Vera Iliatova’s Tenants by Richard J. Goldstein

Vera Iliatova takes the group show as an opportunity to reveal the network existing between artists with Tenants. Hanging works side by side she gives context, not in terms of style, price tag, gender, or age, but in terms of friends.

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Windows fly past as the elevated train plows by those buildings impossibly close to the tracks. Any glimpse is too fragmented and momentary to catch a look inside. But, the zoetrope effect spins the imagination out to complete the view, and I wonder how many of those rooms are filled with artwork hoping to be seen and how many sites and non-sites it would take to hold them.

Vera Iliatova takes the group show as an opportunity to reveal the network existing between artists with Tenants. Hanging works side by side she gives context, not in terms of style, price tag, gender, or age, but in terms of friends. There’s nothing nepotic about this selection as a genuine sense of family pervades in the hanging and space of the work. Equipped with several studios and a quaintly mismatched kitchen, the 106 Green gallery has much the same feeling as one may find in George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual, the inspiration behind Iliatova’s curating. Perhaps it is the fact that Iliatova is a painter herself that conveys such closeness between artists that a curator or gallerist may have less ease to fully tap into. Tenants speaks to the artist as more than a name, but a link in a system of support.

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Rochelle Feinstein, A Wonderful Place to Live, laser print/oil on linen, 33 × 33â€, 1991.

Following is a an email q&a posed to Vera Iliatova, March 23, 2010.

Richard Goldstein Is this your first time curating? What inspired you to start curating?

Vera Iliatova I’ve been coming to 106 Green Gallery exhibitions since they started about a year ago, and I love the idea of an artists-run venue for artists-curated exhibitions. I was very happy when they asked me to curate a show, and since the space also houses artists’ studios, the idea for Tenants came to mind.

RG How did you select the group of artists to work with?

VI I proposed the idea to the artists who I think would find Perec’s book interesting to their process. I was also looking for work that would evoke a range of themes in the novel: from the narrative content to the abstract structure imposed on the plot.

The structure of the novel is that of an isometric perspective where the writer equally distances himself from every inhabitant of the narrative leaving it for the viewer to weave the story together. It was a perfect curatorial model for this show.

RG How do you feel your role as a painter influences your curating?

VI It helps because I am able to see many artists develop their work over a long period of time by coming to their shows and studios, reading about them and by simply hanging out. This was also an opportunity for me to think closely about work that doesn’t necessarily relate to mine, and that’s always an important experience for an artist.

RG Are there any commonalities you see between the artists that the exhibition brings out?

VI Apart from the fact that I think they are all great artists who inspire me in my own studio? I found many surprising connections once the work was installed, and I think the show really evokes the mood of the novel.

RG What level of involvement do the artists have in the process?

VI Once I explained my idea for the show to the artists, I had several studio visits and email correspondences with them. Several artists made work specifically for the show. Others gave me some options to choose from, but in every case the decision of what to include was mostly made by the artist.

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The 106 Green kitchen.

RG How did you first come across George Perec’s Life? Did the book change your perception in anyway?

VI I started reading the book a few years ago, and re-read it last summer. It is impossible not to have your perception affected after reading the book. And it is especially enjoyable to read it while living in a densely populated apartment building in Brooklyn. The kitchen at 106 Green looks straight out of Perec’s novel.

RG Are there any other writers that influence your painting and curating?

VI I am currently reading Joan Didion, and I just finished reading some novels by Marguerite Duras. I am sure some aspects of these books will resurface somewhere in my paintings.

Following is an email correspondence between artists Justin Leiberman, Susan Lichtman, Rachel Roske, and Kevin Zucker. All dialogue initiated March 23, 2010 and all artists were asked the same three questions:

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Justin Lieberman, Untitled, mixed media various sizes, 2010.

RG What is it usually like to give work over to a group setting? How was the Tenants exhibition different for you as a group show?

Justin Lieberman Most of the group shows I have participated in seemed to be loosely curated around a theme of “whatever is available by moderately well-known, similarly aged artists.” Then there is a reason tacked on at the end as a curatorial mission. Tenants was both similar and different. Because Tenants began from a premise of social relations which is also a subject of Perec’s novel (or so I am told). This makes so much more sense than trying to thematize the work in an objective way. Thematization or preemptory art-historicization as a curatorial move usually just has the effect of instrumentalizing the works, or even the artists. With Tenants, it felt as though this polite move of unification was both accomplished and acknowledged as the gesture that it is. It is both empty and essential. Like the polite offer which is meant to be declined. So it was beautiful and had the ring of truth. I think what Vera did was very open and permissive in allowing the works to emerge in their own right.

