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Far right, Anthony Elms

Far right, Anthony Elms

Last week I met for coffee with Anthony Elms, one of the curators for the 2014 Whitney Biennial.  I wanted his input on a performance art piece that I have been thinking about doing for a while, and Mr. Elms was kind enough to meet with me.  Anthony was the perfect person to ask because of his background working with performance artists.  I also liked the exhibiting he curated, “White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart,” which gathered together artists who dealt with themes of adornment, clothing, and self-presentation.  He currently works as the Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art.  (Another exhibition he curated: “A Unicorn Basking in the Light of Three Glowing Suns”.  Love it!)  To learn more about Anthony Elms, click here.

Anthony Elms speaking at the Press Preview for the Whitney Bienniale.  Photos courtesy of Zimbio.com

Anthony Elms speaking at the Press Preview for the Whitney Bienniale. Photos courtesy of Zimbio.com

I dropped by the ICA early to check out the galleries before meeting Anthony.  The ICA has an impressive gallery space with soaring ceilings and fascinating work that screams cutting edge.  I was particularly fascinated with the videos, and enjoyed taking them in.

Institute of Contemporary Art

Institute of Contemporary Art

Mr. Elms met me in the lobby, and we walked over to a local coffee shop.  Anthony has an unassuming air, with a dapper style accented by large colored glasses frames which betray an occupation in the arts.  Once we had out coffees in hand, we settled down to business.  I asked for specific advice about my performance project, which poses special challenges because it involves animals in a public space.  Mr. Elms gave me some great project-specific advice regarding my idea.   Obviously a thinker, he paused to consider what he was saying, asking specific questions, and gathering information before responding.  When I asked for general advice for young emerging artists, he mentioned two  qualities that he looks for in the work he selects for shows as a curator.

The first quality he mentioned  is commitment to the vision, dedication.  It must be obvious that the artist is serious about their work.  This comes across in how extensive their work is, and also how much work and effort the artist is putting into their practice.

The second quality he mentioned was that the artist be “asking interesting questions.”  When I dug deeper for more specifics, Mr. Elms explained that these interesting questions may be about the medium that they are using, a certain subject matter, or even about the art world.  “Work that makes you think,” he said.

So, the advice in a nutshell was to be committed to your practice, and ask questions with your art.  A perfect combo of technical, hard work and brainy intelligence.  That’s where things get tricky–it can be easy to fall on one side of the other, placing all your efforts as an artist into concept with little thought to technique, or making technique heavy work with little content.  The trick is the balance between the two.

We parted ways cordially, and I promised to send a link to documentation if my performance piece comes to fruition.  Thanks to this conversation, it seems like it could be possible.

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