"Unfortunately, that can be a very closed dialogue, and so, I look at my efforts as a way to try to connect contemporary art with culture and vice versa," Moulton said.
contemporary art, Moulton means film, music, icons and other things that don’t easily categorize in a single field.
"This is a way to establish a (connection) between a (work) that has its own historical and contextual information with another (work) that comes from a completely different place to show they have a similar purpose if we look closely at their details," he said. "That way, one object helps the other, like one hand washing the other."
By doing so, a curator can show the public how these pieces can also stand alone as cultural art and whether or not they have any "use value," Moulton said.
"I say ‘use value,’ because the term ‘value’ is a very slippery notion in our culture," he said. "Especially in contemporary art, we have a difficult time defining value for these items, and sometimes that’s a very difficult thing to pull out.
"For example, an Andy Warhol work can cost millions, which can be alienating to some people, because they might begin to wonder why that work is so important (to garner that price tag)," Moulton said.
Because a work like that may represent monetary value, the public often fails to question if it has any relevance in our culture or if it helps us understand ourselves as a civilization, he said.
"That’s why I use anthropological methodologies in putting disparate things together that represent aspects of culture that we can agree have use value," Moulton explained. "Who knows, maybe then can those ideas can cross over into other discourse."
Moulton, who is also the editor of the exhibitions quarterly AGMA as well as the publisher for the satirical anthology An Art Newspaper: Special DECADE Issue, has his own methods of researching a piece of contemporary art.
"It’s a funny process, because I think in terms like how an Internet search is conducted," he said. "My mind is full of key words and tags. As I have worked with art, I have developed a skill where I can immediately evaluate specific things, such as the material, the composition or where the object fits in the (timeline of) career of an artist. I can also look at where and how the artist fits in within his contemporaries, and I can tell if the object was made in a reaction to art history in the references he used."
The references bring up another issue — to what extent is the work derivative from other art that has come before it.
"Unfortunately to make something totally original in our culture is next to impossible," he said. "Someone who makes something without referencing something in the past — even the Romans referenced the Greeks really doesn’t happen."
In addition to these issues, Moulton will talk about a new exhibition, called the Utah Biennial, which will open at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in May.
"A biennial is something we have that casts a net over items every two years to explain what has been happening in our culture in the contemporary and global art field," he said.
One of the challenges in to curating that exhibit is to keep his ideas as objective as possible.
"While I try to use a scientific approach in doing a biennial, I’m aware that I’m a subjective person," he said. "I do feel that it interesting for me to differentiate what reflects my personal taste and what reflects my professional taste, because what I collect privately as art and what I collect as an institutional voice is very different. So I try to keep those voices in two different compartments.
"I will talk about the process of gathering information for the biennial exhibition, which will include cultural phenomenon as well as contemporary art pertaining to Utah," Moulton said.
The Kimball Art Center, 638 Park Ave., will present an Art Talk about curatorial anthropology given by Aaron Moulton, curator of exhibitions for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 18, 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.kimballartcenter.org.
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