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Frank Talks

Anthony M. Huffman – Independent Scholar, Emerging Curator, and Cultural Critic

Anthony M. Huffman - Independent Scholar, Emerging Curator, and Cultural Critic
Anthony M. Huffman - Independent Scholar, Emerging Curator, and Cultural Critic

Anthony M. Huffman is an independent scholar, emerging curator, and cultural critic based in Brooklyn, NY. Most recently, he completed a year-long curatorial residency at the artist-run gallery and studio hub Kunstraum. Previously, he provided support to the research team at Hauser & Wirth and worked on public art projects as an assistant project manager for MTA Arts & Design as well as Creative Time as a programming intern. He is most keen to examine the work of artists wrestling with questions of labor; material histories; epistemology; craft traditions; historical revisionism; post-colonialism; parallax; and the accrual of meaning. To varying degrees, he has explored these ideas in relation to diverse works of art through reviews in publications, such as Arcade Project and The Brooklyn Rail; catalog essays, such as “Postmodern Miasmas”; and exhibitions, such as Historiographical Interventions. His research has been presented at interdisciplinary academic conferences across the United States, and been supported through grants and residencies from the Knight Foundation, the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, Phi Beta Kappa, and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He holds an MA from the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Museum of Art Graduate Program in Art History, where he was a Barbato Fellow and teaching assistant. He earned a BA in Government from Centre College with honors.

 

What was the most important thing you learned at your first job in the Arts?

 

Like most people who enter the field of arts and culture, my first “job” was actually a string of unpaid yet deeply fulfilling internships for regional art nonprofits, university art museums, and  local galleries. Collectively, through specific exhibition projects and under the tutelage of an eclectic, talented cast of arts administrators, curators, and dealers/gallerists, I learned how to ask thoughtful questions, be diplomatic in institutions where personalities often clash, and ultimately how to forge your own path with limited resources. 

 

Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? How has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today?

 

I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Kentucky, very close to the borders of Tennessee and Virginia. Appalachia is an interesting–and often mischaracterized/maligned–region and culture, with a rich history of craftsmanship, resilience, and resourcefulness. On one hand, there is a bastion of old and new money in Kentucky who have a predilection for quaint, conservative landscapes, still-lifes, and portraits of the Bluegrass state and its most famous products/exports (Bourbon, thoroughbreds, agricultural goods, etc.). On the other hand, there is a growing coterie of collectors, curators, artists, and philanthropists between Lexington and Louisville who are attempting to shake things up in a place that, at times, seems completely frozen in a picturesque landscape by Gainsborough. Some of these efforts include fostering sustained contemporary arts criticism in the region (Christine Huskisson at UnderMain and Daniel Brown at ÆQAI) and mounting relevant, provocative exhibitions (Stuart Horodner at the UK Art Museum and Phillip March Jones at Institute 193). 

With regard to the second question, both my parents are public school teachers and I credit much of my intellectual curiosity and appreciation for education, context, and interpretation to them. I fundamentally believe that art–in all its manifestations–is a basic human resource requisite for a healthy, meaningful life. Oftentimes though, contemporary art is written off as a luxury good–a privileged activity in a rarefied arena. That is why the role of writers, critics, curators, and other participants in this ecosystem is critical–to serve as a bridge between the general public and the individual artist’s vision. Of course, their job is not to tell a spectator what a work means or what to think, but to offer up potential footholds in the imposing, seemingly unscalable façade that contemporary art presents. The contextualization helps people find a route towards mean-making, connection, and resonance. For me, those moments of resonance are the soulful equivalence to having one’s physical needs satiated.

 

You’ve worked with non-profits, commercial galleries, museums and private collectors. What prompted your decision to work with Kunstraum LLC?

