Art for Embassies: Curatorial adventure in New Zealand


  james brown and nathan huff at the hammer museum

Early December I received an email inviting me to participate in a special curatorial project for Art in Embassies. It is a program that places American artworks in US embassies and ambassadorial residences around the world.  Always eager to be involved in activities that create conversations around visual objects, I jumped on board of the project.  Plus, it involved travel to New Zealand, a country I have long wanted to visit.   A unique adaptation to the program, inspired by Ambassador David Huebner, challenges two emerging artists from different countries to come up with a dialogue, build a relationship, and as colleagues, plan an exhibition that represents that encounter. 
I smile thinking about my experiences on this adventure so far—from the first invitation from Art for Embassies to participate in this project, and my eager involvement. Trying to envision what type of work myself and my “blind date” curator colleague and I might have in common.  Negotiating two young artists’ ideas of creative practice and making this up as we go along.  Pushing a relationship faster than natural and rather enjoying the growing friendship. 

I recall my first skype video call with James on a miscalculated time difference that pulled him out of bed at 6am.  James’s bleary eyes and unmade bed behind him led to a funny introduction.  There is earnestness in his person and work ethic that I find appealing.  He carries a warmth and down to earth nature that jumps on all types of projects and isn’t daunted by new tasks.  In the four days I spent with James our conversations wandered through discussions of politics, Flight of the Concords, spirituality and religion, Peter Jackson, tall poppy syndrome, creative practice, traffic, weather, Maori culture and craft.

Travelling always reminds me that despite our distances there is an earnest desire to connect, to show hospitality, to share experiences, and to compare and contrast experiences.  One of the great gifts of this trip was visiting the art studios of New Zealand artists.  As an outsider stepping into an artist’s creative process and private studio is a vulnerable place, one’s personal journey of creativity suddenly exposed to the harsh outside world of critique.  I considered it an honor to hold that vulnerability as one artist to another.  I’ve been less concerned about the exhibition itself and more intrigued by the relationships that are being built cross-continents. 

Other highlights included warm welcomes and personal meetings from the directors of major art institutions, and a willingness to go out of the way by the embassy staff to host and support.  Drinks on Cuba Street, endless cups of rich coffee, and watching Wellington youth launch themselves off the boardwalk and into the ocean. Kiwi specialty dinners made by my hosts, homemade trifle. Mmm homemade trifle. A fuzzy puppy named Darwin that climbed on my couch bed with me and licked me awake before another full day of art viewing.  There were some awkward conversations along the way with social anxiety and miscommunication with gallerists and clearing up expectations. Those normal hiccups that accompany any project where a new game plan needs to be established when unforeseen hurdles arrive.

My trip was a whirlwind education on NZ artists throughout the century of which I was nearly completely ignorant when I arrived. In the 10 days I was in NZ I visited over 35 galleries, 5 National museums, was invited into 10 different artist’s private studios in 3 different cities.  My initial impression and judgments of the art I saw was that it had an earnest engagement both with the local culture and history and with the global art scene.  A relatively young relationship to the broader art scene, but conversations that were nonetheless rigorous and intellectual and less cynical than those I observe in Los Angeles.  I am aware of the brevity of my exposure to a country’s history, but it wet my appetite to see more from this unique place and continue a relationship with those artists I encountered.

Finally it all comes back to the project.  The exhibition theme is coalescing; the curatorial decisions are daunting due to the fact that this is in a residence—not a gallery, a home, a heavily stylized home.  How do design and content come together to bring a sense of beauty and aesthetics? How might visual conversations appear between paintings in a space that is already predisposed to a certain aesthetic quality?

We are charged with the prospect of forming an exhibition that will not only  represent the conversations that James and I have developed but also function as aesthetic things of beauty as the art hangs on the walls of the residence.  We are halfway there.  The exchange continues as James arrives in Los Angeles in 2 weeks for a whirlwind tour of the art scene in LA.  I’m looking forward to sharing my turf!




Be the first to post a comment.

Previously published:

All 22 blog entries

 Nathan Huff • Santa Barbara, CA626-675-8507
RSS RSS  | Sitemap
Copyright © 2016