A light drizzle and gray skies was not an auspicious forecast for last weekend’s Westside Arts District Walk. However, the prospect of hearing Richard Flood’s talk was enough to gather a good crowd to the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center on Saturday, January 16.
A few especially prepared audience members were early enough to enjoy perusing the Contemporary’s current exhibition: More Mergers & Acquisitions or wandering into the little digital media center next to the coffee table. Flood, who was introduced as the Chief Curator of the New Museum for the last four years, was also notably curator of the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis prior to that, and P.S.1 prior to that. In fact, Flood would go on to recount his influential career from the start providing some interesting, helpful, and amusing insights in a career which was instrumental in Mathew Barney’s grand debut as well as many others.
Flood seemed very comfortable as he recalled harsh times and personal tragedies in both his life and in the people’s lives he has touched. Meanwhile, he revealed that it was a commitment to education that initially set his current trajectory in motion. He noticed students critically lacking in the ability to abstract when he taught in the inner city of Philadelphia. Along with his friend he tried to use creative writing as a solution. This initiative led into the field of publishing for Flood, he eventually gained the job of Managing Editor of, “his bible, Art Forum Magazine.”
People interested in Flood’s connection to Mathew Barney, maybe be surprised to hear that Flood was forthcoming with the admission that being friends with the right people is the crucial factor. Among these were Barbara Gladstone, her son Stuart Regen, and Clarissa Dalrymple.
His personal portrait of Barney as a stubborn artist fresh from Yale provided an interesting insight into budding genius. The story goes that Dalrymple had been planning his first exhibition when the gallery fell into receivership. Barney was told the gallery was closed but he wouldn’t stop working, in Flood’s words, “It was like he [was] baking a cake for his grandmother, and the grandmother died but he [wouldn’t] acknowledge the fact.” So Gladstone asked if Flood could go do a studio visit to cheer Barney up. When he showed up he described it saying, “I felt like I walked in to the future.” As fate would have it Stuart had just lost a show and Gladstone and Flood asked him to take a chance on this newcomer, Barney. There would be review that turned into an essay which turned into the first exclusive cover of Art Forum for a new artist since Bruce Nauman.
With Mathew Barney, Richard Flood had the opportunity to be a part of a meteoric rise of an art star, later he would be there for artist Richard Prince as the ebb and flow of the art world brought him to the edge of his nerve. At this point in his career Prince’s first show had sold out, but his second show didn’t sell a single piece. Flood recounted the weekly visits to Gallery 303 on 5th Avenue where Prince would sit two full arm-lengths away in the darkness behaving like, “a dog that was horribly, horribly abused.” As history tells his silk screen “joke” painting exhibition would sell very well, eventually. A notable collector named Vera List, remarked when she heard the price of a piece, “Well, the joke is on me.”
Flood concluded his fly over version of his life’s work by describing how his role has changed over the years. Claming his status as a “curator” to international airport security makes Richard Flood,” feel like “a dead limb.” As of today, Flood thinks of himself as a sort of creative producer who facilitates projects that evoke the question, “Is this art?”
For all his tongue-in-cheek posturing, Flood emerges from his lecture as the very archetype of the contemporary art curator. As an individual he fell in love with the art world via personal experiences with the living artists, and has zealously advocated new talent. More importantly perhaps, Flood stuck to his goals once he had gained ever more prominent institutional authority. He is ever pressing the boundaries as he puts it, “Doing whatever you feel the world needs you to do.” Flood further amplified his embrace of the new trends commenting that he now is reluctant to believe he needs to print a catalog for every show and that building an online presence is increasing in importance. Case in point, Flood mentioned the New Museum establishing a physical place for www.rhizome.org in his museum to bridge the traditional avenues with the online community.
The Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center has existed in various forms since 1973 and the host claimed that their current and ongoing goal is, “to make the local ecology of the Westside area more dynamic.” While Richard Flood’s talk catered to a rarefied point of view, the programming calendar is accessible to Atlantans without a specific professional interest in the field.
The next event in this ongoing “Artist Survival Skills Series,” is scheduled for January 30 when Jackie Battenfield will be discussing her experiences that led to her book, The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love at 10 am. Artist David Humphrey will also be discussing his book, Blind Handshake, immediately afterward.
Edit: A link to the podcast provided by the contemporary can be found here.