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Interview: New Museum’s “Free” Curator Lauren Cornell


Lauren Cornell, executive director of Rhizome and New Museum adjunct curator, is the curator of the New Museum’s current exhibit, Free (info about the show is at the end of the interview). Cornell answered Corey Armpriester’s questions via email.

Corey Armpriester: What inspires your curatorial ideas?

Lauren Cornell: Its hard to pinpoint inspiration to a single moment. I show artists, write about their work, fundraise for projects, constantly—I always feel a sense of urgency about what I do. Art isn’t a day job for me, its my life.

Lauren Cornell in a photo by JD Lasica/

CA: Can you talk about the art you live with in your home?

LC: Looking around my room right now: I have a painting by Leidy Churchman on my wall, a drawing by A.K. Burns hangs over my bed, a print by Matt Keegan sits on my dresser next to next to a poster I took from A.L. Steiner that she’d made for the band Chicks on Speed, it says ‘Free Thinking is For Free.’ I have a new album by Nancy Garcia on my desk, its sitting on a drawing Kara Walker did of me on a placemat at Café Gitane. It was the first time I met her and she just drew everyone’s picture at the table; it’s the best portrait of myself I’ve ever had. I also have a calendar by Tauba Auerbach hanging in my window.

I used to run a screening series in Brooklyn,  I also juried several experimental film/video festivals and now see works by artists constantly on dvd and online, so I have an outrageous number of videos—in all different formats—in boxes in my closet, in drawers, sometimes playing. I was just looking at a video by Jem Cohen from 2003 that I have a screener of, because I was thinking about writing about it, so its mini-dv jacket sits on my desk. I could start an Ubuweb that would chart the 00’s, but I won’t.

Lisa Oppenheim, The Sun is Always Setting Somewhere Else, 2006 – 35mm slide projection, in Free at the New Museum

CA: As a curator what is most important to you, talent or technique?

LC: There are so many things that draw me to artists. It really depends. I think about how art relates to art history, and also to contemporary culture. I’ve noticed that I am often drawn to artists who write. I also like activist types, because I used to be more of one myself.

CA: How often do you look at the work of artists selling their art on the streets of NYC? Do you have a favorite street location?

LC: My mom buys work from artists outside the Met. I’ll look with her. Otherwise, I don’t really. I look at art on the streets of the Internet, by which I mean animated gifs, and other seemingly random, amazing visual culture.

Rashaad Newsome, Status Symbol #31 2010 – Collages on paper with frame, from Free exhibit.

CA: Can people get into the New Museum for free to see your next exhibition “Free”?

LC: Yes, every Thursday from 7-9 pm the New Museum offers free admission, but during regular museum hours, no, it costs $12 ($10 seniors, $8 students, 18 under always free). I was thinking Free as in Freedom not Free as in Free Beer to quote the founder of the open source movement Richard Stallman. “Free” doesn’t include open source works, I should qualify, but they do touch upon the the ethics, problems and possibilities of a new landscape for information.

CA: What’s the kindest thing an artist has done for you?

LC: Hard to say.

Trevor Paglen, They Watch The Moon, 2010, C-print

CA: Has the internet become the center of the art world?

LC: No, but its helped decentralize it.

The 22 artists featured in Free come from around the world, and include Lizzie Fitch, Ryan Trecartin, Takeshi Murata and Rashaad Newsome (full list and online show catalog here).  The exhibit is inspired in part  by an essay by participating artist Seth Price. The essay, “Dispersion” traces how culture is increasingly dispersed via media from print to video to the web, and how this shift has changed what public and popular mean to art making. The works in “Free” explore art’s relationship to the web.

–Corey Armpriester is a Philadelphia artist and photographer.