Editor’s Note: Bonnie Clearwater is Chief Curator and Director of the Nova Southeastern University Are Museum in Fort Lauderdale. The former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami has curated many landmark exhibitions and is responsible for curating the first American solo museum exhibitions of artist as diverse as Albert Oehlen, Mark Bradford, Matthew Richie and Shinique Smith.
This email was conducted via email.
Sophia News: What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work at the Nova Southeastern University Art Museum? What drives you, motivates you and inspires you the most?
Bonnie Clearwater: Seeing the museum become a thriving center for art that connects Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach into a continuous “Art Coast”
SN: What is your biggest challenge bringing contemporary art to the Fort Lauderdale and Broward areas?
BC: Actually, bringing contemporary art to Fort Lauderdale is not a challenge. NSU Art Museum (founded in 1958) has always presented contemporary exhibitions. The current building designed by modernist architect Edward Larrabee Barnes opened in 1986 with a major exhibition of modern and contemporary art curated by esteemed art historian Sam Hunter and the permanent collection reflects this history of interest in the art of our time. The audience is very receptive and the museum naturally draws art enthusiasts from throughout the South Florida region and is a major draw for national and international tourists. With the launch of Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002, the entire South Florida community became aware of the importance of contemporary art and eagerly seeks it out. It’s important to note that although NSU Art Museum has a vibrant modern and contemporary art exhibition program, the collection and exhibitions are more encyclopedic. Fort Lauderdale contemporary art collectors Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz have championed new art and regional artists for decades and made a recent promised gift of 100 works to NSU Art Museum (they gave me a free hand in selecting the works for this gift). Also, artists really find the proportions of our flexible exhibition space and the museum’s inclusiveness a very appealing venue for their work.
SN: How would you compare the Miami art community with the Fort Lauderdale art community? How are they similar? How are they different?
BC: They are relatively similar. NSU Art Museum is more centrally located. Situated in a pedestrian friendly downtown business corridor and arts and entertainment district with high density residences and hotels makes visiting the museum part of everyday life. With the launch of Brightline, the new high speed train that connects downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, the museum is now physically in the center (just 30 minutes from Miami and Palm Beach and two blocks from the Fort Lauderdale station) The museum’s proximity to Palm Beach has especially made it a popular destination as the half-way point for meet ups between residents and tourists in the region. As part of Nova Southeastern University since 2008, the museum emphasizes original research and has launched three research centers for William Glackens, Latin American art, and Cobra. The university is known for cross-disciplinary research, and the museum similarly adapts this approach to its exhibitions and programs.
SN: What motivated you to create and curate the exhibition of The Hall collection of Anselm Kiefer?
BC: The Kiefer exhibition is part of the Museum’s Regeneration Series of exhibitions, which focuses on the impact of World-War II on artists. The Regeneration Series was created to augment the Museum’s renowned Cobra collection (The post-war Northern European avant-garde art movement–NSU Art Museum has the largest Cobra collection in the U.S.) My relationship with Anselm Kiefer dates to the mid-1980s when as the director of art programs for the Lannan Foundation, I encouraged the board to provide major sponsorship for his first retrospective in the US (co-organized by the Art Institute, Chicago and Philadelphia Museum of Art; traveled to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others). Born in Germany at the end of WWII, Kiefer’s work specifically addresses the subject of regeneration. The Hall collection and Hall Art Foundation constitute one of largest concentrations of Kiefer’s work in the world, including many of his most important early works. As many of these works were returning from the major European exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Royal Academy, London, it was a unique opportunity to show these works at NSU Art Museum and in some cases in the US for the first time. The collection is so extensive and in depth that we were able to organize a major survey exploring the subject of regeneration in Kiefer’s work. Moreover, as the exhibition ran concurrently with the long-term exhibition of the Hall’s large-scale Kiefer installations at MassMoca it provided the rare occasion for the public to view the entire scope of the Kiefer collection. I worked closely with Kiefer and his studio on this exhibition, including visiting the artist in his studio outside of Paris, and conducted extensive research that illuminated the subject of regeneration in his work from the beginning of his career to the present.
SN: Describe the relationship you have with the Halls. How did you get to know each other and create a level of friendship and trust to create the Kiefer show?
