On October 12, New Yorks Museum of Modern Art announced that Cornelia Butler had been hired as its new curator of drawings, after her nearly decade-long stint as the most authentically intellectual curatorial voice at L.A.s MOCA. Butler trained as an art historian at Scripps College and Berkeley, then did curatorial stints in Des Moines and at N.Y.s Artists Space and Neuberger Museum before joining MOCA. Here, she culled several unusually thoughtful exhibits from the permanent collection and helmed surprising and provocative shows, including 1996s The Power of Suggestion: Narrative and Notation in Contemporary Drawing and 1999s Afterimage: Drawing Through Process. She co-curated two of MOCAs best shows last year, retrospectives of loopy-video artist Rodney Graham and land-art demigod Robert Smithson.
Having spent roughly half her career on each coast, Butler has unusually direct insight into the N.Y./L.A. thing. Im not sure that the differences are as important now as differences between centers of art-making everywhere, she said in a recent e-terview. Im interested in questions of what makes the local local and what distinguishes particular artistic practices from the internationalist style that we now see everywhere. In current art, I think that a certain strain of abstract painting here is involved with formalism and decoration in ways that arent that interesting. I think this gets exported as the dominant version of art in L.A. and becomes a misrepresentation that is repeated over and over again.
Although she is heading east in January to begin sorting out a Rothschild Foundation gift to MoMA of more than 2,000 works on paper, Butler still has several major MOCA jobs pending, including a project by inventive local provocateur Eric Wesley and a milestone survey called WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, a project scheduled for Spring 2007 that is close to Butlers curatorial heart.
WACK will be the first major museum exhibition to survey feminist art during the period 19651970, from an international perspective, exploring simultaneous feminisms. When I proposed doing a big survey show of one of the only postwar movements that was left to do, MOCA was incredibly supportive from the beginning. Leaving MOCA and L.A. has been the hardest decision Ive ever made. Its a great time to be in L.A. and I find being a curator here to be very liberating.
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