 

In previous positions, I worked for midsize to large organizations where I was still learning certain skills related to event planning, arts administration, project management, and exhibition-planning. Kunstraum, and the Curator-in-Residence Program, appealed to me because it presented an exceptional opportunity to take the curatorial reins of organization for 1 year, enjoying a fair amount of autonomy and having the ability to make a direct impact. This in itself was enticing, but the position also presented a chance to gain more experience with public programming and join a vibrant artist community–a welcome prospect after the first year of the pandemic.

 

What has been the most interesting project you’ve worked on as  Curator-in-Residence at Kunstraum LLC? 

 

I really enjoyed getting to know some former artists-in-residence and current studio members at Kunstraum last summer when I curated the group exhibition, Chronologies and Circumstances: Between Individual and Collective Trajectories. The studio visits were enlightening and fun, the works were multimedia and multivalent, I learned a lot about installation troubleshooting, and it gave me a chance to construct a narrative about topics I believe that are universally relatable and intriguing: notions of fate, luck, history, determinism, timelines, progress, and human agency. 

 

Tell us more about Historiographical Interventions, the current exhibition you curated?

 

This is a project that has been in the works for a while and I’m elated to have it out in the world, now on view through May 8th. Arguably, the seeds for the concept were planted back in the spring of 2019 when I was interning at Creative Time. Through my time there, I came to know and appreciate the work of Jill Magid, and became fascinated with artists inserting themselves into larger systems or structures to understand and critique them. As such, this exhibition features five multidisciplinary artists (OlaRonke Akinmowo, fields harrington,

Movers & Shakers NYC, Xena Ni, and Cynthia Tobar) who interrogate or intercede in archives, records, and bodies of knowledge to more fully flesh out historical records, and in the process prompt people to think about how and where history gets written, what I term in the show as “sanctioned pedagogical spaces.”

 

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

 

First, never stop applying to opportunities and learn how to be comfortable gliding between the planes of applications: the paradiso of acceptance; the purgatorio of waiting and not knowing; and the inferno of rejection. Second, find your niche or community that you care most about within the larger biome and invest your time and resources there, making a concerted effort to get to know people and institutions. Otherwise, you spread yourself thin trying to keep up with every conceivable scene and only develop a cursory knowledge of many different locales and actors. Third, and this takes time, find the balance between taking on projects that generate no money but you’re passionate about and jobs that are well-compensated but not intellectually stimulating. Last, know when to assert/defend yourself, be diplomatic as much as possible, and allow others’ underestimation of you to be something you use to your advantage in the long run. 

 

What are you most excited for this year in the art world as a whole?

 

 

  • New York Art Week (5-12 May) is poised to be a grand affair 
  • Spending some extended time at The Whitney Biennial
  • The return of more in-person talks, panels, and events overall

 

 

How do you think the art world can become more transparent?

 

Like most, I believe job postings should include a salary range for the position. Beyond that very basic expectation, I believe grant-giving organizations need to continue reevaluating the criteria used to fund and support artists–there are already great efforts in place but it needs to spread across the board to address how organizations have historically underfunded artists and communities of color. On a somewhat related note, there also needs to be a cultural shift in how applicants are treated for jobs, grants, residencies, fellowships, etc. While I’m fully aware there is so little time to provide feedback to candidates, there ought to be new guidelines developed, or additional funding routinely allocated for this purpose, to offer rejected applicants some sort of summary guidance or recommendations on how to improve. 

 

What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?

 

Gala Porras-Kim. Precipitation for an Arid Landscape at Amant, curated by Ruth Estévez and Adam Kleinman–remarkable show.

 

If you could own work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection? 

 

 

  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder (for those evenings you want to re-create the convivium tradition with friends)
  • Édouard Vuillard (for escape, for beauty, and for ocular pleasure)
  • Francis Picabia (because Dada will always be relevant)
  • Joseph Kosuth (for when you want to be alone and probe the depths of your own mind)
  • Pipilotti Rist (her mesmerizing, all-encompassing video installations for dinner parties)

 

 

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