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Talking with Carlos Basualdo, part 2


Last week I told you about my meeting with Carlos Basualdo, new Curator of Contemporary Art at the PMA. Here is more from my interview with him:


When I met Basualdo at the PMA for our interview, the youthful curator bounded down the west lobby steps to greet me and in spite of his jet-lag from returning from Venice less than 24 hours before (he’d been at a conference) he chatted with me for more than an hour. His cellphone rang repeatedly and apart from checking once to see if it was his wife calling (it wasn’t) he didn’t want to answer. He wanted to talk – and listen — and was completely engaged in our conversation.

He could have sat comfortably behind his big desk but he picked a chair across from me at a small side table where we talked across a pile of video cassettes and books. The office is austere except for the piles on the table.


Basualdo, as you know, is helping the museum make some contemporary artart acquisitions like Thomas Hirschhorn’s “Camo-Outgrowth (Winter)” 2005. (See here for picture of the piece) He was also instrumental in the musuem’s purchase of Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Conical Intersect” (1975) an 18-minute film of a project that carved a cone-shaped hole into a building in Paris that was going to be destroyed anyway. Here’s a little more about the piece.

(image above and two below are still frames from Matta-Clark‘s video showing, from the inside, the outside and from the street-side, the hole carved into the building. You can see the video in quick time here. )

Q. Tell me about Notations.

A. I’ve been brainstorming with Anne (d’Harnancourt, PMA Director) and with Michael (Taylor, Curator of Modern Art). Especially with Michael. He’s my most direct interlocutor. We’re interested in how to shape the passage from modern to contemporary that is most productive. Think of the dialog between modern and contemporary art. [Contemporary art is generally thought of as art from 1960 forward. Art from the first half of the 20th Century is Modern art.] We want to retell the story and say how the dialog was across cultures and boundaries. We’ll do that mostly looking at our collection. When the museum reopens with new space. I want it to be like the modern (collection).


Q. All this costs money.

A. We have to work with friends and find as many new friends as possible.

Museums are great public institutions where memory is housed and reflected on. Memory is what we put to use. It allows us to make decisions. Especially in our museum. The contemporary and modern collections are so unique here.


Q. Do you really think so? The modern is unique with the Duchamp and Brancusi and everything else. But do you think the contemporary is all that unique?

A. Contemporary can’t measure up to the modern. It’s always developing.

Q. Will Museum Studies (a project organized by Basualdo’s predecessor Ann Temkin which brought in international artists like Christian Marclay and Rirkrit Tiravanija to mine the collection and make something new) come back?

A. Notations comes out of Museum Studies. It doesn’t replace it. It’s inspired by Ann Temkin whom I respect tremendously. You can say Museum Studies will continue in another form. It has morphed into Notations.

Q. Will you include Philadelphia artists in the Notations sketches?

A. We are in the process of doing that . Outreach for us is very important. What we need is more walls! People think we don’t have many contemporary works but the contemporary works in the contemporary collection count in the hundreds. But we can’t put them all out there. Of course Philadelphia artists will figure in to Notations.

Q. About walls, have you thought about having shows off site – in a warehouse someplace or another space with walls?

A. Why not? I hope that would be the purview of our friends. In order to fully flesh out our ideas we need our friends. We work with our friends. But we must always think of quality and substance. You have a responsibility. Have to show things with proper lighting, security, etc.

Q. I see references to video art and cinema in your background. Will you be doing video work in Notations and will it be in the video gallery? You mentioned seeing a William Kentridge piece in Miami. Would you like to work with him?

A. We see the video gallery as an opportunity. There’s fantastic video art in Kazakstan, Ramallah, Tel Aviv. That could be one of the ways for telling stories. I would love to work with Kentridge. I need my friends to help.

Q. There are a lot of local video artists.

A. Video is a way to look very widely and also to look at very young artists whose work won’t necessarily enter the collection. It allows us to learn from the outside.

Q. I understand you know Osvaldo Romberg (artist, Penn faculty and one of the founders of Slought Foundation)?


A. Osvaldo is a friend. I met him in New York a long time ago. Fabian Marcaccio was his studio assistant. Fabian’s a good friend of mine. (image is Marcaccio‘s “Paramilitary Paintant” 2005. The artist calls his mixed media paintings mutant paintings, or paintants. For more images see here.)

(Here I say something about Marcaccio being a wild man, meaning I’ve seen his art and it’s wild. Basualdo demurs saying Marcaccio’s not a wild man at all. But then he agrees on the art being kind of wild and calls him an “Argentine hurricane.”)

Q. What did you study in school?

A. I studied literature. I always wrote poetry. I do write also through my shows.

Q. They say that poets make the best writers about art.

A. I believe there is a close connection between words and works. I don’t think there’s been anyone writing better essays about Rodin than Rilke (poet Rainer Maria Rilke). Baudelaire also wrote about art. I’d like to be a historian and a poet. They’re not incompatible. Experiments with words allow me to enter art works in a way that’s productive.

Q. Do you collect art?

A. No. but I live with art in my house….things given to me. I don’t think I could live without it.
Q. Will you be buying art for the PMA?

A. We do have a budget and we need our friends. I bought something in Miami.

Q. Can you tell me what you bought?

A. You’ll have to check with the PR Department about that. There’s a meeting soon and then check with them. (The piece he wouldn’t tell me about was the Hirschhorn piece).


Paula Marincola, Director, PEI

He was a panelist for PEI in 2002 but I had known his work before. He was a really great panelist. He’s really engaged, interested in all the little to big things in a generous way.

I asked him to write an essay for the PEI series. He wrote about biennials. The unstable instable institution. I tshould be out in a couple months. The essay’s already published in the journal manifesta. Manifesta Journal for Contemporary Curating. issue #2 winter 2003

We have an amazing curating community….It’s unprecedented.

Carlos brings an international perspective and a particular orientation in curating. We haven’t had someone expert on Latin America. He was on the team for Documenta 11 and Venice 2003. that gives a curator a point of view. At the same time he’s is extremely approachable and interested in becoming a part of the community.

He’s aware of international and interested in the local. It’s the kind of thing that makes me excited about funding exhibits.

It’s a great time to be in Philly.

Brian Wallace, Exhibitions Director, Galleries at Moore College

I’m very excited for the museum and for the city. What can I say? He’s very clear about what he’s thinking and saying. He’s terrific in ongoing discussions about Artur Barrio. He’s been an intermediary between us and Artur all the way through. The show’s logistics are a nightmare. And every once in a while Carlos will have a great comment that will get things going.


Carlos seems to be having very interesting conversations with lots of people. I hope people don’t think he’s only a Latin American curator because he’s not. He’s clearly got a grasp on Latin American art but his perspective is global. He did the Tropicalia show which was at MCA Chicago and is now in London (at the Barbican Gallery opening in February).

(image is the Tropicalia catalog, edited by Basualdo.)