A Curator's European Vacation
on Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Written by Associate Curator Laura Burkhalter
I am very fortunate to have a job that requires travel. Even before I had this job, travel has always been a priority for me, even if it just meant hitting the road with some friends and exploring rural Iowa. When I travel for the museum, my goal is research—sometimes meeting with artists and galleries, but often just seeing as much art as I can.
While this may sound exciting and not like “work” to some, rest assured it can be exhausting. The sensory overload tires your eyes and brain, and things start to become a big, artsy blur. Couple all that with a confusing city like Venice—where twisty streets, thousands of tourists, and a language barrier all have to be conquered—and let’s just say thank goodness for restorative gelato and pasta.
And my trusty cell phone camera, so I can snap away at the highlights, making visual notes to go over upon my return.
Venice is my destination every two years for the Venice Biennale, a sort of Olympics for the contemporary art world that includes official pavilions for dozens of nations, large group exhibitions, and a seemingly endless number of satellite shows all over the city. There’s a lot of good to see, as well as a lot of bad, and a great reminder that the “art world” indeed covers the whole world. My favorite this trip was an entry by Azerbaijan, in which an entire 15th-century palazzo was filled with contemporary art telling the dramatic history of the relationship between the cities of Venice and Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan).
Called "The Union of Fire and Water," the artists used video, sculpture, and even interactive installation to create something part history lesson, part poetic haunted house and an overall amazing art experience.
Since my work travel always involves so much looking at art, you’d think I’d design my personal travel around other things, but that isn’t even remotely the case. For me, looking at art is much more than my job. I am very grateful for my friends who travel with me, who have traipsed through miles of Vegas casino looking for art installations, barreled through upstate New York and Toronto traffic for tiny museums, and indulged me through every medieval church France can offer. After leaving Italy last month, I joined five friends in London for a reunion.
Giving an impromptu lesson on Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery in London to my poor friend Talia.
Practically our first stop was the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. We found unexpected and slightly risque guerrilla street art in Paris, and were surprised by a gorgeous Damien Hirst sculpture in a 12th century church.
A curator’s job is never done—we can sniff out the art everywhere.