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On Wednesday, June 20, Suzanne Weaver assumed her new position as the Brown Family curator of modern and contemporary art at the San Antonio Museum of Art. She replaced Anna Stothart, who left the SA Museum of Art in April to fill a newly created position as director at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York. Weaver came to the SA Museum of Art after serving as interim director at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami. Before that, she served as Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.
Weaver brought in major acquisitions and gifts for the institutions she has worked for, and is known for her ability to discover young, talented, and emerging artists. Weaver built her reputation during the 14 years she spent as Nancy and Tim Hanley associate curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Art, where she curated big-name shows, including 22 of their Concentrations series, “contemporary, project-based exhibitions that provide a platform for international emerging and underrepresented artists.” These included Doug Aitken, Shirin Neshat, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Phil Collins.
At the SA Museum of Art, Weaver joins Kelso Director Katherine Luber and a curatorial team that includes Chief Curator William Rudolph, who Weaver worked with at the DMA. Over tea at Rosella Coffee with the Rivard Report, Weaver shared her goals and thoughts on curating and “telling the story of art.”
Rivard Report: How would you describe your particular aesthetic as a curator?
Suzanne Weaver: It comes from looking at a lot of art. I do believe that there’s quality in contemporary art, even with younger work. Many artists may be dealing with the same ideas, the same motivating issues — aesthetically and conceptually — but some artists really do rise to the top.
I call it my “C’s,” art (with) conviction, commitment, clarity. You see that an artist has rigor, he or she is challenging themselves. You know they are going to make art, no matter what. They’re the real deal. All their work may not be great — uneven, so to speak – but there are strong, underlying and motivating ideas behind the work. Maybe all the work isn’t that great, but there are some strong ideas that are motivating them. It’s the way that they think.
When I organized the 22 Concentrations shows (at the DMA), I worked with artists working in a wide-range of practices, from painters to installations to new media — film and video. To paraphrase Dave Hickey, there’s a necessity to the work. There is also a sense that its meaning will be lasting, which is important with political work. The work can be relevant to an audience long after the topic, or socio-political situation has passed. I like to follow an artist’s entire body of work. I will wait for the right piece or body of work before acquiring and/or showing.
The other C is curiosity. Artists must be curious. They need to travel, see all kinds of exhibitions, be interested in what is going on in life as well as art. I like artists who are curious about other artists, art, architecture, film, literature – basically ideas and life.
RR: What are the some of the institutions that you admire?
SW: Well, besides the DMA, I have always admired the Walker (Art Center), (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which just opened a new building. The Whitney (Museum of American Art) is another great institution. Like the Walker, they are clear about their mission and vision. I admire that, with their new building, they re-evaluated their collection and exhibition program.
RR: What are some of your favorite shows that you have curated?
SW: It’s hard to say because I’ve done so many and some are my favorites for reasons that are hard to explain. Sometimes, they are favorites because they were really risky and challenging. The whole staff – preparators, exhibition coordinators, carpenters, etc. – would come together and pull something off that had never been done before. I love the collaboration aspect. I really enjoyed Come Forward, Emerging Art in Texas (2003) which I curated with Lane Relyea, who was at the CORE Program at that time. We did over 75 studio visits together. … Another show was Phil Collins/The Smiths the world won’t listen project, a video trilogy. It was a project I worked on for three years. It was my last Concentrations and the most difficult one. I am quite proud of the cross-disciplinary published with Yale.
Another Concentrations show I did was with Maureen Gallace. She paints with ‘a waste not, want not’ brushstroke, small houses in the snow in Connecticut or on Cape Cod. I see them as ‘Donald Judd meets Fairfield Porter.’ They have no windows or people, but they are quite powerful. From her, I have learned so much about painting. Maureen and I will be friends for life, and she continues to teach me about painting and what it takes to make work and be an artist.
RR: How much of the SA Museum of Art is about collecting and how much is about bringing shows in?
SW: I think it is a combination. Katie Luber had been there for five years. I’ve worked with 10 directors, so I think she has the right balance. She has a passion about art, she knows art, she has a Ph.D. and is a scholar. She also knows about business and loves fundraising. With the Chief Curator William Rudolph, who also has the same great combination of being philosophical – big picture kind of leader – and pragmatic, I know there will be great, real, meaningful conversations ahead.
You have to realize, for exhibitions, even for public programs, everything you do, there has to be a balance, we have to consider what is popular — getting the numbers – but also what is scholarly and important. That will give you the credibility internationally. Don’t forget your audience internationally, your artists, scholars, and colleagues. You continue to evaluate the balance in light of your mission and vision.
RR: What are your goals for the SA Museum of Art?
SW: Along with an exhibition plan that will include large-scale exhibition as well as small, focused perhaps, collection related, I want to develop a strategic collection plan and set goals. SAMA is such a young institution and we do not have a long history of patrons and collectors giving major works of minimalism or Ab-Ex like in Dallas, so you have to be really smart, creative, in looking at how you tell the story of art; what is important in the history of art — key concepts, innovations, changes, for example. One cannot “fill holes,” so to speak, especially with the astronomical prices of contemporary art. How can you create a meaningful, smart, fresh collection that builds on the assets of the museum? I hope to find works that can connect to art from different cultures, periods, and geography.
When I helped to build the foundation of an international collection of video and video installations at the DMA, I wasn’t necessarily looking at the technology. Heck, I cannot even program my home DVD player. I was looking at how a work changed and influenced other art, how it impacted the way we think about art and the times we are living in.
Again, you need to be creative, agile, and strategic when building a collection. You can borrow from collectors, institutions, foundations, and museums, which Anna was doing in a thoughtful and informed way. You can borrow from or commission artists. Sometimes, the work becomes a promised and/or partial gift. So, it comes down to having good (art) end up raising money for the work or the relationships with collectors, dealers, artists…but isn’t that the most fun part of what we do?
I love building. My biggest joy is building programs, exhibitions and collections. I love to make happen collaborative relationships, in the community and the larger art world. Programs and relationships that will make lasting changes and contributions to the artistic, intellectual and cultural landscape, regionally and beyond.
Top image: San Antonio Museum of Art’s new Curator of Contemporary and Modern Art Suzanne Weaver. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.