interview by Chris Sharp

Photography by Al McElrath

As the recently inaugurated San Francisco outpost of Kadist foundation enters its second year of programming, its director Joseph del Pesco was kind enough to discuss the space’s intentions and modus operandi with me.


CHRIS SHARP Can you tell me a bit about Kadist San Francisco? What kind of space is this? How is it supposed to function? And what role does it intend to play in the local community?


JOSEPH DEL PESCO In part, Kadist San Francisco mirrors its counterpart in Paris, starting with collections and residencies, but then the reflection shifts, or maybe becomes more like a ‘true mirror’ in that each venue considers and responds to its own city and the particular matrix of attitudes and needs that define its role in a cultural climate. For example, in addition to artist and curator residencies we’re prototyping a new residency for art magazines. The idea for this residency was developed in response to the absence of a printed periodical covering contemporary art in the San Francisco Bay Area. So we host them here for one month, and support their research toward the production of a San Francisco issue, however they choose to interpret that. So far we’ve hosted Fillip magazine from Vancouver, and NERO magazine from Rome.
So instead of a venue for exhibition, like the one developed quite successfully by Sandra Terdjman and her cohort at Kadist in Paris, we’ve established a mixed-use space. It has been designed to be flexible, accommodating a range of activities from screenings and conversations accompanied by a bar, to a reading room with a coffee-bar. We also use the space for meetings, work space for our residents and occasionally private events. At the moment we host an evening series on Wednesday nights that presents an extremely diverse range of work by collaborating with advisors like Hou Hanru, Larry Rinder and Jens Hoffmann, and friends of the foundation like Apsara Di Quinzio, Chris Fitzpatrick, and Christina Linden. We’re emphatically cross-generational and intellectually multivalent, but we aim to facilitate a close-reading or an intimate relationship with artwork. To this end we often present just one artwork at a time and then develop a discussion addressing and interpreting it.
On Saturdays we host a reading room with art magazines from around the world that print in english, making periodicals that have limited distribution available, sometimes for the first time, in San Francisco. The goal is to eventually include every art periodical in the world that prints in english, excepting those that can already be purchased at the local news stand.
The role it will play is still to be determined, but we hope it will become a kind of meeting point, where the foundation residents can meet and start conversations with local artists and curators.

Photography by Al McElrath

CS     Your approach has certain parallels with The Artist’s Institute in New York, especially with this idea of presenting one artwork and facilitating “a close-reading or an intimate relationship with artwork.” Such initiatives seem preoccupied not only with slowing down the hectic pace of the contemporary art and promoting genuine, sustained reflection, but also with restoring a sense of intimacy, or formalizing the admittedly shifting micro-communities that compose the so-called macro-community, which is the art world. This ‘tribal’ (for lack of a better word) impulse seems to be understandably widespread. I wonder if it could be seen as an implicit effort to counteract the dissolution of the particular that such a generalized, global art world continually threatens to establish. What is interesting about this is that such efforts seem to be dominated by language, or rather discourse, which could be seen as carrying out a similar procedure with respect to the particularity of the art object.
What are your thoughts on the emergence of these increasingly discursive spaces and the intimacy they promise, their origins and necessity?


JDP    I’m sympathetic to Anthony Huberman’s approach with the Artists Institute. I read your interview with him in this section and would echo much of his perspective, especially “placing artists at the center, not themes.” The perspective of Kadist doesn’t exclude those kind of narratives, and doesn’t develop a deep investigation of a particular artist for an extended period, but it does locate artists at the center of a constellation of programs.
I like the idea of a tribe (replacing the worn-out metaphor of the “scene,” which connotes something much more dispersed), but I don’t see us as forming a specific group, but rather helping the existing one identify itself. For example, we’ve started organizing lunches a couple times a month that bring together curators, artists, dealers, critics and academics (in roughly equal measure) to talk about art in the Bay Area. Our motivation is mainly to introduce the program and to get to know everyone but it also allows them to, in a less formal setting, get to know each other.
I like the tension you outline between the particular and the generalized, between local concerns on one hand and global narratives or forces on the other. Kadist San Francisco attempts to locate itself in the center of that spectrum rather than on one end or the other. Ours is a discourse that expands and contracts both in terms of the scale or distance of our subjects, but also between a close relevance to art subjects and then outward to address larger cultural issues. I think without this oscillation the discourse becomes too static, too cloistered.

