We can safely say that writer and curator Francesca Gavin is one of the busiest women in London. Not only is she a contributing editor at Artsy, but she’s also the visual arts editor at Dazed & Confused, art editor at Twin, contributing editor at Sleek and AnOther, curator for the Soho House group’s art collection, and author of five books (including her recently published The Book of Hearts)—not to mention she’s curated numerous physical exhibitions around the globe. So it comes as a surprise that there’s something in the arts that she hasn’t done—but alas. This week, Gavin curates her first online exhibition exclusively on Artsy. For “Decline and Fall,” Gavin explores how contemporary art actively engages with art history, though the works of Paul McDevitt, Ben Sansbury, Salvatore Arancio, Brian Willmont, Amy Bessone, and Sara VanDerBeek. We spoke with Gavin to learn more about her curatorial approach, her attraction to these artists, and her fascination with the online space.
Artsy: What is your overall mission as a curator?
Francesca Gavin: I always say I am a journalistic curator. It is a very similar process putting together an exhibition, a thematic feature, or a book. It is all about connecting ideas. My mission, if there is one, is to make a wider audience interested and engaged with contemporary art. [Gallerist] Maureen Paley once kindly said I was an enthusiast and I think she was spot on. I love to share artists and artworks with people. It probably motivates everything I do.
Artsy: What has been the most exciting and/or fulfilling exhibition you’ve curated to date?
FG: “The Dark Cube” at the Palais de Tokyo was definitely the most challenging exhibition I have curated. It included artists like Scott Treleavan, Jeremy Deller, and Clunie Reid. All the work was shown in the dark in UV light. It took place in the basement of the Palais and every surface sloped in a different direction. I ended up buying a stadium-worthy black light cannon to make sure the works glowed properly. The show opened the night of Nuit Blanche, when all the museums in Paris stay open in the early hours of the morning. Over 15,000 saw the show, more even. It was wild. From toddlers to old people, everyone was so excited to look at the works.
Artsy: Can you talk about where the idea for this exhibition, “Decline and Fall,” came from, including potential sources?
FG: I’ve been really fascinated by Svetlana Boym’s writing on the idea of “Off-Modern,” looking at how we can redefine the future by going back and looking at the margins and tangents of the conceptual approaches of the past. I am also aware that it isn’t very fashionable to talk about art history in a contemporary art context. The works in this show all actively connect to history—whether that is the heritage of classical sculpture or monuments, or the ideas and approaches of modernism.
Artsy: Can you offer any anecdotes on your relationship to the artists in the show, or insights on their practices?
FG: Many artists I curate in exhibitions, and this show is no exception, are artists I have written about before seriously or have had extended time talking about their work, visiting their studios, hanging out. I am constantly looking at artists so they all share a space in my brain sponge! I’ve written catalogue essays, extended Q&As, features, and profiles on four in this show. I have included five of them in the past in different Soho House collections. However, I work with and speak to so many artists that that would apply to a huge number of people!
Artsy: Is this the first online exhibition that you’ve curated? What are the pros and cons of curating an online exhibition?
FG: I have always been seriously fascinated by and followed online shows over the past six years or so—looking at how artists are using the web to disseminate and display work in very different ways. Projects like Computer Club in 2009, the personal websites of artists like Aleksandra Domanović, online temporary gallery spaces like bubblebyte.org. Many of the artists I have worked with in three-dimensional exhibitions have shown work in this context (people like Anne de Vries, Oliver Laric, Sara Ludy, Rosa Menkman, Daniel Swan). This is the first time I have curated something online myself and I’m very excited to see the results.
Artsy: You’re one of the busiest people we know. What are you working on next?
FG: I have just opened an exhibition at Autocenter in Berlin, “Re-Discovery 1,” which runs until April 19, bringing together two artists from different generations—Laura Buckley who is in her 30s and Sture Johannesson who is in his 70s—who have both worked with the intersection of technology, psychedelia, and perception. A reworked version of an exhibition I curated in New York, “E-Vapor-8,” is opening at Site Sheffield on June 6th. It is about the influence of ’90s rave culture on a younger generation of artists. I am also about to go to Chicago to put together the art collection for the new Soho House opening there this summer. And of course I am writing editorial pieces for Artsy, Dazed & Confused, Kaleidoscope, Sleek, Twin, and various other places!