Lacy: In this Internet age of comprehensive websites and high-resolution images, are studio visits elementary to your work?
Schmitt: In answer to your question, in the age of the Internet, I believe that studio visits, and/or meeting the artist in person, is absolutely elementary to the work I do as a curator. That being said, I also believe it is possible to have a studio visit with an artist without actually stepping inside their physical studio space. I realize this refutes the essence of your question; however, I seek to expand these definitions.
Much of my curatorial practice has been shaped by restrictions in geography: when I first started curating exhibitions, I was working mostly with video, or non-visual work like sound, simply because these were mediums that artists were able to share with me despite not being able to schedule a studio visit. We could correspond via email, phone, and video chat. This has opened up limitless opportunities [for me] to work with artists from all over the world working in a variety of media. I don’t like to think of time or place as boundaries within my curatorial practice.
Finally, as a curator I believe it is essential to know the artist in order to know the artwork. On the contrary, however, I don’t believe it is necessary for the viewer to know the artist on a personal level. It is at this level that we say “art speaks for itself.” It is thus part of my role as curator to translate what I learn about the work meeting the artist in the exhibition format.
Lacy: Do you have a primary conceptual interest or an essential curatorial ethos?
Schmitt: As a curator, I don’t have ideas, I have opinions. Artists have the ideas; I examine them and recontextualize them in order to suggest different readings of the work.
Lacy: Is there something you linger on or consistently circle back to?
Schmitt: I am interested in art as artifact. I am interested in how that work will resonate in ten, twenty, 100, 500 years... It’s extremely difficult to step outside of one’s own perspective to posit future readings of an artwork, artist or exhibition. On top of that, it’s even more difficult to treat time-based or immaterial work as artifact.
Thanks to the internet and the digitization of art (and its archives), we are able to compress centuries’ worth of art into very short segments of time and compact spaces, such as a web page or catalog. I see my research as an exercise in constantly expanding and contracting: expanding my knowledge to think in thousand year spans while contracting time so that I am able to view hun- dreds of artworks in a single afternoon without leaving my desk, and then using this to develop the foresight for contextualization of the artists I work with.
Lacy: Let’s wrap up with that idea of separation again, of splitting, as you say. In many respects, your professional life is seemingly made up of many binaries, or in other words, a series of splits. Most notably in this sense: On the one hand, you move in artist circles and author creative content as a multi-hyphenate curator, programmer, writer, educator, and more. On the other hand, you play multiple roles as mediator and facilitator, moving in market circles and developing opportunities for gallerists and others, who in turn, provide various platforms for artists. Is there indeed such a division? In a time when there appears to be increasing fluidity between high and low culture, between lived and fabricated experience, such separations are somehow both necessary and superfluous, both intrinsic and superficial?
Schmitt: I don’t see any of my many roles in the art world as being contradictory, binary, or split. Rather, I believe each of my roles compliments the other, contributing to a more well-rounded or holistic career. The spaces and boundaries between those roles is increasingly porous. I’m comfort- able in my chameleon skin.