Jason Stopa's Curatorial Perspective

Artwork by Liz Markus. Courtesy photo. 

Artwork by Liz Markus. Courtesy photo. 

The Friday afternoon light streamed through the windows of the Zilkha Gallery, illuminating the bright colors and expressionist forms of A New Subjectivity: Figurative Painting After 2000. After strolling through the show, featuring representational paintings by six women, I took a moment to catch up with curator Jason Stopa to discuss his curatorial practice, the importance of viewing art in real life, and what it’s like to put together a women-centric show as a male curator.

LH: In what ways do you find the curatorial process to be a generative artistic experience?

JS: I’m a painter, and I have to say that I’ve only really curated shows that have had paintings and sculptures in them. I think the great thing about curating is that it makes you excited to make work yourself. You’re learning from your peers and the people you admire. You learn what their process is and the ideas that go behind their work. I don’t know if it’s a direct connection—it’s not like ‘oh, I had that studio visit and then I, immediately, did X that related to it.’ It’s more that you’re building a community by interfacing with others. It generates a whole host of creative ideas.

LH: How does your work as a painter inform your own consumption of art?

JS: If you’re going to be a painter, you have to spend a lot of time looking. It’s similar to any object-based practice. And that doesn’t mean just looking on Instagram. I think that social media is a great tool, but it’s a very limited tool with respect to actually seeing real things and understanding how they’re made. There have been countless times when I’ve seen something online that I’ve really liked and then when I went to see it in person, I was just disappointed. Or, the reverse happens. So, I have to go check pieces out and see what they’re all about. I think that’s huge—to constantly be looking in order to understand and make sense of what is going on in your field.

LH: Right, and with certain pieces, especially these reliefs you were talking about earlier (several pieces by Gina Beavers), there are such tactile elements to them that wouldn’t necessarily come through in a digital rendering.

JS: Good work doesn’t reproduce well. By that I mean that it takes actual seeing, in real time, in person, to understand it. If I can get the same thing online that I do in person, then I think it fails to meet the standard of a deeper look.

LH: I know you mentioned that the show didn’t necessarily start out with the intention to be all-female. What was the process like of being a male curator curating this woman-centric show?

JS: Yeah, I don’t know if that actually matters—to be a man who curates women or a woman who curates men. I don’t think there is a direct correlation that anybody can draw from that. But, I do think that I got a lot of insight into what these artists’ work is about. When you’re curating, you have to talk to the artists. You visit their studios, and you read more about what it is they’re doing. You’re filling in a lot of blanks. I know all of these artists, and I’m friends with some of them. There were times before I curated the show when I took for granted what it was that they were doing, but then I really sat there and thought about it afterward; it started to make more sense.

LH: Have other peoples’ interpretations of the show changed at all post-election or post #MeToo?

JS: I don’t know if things have changed as a result of the election. It’s not an overly political show in terms of the content of the works. There are some social things these artists are dealing with and some personal things: emotional ideas, painterly and aesthetic formal ideas. But the artists are not dealing with the Trump administration directly. I do think that there is an exuberance to the show, and hopefully some moments of real enjoyment in play and pleasure.

Now, a couple of years since I started this show, there are some new painters who seem to be drawing from these same artists.

LH: You mentioned that you were interested in having elements of both playfulness and seriousness. Why did that juxtaposition feel important to you?

JS: I think it’s an important thing for any painter to want to achieve—enough seriousness that we take the work seriously, but then some element of play so that it doesn’t become overly austere. Some work that is very austere can pull itself off well, but it seems that is very hard to do today—to just be ascetic, removed from the world. That is a hard position to maintain.

Jason Stopa is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute and the curator of A New Subjectivity: Figurative Painting After 2000.

Linne Halpern ’18 is an English and American Studies double major at Wesleyan University. She is co-founder and editor of Reverberations.

A New Subjectivity: Figurative Painting After 2000 is currently on view (through March 4, 2018) in the Main Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts.