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Catching up with Ian Erickson-Kery, Intern on The Art Genome Project, Spring 2013

Ian Erickson-Kery joined The Art Genome Project as a research intern in the spring of his junior year at Columbia University, where he studied Comparative Literature and Society (he then stayed on as a contributor through his senior year). In addition to analyzing thousands of works, Ian regularly wrote definitions for the categories that make up The Art Genome Project (see, for example, his entry on Deep Time). Since graduating in May, he has worked at e-flux, the New York-based platform, journal, and exhibition space. He coordinates with e-flux’s clients—primarily art institutions and galleries—to send out daily e-mail announcements for current exhibitions and programs around the world.

As a member of The Art Genome Project, you were responsible for evaluating artists and artworks according to our vocabulary, a process we call “genoming.” What was that like?It’s great to be able to devote time to looking at so much art so intensely! In order to be a good “genomer,” you really have to develop a sense of the content and structure of Artsy’s entire database of artworks. This means being able to quickly identify what are often very disparate artworks, and also having a solid handle of all of the different categories and how they apply.

What most surprised you about working at Artsy?
I was surprised to be so immersed in the technical aspects of the site, and to collaborate with engineers on a regular basis. This was an entirely new kind of work and way of thinking for me.

You created a number of new categories for The Art Genome Project. Why were they needed?
One project I developed and implemented was creating more specific categories for countries and geographic regions. This involved, for instance, taking prior categories like South America and dividing them into more specific ones (e.g. Brazil, Southern Cone). Of course, there’s no uncomplicated way to draw regional boundaries, but my hope was that making the genome’s “map” a bit more nuanced would allow users to delve into some themes or trends that would otherwise be washed over by vague geographical categories.

I was also sensitive to creating categories that might raise a breadth of representational issues, but not confuse topics with distinct histories. For example, we used to categorize art about queer issues under the more general categories of “Gender” or “Identity Politics.” Creating “Sexual Identity” as a category to address queer and LGBT issues (not to mention the multitude of sexual identities) separate from terms such as “Gender” or “Feminist Art” was important to me. I saw additions or clarifications to the genome as a means of opening up ripe thematic territories at moments where topics ran the risk of being muddled or misconstrued.

You wrote your B.A. thesis on Argentine art while working at Artsy. Can you tell us about it?

I wrote my thesis on a small institution, the Center for Art and Communication (or CAyC), which operated in Argentina from the late-1960s to the 1980s. Most accounts of Argentine art from this period have focused on a handful of artists tied to the Di Tella Institute and the collective action Tucumán Arde in the late-1960s. The commonly told narrative is that many artists abandoned art production for direct political action in the midst of intense censorship and repression. While many did for a time, this isn’t the whole story. In fact, there was a great deal of engaged and incisive artwork produced in the 1970s, which I discovered for the first time in the process of archival research.  

How does an Artsy internship compare to other internships?
The ability to voice opinions on projects, and even develop your own projects, is very rare at an internship. I was glad to be exposed to the challenge, and fulfillment, of being a thoughtful collaborator and managing my time effectively. For me it was very rewarding to feel so engaged from the very beginning, and to see my role and relationships with others on the team evolve. It was also very cool to see how learning about artists could be so vital to my position on a daily basis. I’d thought that this was a privilege reserved for select curators, academics, and gallerists.

  • Genome Team members Ian Erickson-Kery, Madeleine Boucher and Ellen Yoshi Tani at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami

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