02 May Curator Nino Macharashvili: ‘Culture Is Not Canceled’
COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the normal landscape of life, pushing almost everything online, including art. Art world is evolving to fit within the new constraints outlined by coronavirus, offering a new type of virtual support system, a platform of expression for a growing online audience.
According to Georgian curator Nino Macharashvili, art is finding new ways to exist, as it is a universal language, which has the demonstrated power to change the world. A Facebook group called “Izoizolyacia” has gained over half a million followers since March 30th, with a hashtag #artisolation. Its followers post homemade replicas of famous artworks from all over the world. The sense of humor and ingenuity of some of its members have gone viral well beyond the limits of this public group. Art offers hope for some, and an escape from reality for many.
Long before the outbreak of COVID-19, Macharashvili was exploring the complexity of art in a digital world and how it changes within the elements of nature. “I’ll remember forever, how the pandemic separated all of us, and, at the same time, united the world with a common problem,” said Macharashvili after attending “The Immigrant Artist” zoom session, an online forum where artists converged to exchange ideas, vent frustrations, and support one another. The cut-throat, competitive world of art has taken a long pause and a new kind of camaraderie has emerged. We are in this together, after all.
As an art curator, Macharashvili helps translate and convey the meaning of contemporary art to viewers. Unlike previous art movements like the Renaissance or Post-Impressionism, Contemporary Art is not defined by certain constraints or ideals, making it more difficult to decipher and in need of ‘translators.’ According to Macharashvili, “Contemporary art in its essence is very complex, controversial and, like our lives, it doesn’t contain ‘universal ideas’ and ‘undoubtable beliefs’.” she explains. On the contrary, contemporary artists are constantly questioning the reality and the ‘social norms’. Macharashvili’s mission is to help art viewers understand the true intention of the artist’s work, when it isn’t instantly clear. Even then, the curator peels each piece of art layer by layer to reveal the truth that is measured against the past, the present, and when applicable, the future.
However, rather than be stifled by COVID-19 pandemic, Macharashvili is urging fellow artists to use this unique opportunity to fuel their creativity. There are new questions to be answered, new points to draw inspiration from, and new ideas to be discovered. “Contemporary world and contemporary art are changing every day,” she said. “Creative people are wired to create, and despite that some believe that #2020iscanceled, ‘culture is not canceled’.
How do you envision the post-pandemic art world?
We are living in one of the most interesting eras of human history. The digital revolution has fundamentally changed the world, and in 2020, coronavirus pandemic is forcing the entire world to live online. Mass gatherings such as art fairs, exhibitions, biennials, festivals and concerts will be the last kind of public activity to start after the lock-down. Some events were postponed to Fall, but some of them were canceled for the rest of 2020.
Artists and art organizations are trying to adapt to changes, and attempt to present exhibitions online, conduct zoom meetings, and promote their practice. It’s very interesting for me to witness the change that is happening, specifically how we behave online. What used to be reserved only for official work calls, my Zoom sessions have become a very intimate space of sharing emotions and difficulties during this challenging time.
The Immigrant Artist zoom session touched my heart. It was the beginning of self-isolation and everyone was stressed, sensitive and unused to these conditions. The artists were talking about how difficult it was to concentrate or create art these days. One participant cried while talking about the family and her immigration ordeal, and that she was alone in NYC, and we were her only ‘family.’ Over 70 people participated in this session. I’ll remember that first virtual meeting forever, how the pandemic separated us all, and at the same time united us all against the shared problem.
I envision that existential issues and environmental problems will be more reflected in the works of contemporary artists than ever before.
Do you see any emerging trends, especially among art auctions?
Despite the fact that purchasing art online, under normal circumstances, is a rather uncomfortable experience, online art sales value grows every year and has reached over $67 billion dollars in 2018.
The pandemic shift has happened so quickly and it is hard to believe that the whole art world is online now. However, I am sure many of us have noticed that the galleries and auctions nowadays showcase more objects of home design, furniture, and alike. Current Phillips Auction – ‘Hard-Edged: Online Auction’ features 20 works and 12 of them are unique furniture and lighting objects. At the same time, all lots bought at this auction will be held in the storage for 30 days until the further notice. Now, when the home is the only space we are spending our life in, decorations (home design and decor) are more important.
I predict that online art sales will be less than previous years. Though, Sotheby’s announce that ‘collectors are still actively buying art online’. Now more than ever, we should support artists and small art businesses, when we can.
This crisis affected every individual and business – small or big. However, big galleries having multiple international locations can overcome this challenge easier than smaller art organizations. I want to think optimistically, but, obviously, many small art businesses may stop functioning this year, there are already early indications of this trend.
There are many countries not able to support art and culture, because the majority of the society thinks art and culture is not vital for a human being, especially when basic economic needs aren’t being met. As British art historian Michael Baxandall once quipped, works of art are, among other things, are ‘fossils of economic life’.
Instagram has become a most important social media platform in the art world affecting the art market. You can buy artwork directly through Instagram. Artists, galleries and other art organizations try to keep social media platforms active and offer the customers ‘appropriate product’ (including custom face coverings or gloves). For example, anonymous Instagram account @JerryGogosian with 70K followers, posts art-memes and leads an AM art radio podcast.