BC: I had borrowed works from the Hall collection long before I met them, including paintings for the exhibitions of Richard Artschwager (2003) and Malcolm Morley (2006) I organized for the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami. We met at the opening of the Morley exhibition. When I visited them at their Palm Beach home for the first time, Andy showed me that he kept my catalogue “Mythic Proportions: Painting in the 1980s” on his nightstand. We realized we were pursuing similar revisionist studies of the period and we typically delve into intense discussions about art. I subsequently wrote an essay on Julian Schnabel for the solo exhibition that opened their exhibition space in a German castle formally owned by artist Georg Baselitz in 2010.
SN: How do you disentangle any potential conflicts of interest in your relationships with collectors, dealers and artists when it comes to deciding on creating an exhibition?
BC: All exhibitions are generated by the museum’s curatorial department under the supervision of the eminent art historian Dr. Barbara Buhler Lynes. Our exhibition program follows the strengths of our permanent collection: Our extensive Cobra collection begat the Regeneration Series. In addition other exhibitions focus on early Modernism to augment the William Glackens collection (the largest holdings of this Ashcan School artist in the world). The Museum began collecting Cuban art in the 1990s and Fort Lauderdale collectors Dr. Stanley and Pearl Goodman made a promised gift of their encyclopedic Latin American collection, which is also reflected in the museum’s exhibitions. With the recent promised gift of the David Horvitz and Francie Bishop Good collection of contemporary art (emphasis on women and multi-cultural artists) the museum presents a robust contemporary art exhibition program. Works are specifically selected based on their importance to the subject of the exhibition. We maintain a professional objectivity to the organization of exhibitions.
SN: Do you think the impact of corporate money, international collectors and art speculation has been a net positive in contemporary art? Describe the impact of the globalisation of art capital on your work.
BC: Our curatorial vision is global and is expressed in our exhibitions and collection (this was part of the museum’s history as well as my own curatorial experience rather than the result of global art capital). The fact that galleries, collectors, museum’s, international art exhibitions, etc place greater focus on global art is beneficial to the world in general.
SN: Describe your evolution as a scholar specializing in medieval manuscripts evolving to your current position as director at the Fort Lauderdale Museum?
BC: My major as an art history student at NYU and Columbia University was medieval art especially Hiberno-Saxon and Anglo-Saxon illuminated manuscripts (with Modern art and Renaissance minors). The methodology for studying medieval art, with its emphasis on placing the art work within the context of the time and following the migration of art through portable objects such as manuscripts was exceptional training for dealing with contemporary art. Moreover, as most of the artists were unknown, we were trained to cull as much information from the style, subject, and materials of the work in order to interpret it. Obviously I could not ask the Medieval artist to explain the work. Consequently, in my research of contemporary art I tend to let the art talk to me rather than depend on artist statements. As it turns out, most of the artists I have studied have an affinity for Medieval art, including Frank Stella who majored in Medieval history at Princeton with a focus on Early Christian Art, which is reflected in his work, especially the interlaced patterns of his Protractor series.
SN: What would your dream exhibition be to curate?
BC: I’m constantly dreaming. My interests are wide-ranging and each exhibition I organize satisfies my curiosity and takes me to new levels of understanding creativity and experiencing the world through the eyes and minds of artists from around the world and from all times.
SN: What do you have planned for 2018 and beyond at the NSU Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art?
BC: I am currently working on a major exhibition with our senior curator Dr. Barbara Buhler Lynes for NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale titled “Remember to React: 60 years of Collecting” that will be the first ever install of the museum’s collection throughout all of its galleries. The Museum’s founders deliberately made African, Native American and Oceanic traditional art the collection’s core so that it would be relevant to South Florida’s diverse population. They built the collection of world art around this focus rather than from a European- or New York-centric point of view. This was advanced thinking at the time and prefigured current museum practice. The exhibition “Remember to React” (title is inspired by a newly acquired Jenny Holzer work) will trace the multiple traditions that inform contemporary art, and includes many new acquisitions and commissions. It will be a culmination of my decades of research on trans-culturation. (opens in phases starting August 2018)
In addition our senior curator Dr. Barbara Buhler Lynes is organizing a major exhibition that studies the affinities and distinctions between Renoir’s paintings and that of William Glackens (known in his lifetime as the American Renoir). Dr. Lynes is particularly examining how Glackens aimed to forge a distinctive American form of modern art that broke away from the influence of French artists. (opens October 21, 2018)