Publicly announced two weeks ago, Ingrid Schaffner will curate the fifty-seventh Carnegie International, an exhibition staged every third to fifth year at the Carnegie Museum as the oldest international survey of art held in America. Until this appointment, Ingrid has been Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia for fifteen years.
Seated often in her office encircled by exhibition posters and pinned cards, Ingrid is sprightly, with waist-length hair twisted into an arabesquely wound bun. As Ingrid relocates to Pittsburgh, her birthplace, she leaves behind her distinctive Philadelphia home built by architect Anne Tyng, whose designs and methods Ingrid presented in a 2011 solo exhibition at the ICA. Ingrid’s formed sympathy with the architecture is underscored by her zeal for living within its walls, and sharing Tyng’s building with visitors. The three-story wooden house is taut and narrow, with a structural complexity that, rather than being cold and foreboding is warm and inviting. This attitude is readily visible in every exhibition she organizes, which include thorough monographic presentations of Karen Kilimnik, Jason Rhoades, and Polly Apfelbaum, among others.
Also left behind will be biographical anecdotes that I think of as synonymous with her: enthusiastic mention of a favorite museum, the Puppet Theater Collection in Munich, Germany; preparations of meals from the Ottolenghi cookbook; a retained dislike of green peppers but an enthusiasm for bread; an askew framed word portrait above the dining table, reading “fine light fair/ clear skin and a/ sharp yet delicate/ truly elegant/ appearance”; and a strict observation of Sunday as a day for oneself.
Karen Kilimnik, 2007, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania
Erin: As part of your described plan to curate the Carnegie International alongside a group of “traveling and thinking partners”, will the curatorial partners operate as advisors to you, as sounding boards, or as auxiliary curators who also put forward artists for possible inclusion?
Ingrid: The traveling and thinking partners are not expected to also serve as curatorial advisors. Though I do hope the sense of partnership will extend beyond the limits of each journey ~ and that we will be (telegraphically) traveling and thinking together in terms of our collective body of work throughout the process of my organizing Ci18. Since it’s impossible to touch down everywhere, I imagine we will convene in Pittsburgh first, to decide where in the world it seems most urgent and relevant to travel.
Erin: Your proposed research strategy for curating the Carnegie involves travel to unfamiliar regions, unfamiliar both to you and to your partners. By “unfamiliar”, do you mean traveling for the first time to regions of the world unknown to you? Or does unfamiliar also imply visiting artists who you have had a long-standing, but unfulfilled, curiosity about?
Ingrid: Yes to all. But most simply put: say you’re expert in the Antipodean art scene, then I want to go to Eastern Europe with you. Because if we went to New Zealand we would just see what you already know and you would be my guide. I would rather we were both equally open to who we meet and what we experience. At the same time, the knowledge and predilections each traveling partner brings to the table—or itinerary—will be extremely valuable to creating the connections and starting points you need to navigate new terrain.
Erin: Does this working method imply an avoidance of art you have previously exhibited?
Ingrid: I hope not. Working with an artist over time is a privilege. Plus I don’t think that the charge of the Carnegie is to run around and discover completely other ways of seeing and doing one’s work. Rather, it’s an opportunity to widen and deepen the scope and beat of what one knows and is passionate about—and then transmit that through the form of an exhibition.
Erin: I am looking to your previous interest in archives, particularly demonstrated in the exhibition you initiated, “Deep Storage” first curated at Haus der Kunst in 1997. Does your attraction to archives parallel your interest in curating? Is the uncovering of a remnant in history similar in behavior to seeking out unnoticed or overlooked aesthetic production?
Ingrid: I like to be in exhibitions that operate on many different levels, that ignite sparks of association—formal, conceptual, historical, political, theoretical, subjective—and that slow you down in the process of looking, participating, or whatever is called for in the process of absorbing the work on view. So yes, there is something to being in an archive and doing research—to letting what you find lead to places unknown—that is for me fundamentally akin to my curatorial approach.
I approach my projects as informed, but open inquiries—not defining statements—about a resonant theme or body of work that invites further investigation. I’m a great fan of independent study and surrealist-style questionnaires. For one of my favorite shows at ICA, the catalogue took the form of this bristling compendium of 80 answers to a solicitation to describe the queer voice, which seemed suddenly increasingly heard across culture. Talk about atomizing the binary in a single blast.
Erin: Recurring survey exhibitions such as the International often propose to display the most timely, geographically inclusive, and methodologically diverse group of artworks possible. Is there a term that you would like to add or remove from the list?
Ingrid: For now, I plan to shut my eyes and ears to such lists, as if diversity and inclusiveness could be so prescribed. No artist wants to be invited because they are “French” any more than they want to fill the “Community Engagement,” “Black,” or “Woman” slot. I’m always interested in how artists are making what we think about and see plural as well as prickly – critical of mainstreams that tend to run fast and not too deep. I’m all for art that eddies the flow.
Erin: Are you expecting this opportunity to change how you curate? Or how you looked for avenues and artists at the Institute of Contemporary Art and even prior?
Ingrid: I am leaving the ICA—one of the best jobs a curator can have, excellent colleagues doing inspiring work, a great university—to do the Carnegie exactly because it is bound to enrich my work. The opportunity is an amazing gift and goad, both. Because on the one hand, it’s like a giant research grant, on the other you have to realize your own ideals of what an exhibition of this scope and visibility can be.
Erin: The curators cooking for and hosting visiting artists have been a central component of your time at the ICA. Do you imagine cooking for the curators of the Carnegie International? And will being an adept chef be a litmus test for your traveling partners?
Ingrid: HA! At the Carnegie, we will have to see, but there’s good precedent: Rirkrit Tiravanija cooked and served Thai food to visitors of the 1995 Carnegie International. Actually, because I didn’t want it to be a retention issue for the curatorial department, initially, I cooked all the long table dinners following public events. It’s a way of honoring our guests and being more inclusive of colleagues. Just yesterday Anthony Elms reminded me that when he was considering coming to ICA, his friend the curator Anthony Huberman said, “I hope you like to cook.”