Susan Lichtman It can be uncomfortable to be included in a group which has a fixed label—a group of a specific artistic genre or a group of people living or working in the same geographic area. Sometimes we don’t identify with those labels. In Tenants, it was unusual and refeshing to be part of such an eclectic group. The curator seemed to put the group together the ways someone would create a play-list of music, making arbitrary, diverse choices in order to build/make a unique, safisfying whole.

Rachel Roske It’s a gamble—you never know how your work is going to look next to another artist’s work. So there’s a loss of control, in a sense. I am so used to seeing my work in the context of my body of work. When I take a painting out of that context, it not only has to stand alone and represent me, it also has to stand next to the work of other artists. Anything can happen, visually and/or curatorially, in that scenario. But usually it ends up being an enlightening experience—I see new aspects of the painting that I never knew were there. The Tenants show was no different. Plus, it was a great, eclectic mix of artists to be in the company of—Vera did a stellar job curating: bringing artists from a wide generational and stylistic range together, which is rare and difficult.

Kevin Zucker I think group shows can be the best or worst exhibition experiences, depending on the context and the curator. You’re offering your work to some person/institution to be contextualized (or instrumentalized) in a way that involves giving up a lot of control over its reception. At the same time, relinquishing that control creates opportunities to consider your work (and have your work considered) from angles you wouldn’t have anticipated or created on your own.

Tenants was easy to participate in—106 Green is a sweet, low-key, and well-programmed place, and Vera is someone I know and trust. For a long time now, she and I have also had an ongoing conversation about the Perec novel that she took as the central metaphor in curating the show, so I had a clearer-than-usual sense of where the curator might be coming from.

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Susan Licthman, Open House, oil on canvas, 24 × 18â€, 2008.

RG Artists tend to be seen as individuals, a name outside of their network. Can you speak to the role of artistic family in your work?

JL Yes, the artworld is divisive in its insistence on singular authorship even in the face of obvious collaboration. There are no credits on exhibitions like there are at the end of movies, or on the backs of records. It is up to artists alone to insist on the group rather than the individual. No one else will do it. My artist friends are the main thing that drives all of my work. They are the audience I speak to with it. Without them, who would laugh at my jokes? There would just be a lot of solemn nodding.

SL My artistic family is diverse (like a real family) made of my teachers and my students, my friends and artists whose work I love, but who I don’t know personally. There is some kind of genetic thread that probably connects us all, but it is difficult to name.

RR The network/family that tends to play a role in my work are friends that stop by my studio. Those conversations affirm and influence my practice. Right now that circle of artist-friends are in L.A., of course, but I feel like I have a scattered artistic family. The fun thing about Tenants was re-connecting with my east-coast “family”—people from Yale and Skowhegan that I’ve really missed since my relocation to L.A. and unfortunately don’t play as big of a role in my process as they used to.

KZ I can see two slightly different things you might be asking here. The first is about the social networks of artist friends that one stays in continuous dialogue with, and I think the answer there is easy: I see those networks as forming the core of my audience, and they’re constituted of the people whose feedback I’ve most fully internalized into my studio decision-making process. The second would be in terms of the idea of family resemblance—the sets of partial correspondences/overlaps/influences/affinities that shape the relationship of any artist’s work to its “neighbors” in discourse. I guess my answer to either question would be that the role is huge, a major factor in the experience of being an artist.

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Kevin Zucker, Untitled (Study for a missing-content painting), acrylic, transfers on canvas, 41 × 30â€, 2006.

RG Does Tenants reveal anything to you about your work or process you may not have realized yet?*

JL Yes. Despite the fact that I tried as hard as I could to produce something small, quiet, and understated for Tenants, my piece still ended up being the largest, most obnoxious thing in the show. Why am I like this? What is wrong with me? I really need to calm down. I need to learn to sit still and be silent within myself. It is a good thing that my friends are so tolerant.

SL I realized how happy I was to be included into such heterogenious and distinguished group.

RR It made me more aware of the way my work has changed in the more than two years since I left New York. I thought about the people that might see my painting in the show that haven’t seen my work since I lived there, and what would look different to them. I’ve started using more multiple panels, fabric, and trompe l’oeil elements that were still in a sort of gestation period towards the end of my time in New York.

KZ That’s tough for me to answer because the painting I have in the show is from a few years back. It’s nice to see older things again (particularly when they’re not in some awful secondary market setting), but I’m not sure yet what exactly this particular situation will have to tell me about what I’m doing now. I’m assuming some things will dawn on me over time. Of course in any group show there are all sorts of unexpected connections that immediately get made between the various works, and that’s even more the case than usual here with Vera’s emphasis on heterogeneity as a basic curatorial principle.

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Rachel Roske, For Ages or for Hours, oil and fabric on canvases, 14 × 19â€, 8 × 19â€, 9 × 19â€, 2009.