Curators Speak Out on

Side Street Projects has a podcast series, “What Do Curators Want?” The frank honesty of this series mixed with clear structure—and a Los Angeles scene—is totally unexpected to me. Artists who dream of being famous Basquiat style—many of you have been and will be my friends—should check their reality with this informative program.

So far, these are the curators interviewed (and archived) in the series:

Buy this book at!The most important bit of information that came from this series (so far) is that artists promote other artists. Let me repeat: artists promote other artists. My impoverished, post-1960s, background is filled with struggling artists who operate largely in isolation. What I am saying sounds strange from a member of The Los Angeles Collective. This situation is largely not of their doing because my understanding of the typical artist is of one not from a wealthy family, regarded as some tax deduction supported by a network of blue-blood nepotism. The artists that I respect and criticize—often at the expense of friendship—had to work as an artist or they would have died—in their soul and often almost physically as well. Because of poverty, extreme violence and—yes—racism, they are deeply conditioned to operate solo. The ability to recognize another artist and actually promote that person is almost unimaginable for such an imaginative person—especially when they were under 30 years of age. This web site, the kinté space, exists because of this very principle: artists promote other artists.

Buy this book at!The second most important thing coming out of this series is that artists need to be able to talk about their work. Too many North American artists, regardless of skin tone (or gender), have been attracted to being inarticulate, silent and even brooding (or bubbly, evasive and filled with nebulous girlish charm)—and expecting others (like curators) to speak for them. In fact, I sense a certain level of suspicion of artists (by other artists)—especially Black artists—who speak “too well” about their work. There is this appeal to the allure of being “instinctive” and “beyond words” that has no ancestral root in the ancient Africa seen by me in years of study. Well, kids, there is thing called the “Internet”—the art market is larger and far more international just like the labor market. You are going to have to speak up and explain some of yourself to these market gatekeepers. Of course I am biased for this because of my personal attraction to words. Back in 2001, we here in the kinté space produced “Michael Massenburg: Massenburg Faces Five,” an interactive presentation with streaming audio of the artist describing the work. We also have “Freeman Manifestation: Mari Inukai Gallery Show” and “Freeman Manifestation: Robin Strayhorn Gallery Show.” More to come…

Another important tidbit coming out of this series is that artists need to research their targeted venues. Almost all of the curators in the Side Street series are turned off by the artists’ lack of knowledge of the venue they are approaching. Black artists need to take note of this and understand quickly that, when their beloved venue features three Black artists in six years (and no one of Asian ancestry) and all of these artists have the same “creative” sexual orientation, all look like cute “street kids” (regardless of age) and all speak like a Valley Girl from Encino, they should not be surprised or hurt being left out with their old-fashioned sex life and “foreign” (urban) accent. One indicator of how well you know a venue is whether you know who pays them. When you find out where the money is coming from you get a better idea about the politics of the organization. There is a difference between Masterpiece Theatre and Mobil/Exxon Masterpiece Theatre.

Here are other points highlighted by

  • Curators are impressed with an artist that has shows in their tiny, crappy apartment. Yes, these do-it-yourself events may not make you look “rich” but you will look real. And, yes, for the Black artists living in the ’hood don’t worry: your community is probably being gentrified as we speak and in few years the “established” curators won’t be “afraid” to come see your show.
  • Do not underestimate the power of old-fashioned, 18th-century-style, European introductions. Don’t let the “colorblind” 21st century fool you. Remember, young-artist-party-animal, the purpose of your socializing is to obtain an introduction.
  • Curators welcome news of your art-related activities being sent to them without formal introductions. This ‘news’ should not contain a demand for action and it should not come in person because the curators you care about should be very busy. Just tell them what is happening and, oh, by the way, you will be having a show soon.
  • Hey! Old-fogey artists! Participating in juried exhibitions does not impress contemporary curators. Consider these shows a pay-to-play scam—just like the ones for musicians. Must this agony and ecstasy be for a competition?

Buy this DVD at!The productions here at are a part of my personal interest in the work of others. Eventually, I intend to turn this ‘personal interest’ into a recognizable and attractive lifestyle. The news coming from tells me that my lifestyle choices are professionally endorsed—even by deeply disinterested third parties.

Artists that intend to be “discovered” in their lifetime must be able to research and communicate before they take any kind of action toward “discovery.” So the next time I am on the phone with an artist friend of mine who still refuses to get comfortable with talking about their work (because of my “weird” but sincere interest) and is not prepared when they must talk, I will remember the news from The next time I send a message to an artist who is too perpetually busy, habitually withdrawn and self-absorbed to read about and sincerely appreciate their “competitors,” I will remember the news from