Here are a key resources curator Macharashvili would recommend for American artists to explore for support during coronavirus pandemic:
What has your art journey been like?
Art has always been part of my life since my childhood. My grandmother was a director of the Culture House in Georgia and she shared her love of art with me. We visited museums and galleries together in Tbilisi.
I graduated from Tbilisi State University and continued my research in contemporary art as a PhD student. My experience in the art includes working in different countries: at the contemporary art galleries and creative agencies for artists, art fairs, the Museum and the University. Also, I’ve worked as an independent art professional and I’m a co-founder of a Non-for-profit organizations in Georgia: ‘ARCHEIΔ’ and ‘Art for Social Change’.
Sometimes, it was not easy to make a living as an art professional in the country of Georgia and I think, not only there, but in other places as well. However, because of my passion for the arts, I dedicated myself to it and was always happy with my choice.
Where do you see yourself making the biggest impact?
I consider myself a cosmopolitan, appreciating every culture and country. At the same time, I’m happy to be born in this amazing country of Georgia. Georgia is a mixture of European and Asian motifs with a unique style. You will meet Synagogue, ancient Orthodox Church and Mosque together in the tiny Old Town. The mixture of eastern and western elements was transformed into the original Georgian motives, this is why Georgian culture is so unique.
Georgian Contemporary Art scene is an interesting part of the international art world. Actually, a big part of Georgian contemporary art has been created by Georgian artists living outside the country. Some of my favorites include Andro Wekua, Thea Djordjadze, Vajiko Chachkhiani, Ana K.E. Thea Gvetadze, Keti Kapanadze, Maia Naveriani, Gia Edzgveradze, Eteri Chkhadua, Koka Ramishvili, Tamara K.E. and Tamuna Sirbiladze exhibiting in the leading museums and galleries across the world. Together with Chkadua, we plan to present her multimedia installation ‘Alien Bloom’ at Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography in Mestia, Georgia.
While presenting Georgian artists at the leading international art fairs and exhibitions in different counties, I realized that they were influenced by global art trends, and at the same time by their own visions. While competing with renowned contemporary artists they received significant interest from the international collectors, curators and press. During the last few years, contemporary art galleries popped up in Tbilisi. Tbilisi Art Fair is held annually from 2018. We have made great progress, but the sustainable art market doesn’t yet exist in Georgia.
Describe your curating logic mechanism? Share with us your process on how do you put together a group show?
Curator is a creator of a new narrative, gathering artist’s works in a unique way and concept and creating a new artwork. Curator’s medium is an exhibition. In my view, a curator is an artist too, playing with images, visions, concepts and space. The same artworks exhibited differently may cause different feelings and opinions about the artist by the viewer. If some artist’s work may be very private and may stay in the studio, the curator’s work is public and based on the engagement of visitors.
Creating an exhibition is a very intimate ritual for me. Before hanging I try to design the compositions in my mind, on paper or in the form of a curatorial model. I always want to listen to the artist, their concept and wishes. But, the exhibition is a work of a curator and sometimes, I can’t consider all artists’ views. When an artist wants to show as many works as possible, my role really becomes crucial. A curator can show the development of an artist’s work, without running the risk of creating wasted space.
I work hard in order for my exhibitions to be based on research, strong concepts, and the space is also very important to me.
What kind of space excites you?
My passion is site-specific exhibitions, experimental spaces, and brown-fields.
Site-specific exhibition gives you more space for experimentation and creative thinking. Also, the geographical location is very important to perceive the artworks separately and the exhibition in general. The rural areas were always more interesting to me then the capital city where people know more about contemporary art, museums and exhibitions.
Can you mention some specific examples?
I co-founded ARCHEIΔ, an art initiative supporting multicultural collaboration of artists, artisans and designers in 2017 and organized art residency in the Imereti Region of Georgia. Young girls, living in the small village, attended textile workshops and created artworks which I presented at the former wine factory in Obcha.
Lado Pochkhua’s site-specific exhibition was held in the former railway station soviet building. The Book for the New Aristocracy series were perfectly matching the colorful interior of the railway station building. It’s always interesting to me working in the building which had a completely different function before and transforming it by creative experimentation.
In 2017, I organized the exhibition series ‘Moving Images’ at Moving Gallery – a shipping container transformed to a gallery space which can move to any location desired. It was a shipping container tour presenting 3 Georgian contemporary artists’ solo exhibitions In Tbilisi and different regions of Georgia.
Your biggest role to date has been a chief curator of Georgian Museum of Fine Arts, what was the most important lesson you learned from that experience?
Georgian Museum of Fine Arts is a new art museum displaying the family collection of its founders, Gia Jokhtaberidze and Manana Shevardnadze. 3500 works of Soviet and Post-soviet art collection are distributed over the three floors of the museum. It is the only building in Georgia built purposely to host art exhibitions and was opened in 2018.
