Feature: Black Diamonds at SPRING/BREAK Art Show
Eric Sutphin of SVACE on connecting, curating, and creativity
March 5, 2018
by Michael Bilsborough
Now in its seventh year, SPRING/BREAK Art Show has become a major presence during Armory Week, and distinguishes itself with a unique model during this busy week. First, SPRING/BREAK Art Show designates exhibition space (free of charge) to a group of selected independent curators, rather than galleries. Second, it ventures into underused landmark spaces located throughout New York City.
One of this year’s returning curators is Eric Sutphin, Manager of Special Programs in Continuing Education. Beyond managing our Summer Residency Programs, Eric is an artist, writer and curator. He’ll return to SPRING/BREAK this year with Jason Andrew: Black Diamonds. Andrews' photo series documents West African men led to Turkey under false premises, and addresses timely issues of "movement, migration, and risk.”
Eric answers a few questions about this show and working as a curator.
SVA: Congratulations, Eric, on returning to SPRING/BREAK. How did you discover Jason Andrew's artwork?
ES: Jason and I met ten years ago while we were working at a comedy club as our “survival job” as we were building our creative careers. Jason trained me as a barback there and we talked about art and photography as we mopped floors. We stayed in touch and Jason showed me this series a few years back and it stayed with me. As soon as I heard of this year’s SPRING/BREAK theme, Stranger Comes to Town, the Black Diamonds work immediately came to mind.
SVA: This year, you've partnered with a photographer, but last year, you exhibited two painters, Rosemarie Beck and Angela Dufresne. Is it a challenge to work with artists across media, from painting to photography?
ES: I do think my primary language is painting, and this probably is reflected in the selection of images I chose from Jason’s expansive series. The challenge with this body of work was to present images that do’t overly aestheticise the players or fetishize their struggles. I’m all about nuance and subtlety in storytelling; the little details that point out to larger themes. A lot of the images I selected feel heroic or celebratory, but there are subtle cues in each of the images that allude to the whole story.
SVA: If we continue to compare this year's project with last year's, we notice further contrast among the artists: one man this year, two women last year; one living artist this year, one late artist last year. How important is an artist's biography in your consideration of that artist's work?
ES: I’m less concerned with the artist’s biography than with what their work does to me. In the Black Diamonds series, for example, the images have a level of care and pathos that I think directly relates to Jason’s personality and history. But relying too heavily on the artist’s biographical material can actually impede one’s ability to see the work in formal terms, or we might write an artist off too quickly because of their background. When I’m writing about a show, I start with what’s there in front of me and try to extract as much as I can from the visual material the artist is giving. I think good art makes us want to know more about the artist’s life, and a good story makes us want to see more of their art.
SVA: You wear many hats: you make art in your studio, you curate shows, like Key Change, recently on view at AGENCY, and you write about art for Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, frieze, and more. How do you manage so many roles? What’s your secret?
ES: Multitasking and structure. I typically work on writing projects for a couple of hours in the morning before I head to SVA. The subway, cabs, a cafe on lunch break doubles as an office. Studio visits become social time. I go to my studio some evenings and on the weekend. I also think it helps that I see everything I do as connected, it makes me feel less scattered or fractured if I envision all of these ventures as a part of a larger project.
SVA: How do you determine whether an artist is ready for an exhibition? Is it evident in their work?
ES: I do think the work says a lot about where an artist is in their development. Studio visits are critical in determining an artist’s readiness to show.
SVA: What do you recommend for creative people who feel ready to spend more time on their art, design, writing, or other practice?
ES: Find a supportive network and community of people who are engaged with their work, and with society. Don’t wait for inspiration or a muse to start your work, just make it. You’ll make a lot of not-so-great stuff before you make something great (or something good, or just ok) and that’s perfect, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Visit SPRING/BREAK Art Show to see Jason Andrew: Black Diamonds, curated by Eric Sutphin, 4 Times Square, Room 2358. Follow Eric Sutphin on Instagram.