Newspaper article International New York Times

Concocting Shows from Oblique Angles ; Art Reoriented's Curators Strive for Fresh, Offbeat Ideas in Their Exhibitions

Newspaper article International New York Times

Concocting Shows from Oblique Angles ; Art Reoriented's Curators Strive for Fresh, Offbeat Ideas in Their Exhibitions

Article excerpt

Art Reoriented was running late for brunch.

Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the two curators who practice under that name for a growing list of top-flight museums, artists and art fairs, were in London for only a few days. After meetings and exhibitions, they were off to Munich, one of their two home bases (the other is New York), to unpack and repack. Then it was off to Australia, where they were advising the Biennale of Sydney.

When they finally arrived at a restaurant in Notting Hill, Mr. Bardaouil, a former actor and performance artist, and Mr. Fellrath, who once taught at the London School of Economics, plopped down at the table and apologized profusely.

The whirlwind lifestyle is tiring, they acknowledge, but they feel it keeps their curatorial practice fresh and plugged into the global art scene.

"We are constantly traveling and seeing things," said Mr. Bardaouil, who estimates that they spend about 35 weeks a year on the road and see between 200 and 250 exhibitions.

"But at the same time, we can balance that out by spending time away from the madding crowd, where we process what we have seen and dedicate time to be academics for research and writing," he said, ordering a coffee. "Which is just as important as meeting people and being out there and seeing shows."

Art Reoriented takes its name, and its philosophy, from the idea that art exhibitions should be focused more on how an audience, rather than the art world, will interpret a show.

They are eager to strip away what Mr. Bardaouil calls the "pseudo- intellectual jargon" that often pops up in art exhibitions, and they are committed to making shows that viewers can easily negotiate and understand.

"Maybe it is a silly example, but when you go to Ikea, when you walk through the trajectory, there is always something that is pulling you to go to the next step," Mr. Fellrath said. "But in exhibitions there is often no visual clarity, so you go around, and maybe there is something here and here, but the pieces don't gel."

Both men agree that the flow of an exhibition should be effortless. "It is not about writing something intellectual at the entrance that confuses you even more," Mr. Bardaouil said.

Their practice has recently taken them from curating the Lebanese Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, to organizing the 2014 show "Songs of Loss and Love" at South Korea's Gwangju Museum of Art, to sitting on the jury of Brazil's International Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil in 2015.

Earlier this year the Montblanc Cultural Foundation, which promotes worldwide projects in classical music, theater and contemporary art, named Mr. Bardaouil and Mr. Fellrath its new chairmen.

"Together they seem to have a combination of intellectual rigor coupled with a sophisticated visual sense and an impressive sensitivity to how artwork functions in the space," said the artist Mona Hatoum, whose 2014 show "Turbulence," which was held at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in the Qatari capital, Doha, was curated by them.

"It is quite rare to find all these qualities in one curator, or a team, in this case," she said.

Museum directors and curators say that one of the keys to Art Reoriented's success is the partners' unpretentious way of looking at art and curatorial practice.

"They put the art and not themselves first, which is often not the case," said Stephanie Rosenthal, the artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney who is also chief curator at London's Hayward Gallery. "They are outstanding curators."

Over the last five years a large chunk of their travel, research and writing has been focused on examining Egyptian Surrealism in the 1930s and 1940s.

The culmination of that work will be "Art and Liberty: Rupture, War, and Surrealism in Egypt (1938-1948)," which will open at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on Oct. 19 and run through Jan. 16.

The show will move on to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid after that and then to Tate Liverpool and finally to Dusseldorf's Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen 20 (K 20). …

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