Photography by Scott Oliver

Regarding origins, the first art space to show one artwork at a time that I know of was opened in 1983 as an offshoot of the Savitsky Regional Picture Gallery in Penza, Russia. It’s still running and is known as the One Picture Gallery. They took over an old post-office and established a system of presentation that while it appears overly theatrical now, and sort of trapped in time, it is also quite unique. It was specifically designed to provide context, to tell the story of the artwork, but also to heighten the drama, by adding a soundtrack and revealing the work hidden behind a curtain after the curator’s introduction. The gallery always presents a single, historical, large scale painting, and it wasn’t so much about generating discourse in the present as much as producing a kind of ‘ideal viewing experience’ for the past, and in relation to what the director understood as the problem of passive viewership in the museum. The director Valery Sazonov notes “I think when people visit exhibitions, particularly large exhibitions, they tend to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of works and find it difficult to study and ‘experience’ them in a relaxed way. The exhibits flash past like the countryside seen from the window of an express train. Not infrequently all that remains after such a visit is a feeling of tiredness and irritation. The exhibition of a single work produces a greater emotional impact on the visitor.”
The program at Kadist is, of course, much less formalized, and is ultimately much more responsive to the attitudes of living artists, and isn’t meant to offer an alternative or reform of museological strategies, but I love the focusing of attention involved in the staging of the One Picture Gallery. It’s also a reminder that the conventions of presenting art are not fixed and that other permutations regarding the format, timing and modes of display might be possible.
Ultimately I think of discourse as a positive byproduct rather than a specific goal. While the attitude is intentionally open and social, aided by the presence of the bar or through serving coffee during the Saturday reading room, the conversation isn’t directed unless its immediately following the presentation of an artwork. Even then, the atmosphere and small scale of the space has allowed, in some cases, for a more open exchange that I’ve personally experienced elsewhere.

Photography by Scott Oliver

CS     Sazonov’s analogy of seeing exhibitions from an express train window could hardly be more accurate. I like the open, unfixed format you describe, and must say that that was very much the feeling I got while visiting you at the foundation on my last trip to San Francisco. It did seem open, relaxed, welcoming, but not, however, devoid of a sense of rigor. In addition to the lunches you already mentioned, what else is on the agenda for the coming year? Could you say a few words about what you have got programmed?


JDP     We’re days away from the first release a web-based project that we’ve been working on for about a year. It started as a tool to help curators work in groups, and has evolved into a much bigger project, including a feature that employs the google engine to search art-relevant websites around the world. Last May we conducted a round of user-testing with 16 curators and academics at institutions across the US so we’re making some improvements based on their feedback before making the beta version available later this month. It’s a sophisticated piece of software, and we’re hoping it will be useful not only for curators, but also artists, publishers, and students and faculty at art schools. At the end of this month we’ll be working with two groups of artists and curators, using the site to develop a ‘shadow’ version of an exhibition currently on view at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. We’ll convene these groups in an office at the museum, both as an experiment in meta-critical curating, and to consider the possibility of an exhibition as a point of departure, rather than a static narrative.
We’ll re-start the Wednesday series in September with current-resident Pierre Leguillon’s NON-HAPPENING AFTER AD REINHARDT. During the event he’ll be in conversation with legendary Bay Area art historian Peter Selz (now in his 90s). Later that month curator Connie Lewallen (known for her seminal exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum) will host an evening with Al Ruppersberg. In October we’ll celebrate the release of the first ‘San Francisco Issue’ with Fillip magazine, who will also host an event with Metahaven. In November, YBCA curator (and artist) Julio Morales will host artist Miguel Calderon, and we’ll host May Magazine from Paris as our third magazine-in-residence.