“How to Explain Art to a Dead Horse,” was the title of Ottmann’s lecture. His basic premise? You can only explain Art to a dead animal because you cannot explain art.
“You have to experience art first before you can intellectualize it,” Ottman said.
Ottman defended his personal style and his choices for the SITE Biennial in a vibrant and lively lecture. Ottman limited his Biennial to thirteen artists in what many critics have suggested is a political statement on the future of the biennial. However, Ottman clearly denies having any motivation to make a political statement, claiming that every good curator has their own personal style.
“I’m a minimalist,” Ottman said. “I’ve never tended to overcrowd. It was very much a personal decision. I may or may not have been forceful enough.”
For Ottman, the role of a curator is that of mediator between the public and the artists.
“Often people only look at the art and not the presentation,” Ottman said. “But a succesful exhibition has to have the mark of an individual curator. Art made by committee is not a good idea. I’ve never seen it work. That’s why it is good to have a different curator every year.”
For the SITE Biennial, Ottman experimented by letting the artists present themselves with minimal oversight and control. He stepped back. A step that Art Forum criticized in their September issue: “…by putting himself so far in the background…he has not put forth a critical framework.”
“This is, of course, what I did not want to do,” Ottman said. “So they are right.”
Then he added: “I’ve learned from this and there are certainly things I would do differently.”
One of the things he said he wished he had done was insist that there be no title for the exhibition.
“I was concerned the audience would confuse a title with a theme and the artists would get influenced to work along the line of that title.”
He suggested that Patty Chang’s video for the Biennial, “Condensation fo Birds” was too influenced by the title.
And what of the suggestion by Zane Fischer in the Santa Fe Reporter that Santa Fe got second hand work from some artists while their better work was shipped off to the Whitney Biennial in New York and other shows around the world?
Ottman said he wanted all the work shown to be new or never seen before in the United States. “I didn’t want to show stuff at SITE that was already seen in New York, Venice, Los Angeles or Paris. I wanted to treat Santa Fe as an important sight and place and make sure people will come to Santa Fe to see something they haven’t already seen.”
Robert Grosvenor only makes one sculpture every three to four years and Ottman chose a piece that had never been shown before.
Peter Doig was another story. Doig who was also in the Whitney Biennial did not have as much available work, so Ottman chose a few older works, borrowed a piece from a museum in Holland and Doig sent two large paintings that were actually wet when they arrived. Ottman believes that the Doig paintings are representational of the painters new style.
Wolfgang Laib began his milk stones sculpture in the 1970s and continue to show similar work today. With Laib, Ottman did a retrospective, a very complete survey of his pollen fields, his beeswax and his newest body of work that Ottman felt looked like antique Burmese vessels that one might find in an antiquity shop in Santa Fe.
Wangechi Mutu, Ottman admitted, “was a bit of a problem.” She had her first one person show are her gallery in New York and participated in a simulatenous show in New York. Ottman believes that the solo show was “too big a show for a young artist.”
“I agree that she was overextended and it did influence this show.” Mutu’s video “Magic” had originally been a graduate student project and was shown at SITE with “Clepsydra” partially filled plastic bottles dangling from the ceiling.
“I like it, but I think she could have done something better,” Ottman said. “Young artists have not learned to pull back and limit themselves.”
Referring back to the Art Forum criticism that he was not forceful enough in exercising his curatorial vision, Ottman said:
“I still feel the exhibition was very successful and what I tried to do was successful. Could I have been more forceful? Yes.”
Ah, well, this is all old news. The Biennial is gone now. Lance Fung will curate the Seventh International Biennial at SITE. But it doesn’t open until July 2008.
February 10-May 13, SITE will feature the work of Darren Almond, Barry X Ball and Stephen Bush.