“We always caricature our fields by saying that we’re all about biographies, and the market builds mythologies around the artist,” she explains, sitting in a gallery full of Gabritschevsky’s fantastical gouache paintings. In the case of these dual exhibitions, Rousseau says, “I didn’t [include] anything specific about their mental illnesses, and everybody is asking me: ‘Oh, by the way, I know it’s not written on the walls—but can you tell me? What exactly was the diagnosis of Gabritschevsky?’ People are savvy and curious about this connection, and they want to know. But I question the validity of giving them the answer.”
Would a different sort of institution, she wonders, feel inclined to share wall-text information about an artist’s struggles with “addiction, hallucinations, social issues, or anorexia,” she wonders? “You have to be careful about what’s relevant. I’m driven by showing great artworks—fascinating artists, complex lives—and you do want to be verbal, and bring the visitors into something that is an exhibition experience.”
At the same time, she notes, what would providing diagnostic or clinical information really add to that exhibition experience? Audiences, weaned on Hollywood and pop-psychology, might fancy themselves experts—but what comprehension does the casual viewer actually have of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia?