It’s no wonder Frieze Masters picked Adriano Pedrosa to run their “Spotlight” section—the internationally renowned curator and writer has staked his name in some of the art world’s biggest arenas over the past decade, including recent stints curating the Istanbul Biennial in 2011, the 24th and 27th São Paulo Biennials (1998, 2006), and an exhibition at White Cube this past summer. Spotlight, now in its second year in the hands of Pedrosa, serves as a forum within the fair for exhibitors to highlight individual artists from the 20th century, making the curator’s vision more crucial than ever. We spoke with Pedrosa about his process in putting together this year’s iteration, and what artists we can look forward to seeing cast in the glow of this year’s Spotlight.
Artsy: How did you make your selection for this year’s Spotlight section?
AP: The selection is made from a number of applications that are stimulated by me, paired with other ones that come naturally through applications. Yet even in the case of the spontaneous applications, there is always a conversation that is established with the gallery or even the artist in terms of the selection of the works to be presented.
Artsy: What was your objective or focus for the Spotlight section last year and how is it similar to or different from this year’s?
AP: 2012 was the first year of the fair and the section so I stimulated a lot more applications, particularly in terms of artists beyond Euroamerica and female artists, as we tend to receive a lot of male European and North American applications. The focus remains very much on experimental and conceptualist practices of the ’60s and ’70s, with an emphasis on a more diverse outlook that goes beyond the white male European painter that one often has in mind when thinking about 20th century masters. This year I was able to develop a stronger presence of African artists (including an Afro-Brazilian), with Georges Adeagbo form Benin, Willem Boshoff from South Africa, and Rubem Valentim from Brazil. We’ve seen how contemporary art has been decolonized in the past couple of decades, with artists from all over the world now participating in international exhibitions and biennials. We are now witnessing a decolonization of the 20th-century art, which will perhaps be slower and more challenging, yet for this very reason it is a very exciting moment in art history, as it is being revised and rewritten.
Artsy: Last year, the Spotlight section was a major draw for collectors and curators at the inaugural Frieze Masters. What are the valuable aspects of this section that appeal to collectors?
AP: Fairs tend to have stands with many works by many different artists, and monographic sections such as Spotlight in Frieze Masters (or Frame in Frieze London) provide an opportunity to look and understand the work of a single artist in a more concentrated and focused manner. Fairs also may perversely allow for a rapid and superficial glance on art, something that a monographic section tends to resist. As a curator who has visited way too many fairs in the past decade, I am always more interested in looking at these monographic sections myself, those are the ones that I am drawn to.
Artsy: How did you go about effectively representing artists from wide variety of geographical regions? And what are the challenges of working on solo artist presentations?
AP: Ones needs to travel—there is no way out of it; you cannot just do this through books, PDFs, the internet, or applications, although I know people do that. I have been traveling a lot over the past few years, particularly to Africa and the Middle East, but also to Asia, and of course, as a Brazilian, I have always kept developing my Latin American research. For me it is always important to not only see the work in person, and whenever possible, have a conversation with the artist, but also to understand and experience the context, the city and scene from which the work is coming from. I am a curator working with exhibitions, museums, and biennials, so Spotlight becomes a research tool for me to delve inside a body of work that I was not familiar with; it is a learning process, a process of discovery. I feel it is more interesting and rewarding to work on a monographic presentation in a stand, as you are able to offer more works and a broader view to the public, who thus can understand the artist a bit better. The challenge sometimes is securing enough good quality works that are representative of the artist’s work.
Artsy: Who is the most unexpected artist that’s included in this section?
AP: There were many wonderful discoveries for myself: This year I went to Paris to meet Nil Yalter, a brilliant Turkish-Egyptian artist; to Beirut to see the great works of the late Aref Rayess; to Milan to visit Irma Blank in her studio; and at the end of last year I met the master of Benin, Georges Adeagbo; and had long and fruitful conversations with Anna Maria Maiolino, with whom I had worked before, but never with this level of dialogue. On the other hand, I am from a generation of curators that grew up learning the lessons of the Guerrilla Girls against sexism in the art world, so I feel especially privileged to be able to present the work of feminist pioneers such as Rose English, Judy Chicago, and Nancy Spero—those are the true masters in my art history.
Artsy: Your top three things to do/see during Frieze week London this year are:
AP: The exhibitions of Saloua Raouda Choucair and Mira Schendel at Tate Modern, and Adrian Villar Rojas in Zaha Hadid’s new building at the Serpentine Gallery.
Adriano Pedrosa was adjunct curator of the 24th Bienal de São Paulo (1998), curator of Insite_05 (San Diego, Tijuana, 2005), co-curator of the 27th Bienal de São Paulo (2006), artistic director of the 2nd Trienal de San Juan (2009), co-curator of the 12th Istanbul Biennial, and is director of PIESP—Programa Independente da Escola São Paulo.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory