Lectures

Interview with a Curator: Sihame Bouhout

   Art Consultant, Art Authenticator, Curator

 

Art Consultant, Art Authenticator, Curator

Something I've been trying to do more of on my blog is to have interviews with interesting people working in the art industry. My colleague, Sihame Bouhout, is an art authenticator and curator. She's authenticated hundreds of art objects from all over the world, and works with art galleries, museums and auction houses in London, Paris, New York and Geneva. She's curated shows in Paris and New York and has an incredible track record assisting young artists in their first exhibitions. The breadth of her experiences-- and her unique background as an authenticator AND curator-- has helped her develop an extensive knowledge about art and its complicated relationship to the marketplace. Her expertise encompasses both contemporary art and antiquities, which makes her a go-to art consultant for numerous important clients. She lives in New York City.

 ● How did you become an art authenticator and curator?

The company I am working for was looking for someone who had a strong knowledge in art history, business development and science. This person does not exist, so they made the candidates pass some tests. I was the most successful. I then followed an intensive training and started to work. It is a very unique job, so there is no degree for it; I am the only one doing it in the US.

My parents were friends with a lot of art dealers and artists in France and that offered me the opportunity to be exposed to art from a very young age. And as a family, we always go to museums and enjoy looking at art together. When I was growing up, I had the chance to do some internships in art galleries. All of those experiences helped me to develop a strong knowledge in art history. I then naturally transitioned from those internships to curating exhibitions.

● The two professions seem related but also appear to demand very different skill sets. What is the most important overarching skill to be a great curator and great authenticator? 

The two complete each other in my opinion. When I am the authenticator, I have to use very technical and rational skills, but then I am able to express my creativity as a curator. I do not feel any competition to be a great curator, but I will say you need to know the market but then then free yourself from it. You just want to know in what kind of environment you evolve and then offer something different.

● As a curator, what do you feel is the most difficult aspect of the job? What is the most exciting show you’ve ever worked on?

When I am a curator, I am telling a story that is not written, that will be free of interpretation.  So the most challenging part is to be simple, not in a non-intelligent way. I guess the right word I am looking for is “accessible”. I like when people leave the show and have a lot of questions and yet understand my story, even in their own way.

I think the most exciting shows are to come-- I gained experiences those past years and I now I'm asking myself more interesting questions.

 ● As an art authenticator, what is the greatest or most important art object you’ve handled?

It is an interesting question because it is a very recurrent one: the relation with art and its value or importance. I don’t have a relation like that when I authenticate because I have to manipulate, touch the objects a lot.  I don’t want to be impressed because it will be stressful which can lead to mistakes. So when I analyze an object, I disconnect and stay in the moment looking for clues.

But I can tell you that one of my favorite objects was a piece shaped like a monkey that was supposed to be Pre-Columbian, and it end up being fake. But I loved it; it was one of the best fakes I’ve seen.

Ok, so may be I didn't post _everyday_

I sat in front of my computer yesterday just counting down the hours before I had to go and teach.  I am sort of in-between things in the studio at the moment, and I have models coming next week, but things are a bit slow and lethargic here right now. The good thing is that I did figure out what I'm going to do for my holiday cards (every year I try to do a holiday card....I've never actually succeeded in doing it though; I am determined to change that this year). Class last night was really fun. Here are some of my students. They are real clowns.

One thing that is difficult if you go to Mica is that you never really get to see teachers actually do their own work. That was so different from Water Street, where you could go and see Jacob work whenever he was painting in the next room or right next to you.  I decided to do a quick figure sketch in class so that people could see how I work. Here's what I did:

It wasn't the most beautiful angle, but I guess that's probably why I was able to squeeze in where I did (the room configuration is not that fortunate for us).  Lots of the students came by to take a look and asked me whether I had ever painted non-representationally before.  I actually painted abstractly before I went to Water Street and enjoyed it a great deal.  One of my students asked if I ever got tired of painting realistically.  I was really surprised to be asked that, because I never tire of it. It's like asking if I ever get tired of reading books, or listening to music or eating (well, may be not eating).  I understood from the student's perspective though: she was looking at the arts landscape and seeing that realism is just one little slice of it all-- and what a boring slice it is!  May be more later about why I don't find it boring. For now, it's time to do some painting.

 

 

 

Waterhouse Girls: Strong Victorian Women

   Magic Circle

 

Magic Circle

Peter Trippi, editor of Fine Art Connoisseur, gave a lecture at the Grand Central Academy yesterday.  Trippi helped curate "J.W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite" now on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I was surprised to see how strongly feminist Waterhouse was in his choice of subject matter. Here are a couple of examples: "Magic Circle" (1886) shows a witch drawing a circle around herself and her cauldron.  

   Circe

 

Circe

"Circe Offering a Cup to Ulysses" (1891) shows one of the original femme fatales in a regal pose. She is a powerful and treacherous woman who manages to bed the wily Ulysses who stays with her for an entire year. 

   The Lady of Shalott

 

The Lady of Shalott

Of course Waterhouse's most famous painting-- which I am lucky to have stood in front of a few times in my life-- is "The Lady of Shalott" (1888), which usually hangs in the Tate in London. 

I always read Tennyson's poem and thought of her as a passive woman, but Trippi pointed out that her story is the plight of the Victorian woman, imprisoned in her tower, sewing her tapestry and only able to look at the world when its activities are mediated through a mirror. When she decides to gain knowledge of the world for herself by looking outside, the mirror cracks and she is as good as dead.

Tony Mastromatteo's lecture at Janus

   Caravaggio

 

Caravaggio

Tony Mastromatteo, one of the first generation to come out of The Water Street Atelier back when it was still in its original location of Dumbo, Brooklyn, spoke last night at the Janus Collaborative in East Harlem in New York.  His lecture was entitled "Reverse Engineering Painting", which he joked was a "sexier" title than simply "Let's Take a Closer Look at Art History." Tony argues that ateliers, which are popping up all over the country, have been too consumed with the technical side of art education and should go beyond this first and required starting point to study art history so that contemporary realist artists can pursue visual meaning beyond technique.  Tony believes that the current state of the realist movement (a catch-all term he conceded he was using for the sake of ease) does not live up to the tradition we are beholden to because in pursuing technique (great form, great color, great composition) we forget to see it as handmaiden to the higher meanings that artists in the past chose to illumine through their paintings.  "The real project of realism presumes technical rigor," to paraphrase Tony.  "Technique is where things start, not where they end."   The study of art history shows us that artists were recontextualizing based on associations that they and their audience had acquired through their artistic and cultural lineage and what was happening currently in the world at the time. One of the examples that Tony gave was Caravaggio's "The Calling of St. Matthew" (1599-1600, Rome):    What does recontextualization in order to "further the possibilities of visual language" really mean?  Tony explained that Caravaggio was painting this for a bunch of cardinals, cardinals who have access to certain images. The arm of Jesus in the painting not only echoes, but is the exact same limp pointing arm and hand as the one these same Cardinals would have seen on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (God reaching out to Adam to give him life).  

   Hands_of_God_and_Adam

 

Hands_of_God_and_Adam

The recontextualization or reappropriation of that arm and hand, about which (as Tony points out) no one ever worries is well painted, is one of the artistic choices that Caravaggio made in order to imbue the actual subject matter with an added layer of meaning and thus to heighten the drama of St. Matthew's conversion. 

I'd love to hear what people think of Tony's ideas.  As for me, I'm heading to the Met next week to do some reverse engineering.