Chief curator was the highest position at this museum structure and it became a very different experience from all of my previous jobs at the galleries, university or non-profit-organizations. Here, I had a bigger mission, more power, and greater responsibilities. About 15 young women including museum attendants, receptionists and assistants – all were part of our team. Learning how to successfully work all together for the museum’s success has become my daily lesson.
You were a professor at the same time. How did you balance it all?
I worked as an invited lecturer of Georgian Art at Tbilisi State University. My students were future guides with a desire to explore more about this challenging job of a curator. While giving them theoretical knowledge and sharing practical experience, we visited architectural sites and museums and galleries together. Sometimes, it’s difficult to perceive contemporary art for a visitor. For example, everyone is impressed with Botticelli’s Primavera and it’s a ‘universal truth’ that this piece is a masterpiece. But, modern and contemporary artworks are more difficult for visitors to understand. I found passion doing this work and it was easy to balance my most passionate interests: art and education!
Project ArtBeat has gained a lot of popularity due to their earlier groundbreaking exhibitions, much to your credit. What new avenues did that project open for you?
I can say that working at the pioneering contemporary art gallery in Tbilisi a very interesting period of my life. I’ve gained invaluable experience while organizing solo and group exhibitions at the Moving Gallery by Project ArtBeat, at the permanent exhibition space – in the unique historic building of an old town and different museums in Georgia.
The most interesting discovery to me was how I changed my attitude from towards the art market. Project ArtBeat had a very active exhibition and art fair program. I’ve worked on several art projects simultaneously. Presenting Project ArtBeat booths at 11 international art fairs, I found the art market was a very interesting field and realized that I’ve not had the complete picture of the contemporary art world while studying at the university. How different were the sales at Art Dubai and Contemporary Istanbul as compared to Art Vilnius or Kyiv Art Week. I was extremely happy when Turkish businessman, art patron and collector Ali Koc bought 2 paintings from our booth and collector and curator Huma Kabakci purchased artworks and exhibited them at the renowned Pera Museum in Istanbul.
What was your most memorable project from ArtBeat?
From my curated projects most memorable for me is Shots Across the Plane, a video show which I curated together with Jeremy Gales in May, 2018. We were working on this exhibition for 2 years, after we met in Contemporary Istanbul and eventually, the event was organized by Project ArtBeat at the Museum of Modern Art in Tbilisi, Georgia. I’m proud that the exposition showcased video art masterpieces by prominent contemporary artists: Pipilotti Rist, Hito Steyerl, Janet Biggs, Dana Sederowsky and 2 Georgian artists Tamara K.E. and Tamar Chaduneli.
Tell me a little bit about FLAG Art Group ?
In 2019, FLAG Art Group, a creative agency for artists and art organizations was founded in Fort Lee, NJ. As I don’t have a work permit in the US yet, I contributed my insights free of charge to a new art organization, curated the show Beyond Cultural Identities in West New York, NJ and published a gallery catalogue featuring contemporary artists and articles by art professionals. It was an honor to work with an American institution like FLAG Art Group.
If you could have dinner with any artist dead or alive, whom would it be?
Undoubtedly, I would choose avant-garde artist Petre Otskheli (1907-1937) who revolutionized Georgian scenography. His stage and costume design is a masterpiece and ‘world heritage’. A victim of Stalinist repression, Otskheli has outrun time, a genius who passed away at the same age I’m now. In 1937 he was executed as ‘a member of the counter-revolutionary Trotskyist organization’.
I’ve asked people (not related to the art world) to guess the date when these works were created and almost everyone thought they were made by contemporary artists. I would tell Petre that after 100 years, his artworks give me feelings of happiness, pride and motivation at the same time and I’d ask him to tell me whatever he would like to about his life.
Textile arts – what is it?
Recently, while talking to the artist Levan Mindiashvili (who explores different techniques and media in his work – e.g. sculptures translated into tapestries), I mentioned that a few years ago, I discovered contemporary textile arts was extremely interesting to me.
In this medium, it’s difficult to ‘lie’, I mean, to create something not authentic to the artist. We talked about how handmade works become more important during crises. In the self-quarantine, ‘home’ gained a new meaning. As an extrovert, it’s my first time enjoying being at home, home design and hand-made objects became more important to me and I think for the other people too.
Eventually, I decided to create a textile arts exhibition concept and distribute it online. Not just uploading images and texts about the artists from different countries, but creating a virtual and, at the same time, intimate experience intended for online reality, without a necessity of an actual space.
What is the most pressing question on your mind right now?
I’m just thinking about the clear water in Venice canals, or that the Himalayas are visible for the first time in decades as the lock-down reduced air pollution. What a big difference our ‘sitting home’ has made! Can we keep it up? The etymology of the word ‘culture’ is connected to the ‘cultivation of the ‘soil’ and ‘mind’. Now, is the time when all residents of the earth should unite with the single idea of saving our world. Living with this idea means trying everything you do to be environmentally friendly. I wish to see more public art projects and environmental artists inspired by ecological ideas.
The best thing, happened to me during this period is that bicycles became the best mode of transportation from New Jersey to New York. I feel happy when I cross George Washington Bridge, and hear Google Maps voice say to me: ‘Welcome to New York City.’