Ludlow 38 Archive

In Perspective: MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38 (2011–2019)

Ludlow 38
Archive

2012

2012

Clara Meister

Clara Meister (CM) was the 2012 Curatorial Resident at Ludlow 38. She spoke with editor Sarah Demeuse (SD) in January 2020 from Berlin.

 

SD

Clara, first of all, thank you for doing this. My first question is of a hypothetical nature. In retrospect, was there a show or an event that you felt you would have wanted to do at Ludlow 38 but never had the time to organize?  

 

CM

I did everything I planned, but while being at Ludlow I was so in spired by the conversation with the artists, the surroundings, the context, and the city, that I had more ideas, many of which I couldn’t realize because of my limited time. The setup was so luxurious, I really enjoyed the smallness of the space, it wasn’t overwhelming. I chose to be at the space every day; I had many conversations with visitors that were fruitful and inspiring. I would have liked to further develop a version of an educational program, and rethink some formats. Sometimes kids and neighbors would come visit, and there were so many families in the neighborhood. There was a school two blocks from us. I would have been interested in doing something with them on a small scale, not the traditional tours or workshops, but something more experimental, thinking about it from within the curatorial work. I also would have liked to expand my work with the local scene and discourse.

 

SD

Did you live close to the exhibition space?

 

CM

Yes, on Second Avenue. I walked to work almost every day, or otherwise I biked (I was very happy that my bike stayed with Sara Stevenson after I left!).

 

SD

Which projects, or parts of projects, did you enjoy the most?

 

CM

I am very attached to all of them in different ways. What was very important for me throughout was working with the artists in a close conversation and, whenever possible, always on-site. I was really looking for their input and exchange in order to develop something new. All of them were on-site a couple of times, and many of them made new works. Ludlow 38 was our shared studio, laboratory, playground, or even a living room. We had breakfast and lunch there; sometimes we stayed until midnight. We became friends in the space. The artists’ presence was so important—the exchange with them, thinking about how to connect their work to New York. This, for me, was the quality of Ludlow.

 

SD

What parts of your program resonated best with locals?

 

CM

Unfortunately, I didn’t do any visitor surveys or similar, so it’s difficult to say. I wanted to invite artists who hadn’t been very present in New York yet and connect them to the local scene through performances and events. For example, the exhibition I did with Saâdane Afif was an abstract proposition and it had a very conceptual approach. I was curious about how it would be received. We had the idea to work with a New York busker. This encounter was really inspiring and productive. The relationship between Wesley, the busker, and Saâdane actually continued beyond this project: they did eight additional collaborations (performances and records) together. So it was a fruitful pairing that started at Ludlow and went further. Similarly, Bo Christian Larsson changed the exhibition space into one single performative installation and collaborated with a musician from upstate, Shawn Greenlee, and Onyx W. D. Johnson, a weightlifter from New York City, who became his alter ego. For Let’s talk peace! A Dog Republic we did external events with other artists and thinkers such as Camille Henrot, Molly Nesbit, Vanessa Place, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and a small group of students. Maria Loboda’s conceptual outdoor garden A Guide to Insults and Misanthropy, on the raw urban street in front of Ludlow 38, drew a lot of people to the space (as well as butterflies and bees!), who freely discussed the work. For many, this was an entry point into the gallery program.

 

Mount Moon performance on Ludlow Street. Photo: Bess Adler

 

SD

So, in a sense, every exhibition provided a different connection to New York or the region.

 

CM

Yes, this was very important for me. Take the exhibition with Natalie Czech, for example. She works with photography and poetry and it was her first exhibition in the United States. Very early on we were eager to introduce her work to the New York scene and look for points of contact; we invited Kenneth Goldsmith from Ubuweb and Tan Lin, who is a poet. Those initial collaborations go on; Natalie is still in contact with them. That was really beautiful. Ludlow 38 also became a platform for discussions, and here I really enjoyed working with local writers for the publication projects.

 

My first exhibition was the most challenging for me personally because it was a group exhibition and the artists weren’t present. This inaugural show was a playful way of getting to know the space and the surroundings. It opened in February, so I had little time to prepare. The premise of the exhibition started from the concept of translation: it was meant to function as an introduction to the year-long topic instead of focusing on a specific artistic practice or a work, as is often the case for solo shows. (I actually enjoy the single-artist exhibitions more, as they don’t orchestrate the works as much as a group show does.) From then on, I actually decided to only do solo shows; I felt they worked better in the space. 

 

 

SD

So Ludlow functioned a bit like an incubator, initiating relationships that then developed into iterations elsewhere. It seems a lot of your work had to do with connections, and with talking to the neighbors. Who would you say was your community? Or maybe it changed per exhibition?

 

CM

The artists brought their own community. I also noticed that the audience that came to openings or events was different from the everyday visitors. People often just walked in and asked me: “What are you doing here?” “What is a curator?” “Why do you need a residency?” These are simple questions that I really like; it’s important to ask them.

 

SD

What kind of people visited?

 

CM

Neighbors, artists, tourists, people who visited galleries in the neighborhood, people who got lost or wanted to eat dumplings. It was quite diverse. There used to be a gallery map of the Lower East Side, I believe it was called the Downtown Gallery Map, and Ludlow was on it. You would see people walking in with those brochures.  

 

SD

Did you have regular contact with certain organizations? I’m not only thinking in the art world, but on a daily level—people or places that enabled you to do your work, who were part of your daily landscape. 

 

CM

I would rely on local small businesses for our everyday needs, but I can’t really say I developed relationships with the employees there. On an institutional level, I had a relationship with the ISCP. They invited me twice for curatorial studio visits, and I had previously worked with Saâdane, Maria, and Camille, all of whom had residencies there that year. 

 

 

SD

In the early days of Ludlow there was a cafe around the corner, and it felt connected to the expanded Ludlow experience. What was it called again?

 

CM

Yes, it was Brown’s. I also became friends with the brother of the owner, who lived around the corner. We hung out. There was a candy store and the Chinese dumpling place, of course (Vanessa’s Dumpling House).

 

SD

Everything is more expensive now, and some of the places, like Brown’s, are no longer there. But speaking a bit more top-level about money and funding: did the structural nature of Ludlow 38, essentially being funded by the German government, impact the way you worked? How did you negotiate your own vision within that?

 

CM

When I started it was also Wenzel Bilger’s first year as Program Director at the Goethe-Institut New York. In a way, he and I got to know the program and what we do together. For example: how often should I report to the Institute, where do I find a hammer, where is the best frame shop, what do we do with all the different looking light bulbs? Sara Stevenson, then the Residency Program Coordinator and now the Residency Program Director, was a big support in this and she knew everything about the structure. 

 

In terms of money: the Goethe-Institut was very transparent about my budget and I told them that in addition to exhibitions I also wanted to do events and publications. The publication was interesting precisely because we didn’t have a lot of money. So I planned all the exhibitions and split the money evenly between them. The idea was to have two print products per show: a press statement that also worked as an invitation flyer (16 pages), and a small booklet about the exhibition (32 pages). The designer Quentin Walesch came up with a wonderful solution: We would print all of this content in poster format that could be folded and cut into smaller booklets. This way we reduced printing costs, and the final book came together through folding, cutting, and binding all those posters.

 

SD

Did you ever feel you were representing Germany?

 

CM

The Goethe-Institut served as a framework for sure, but I didn’t feel restrained or the pressure of a national representation. It was a public and free space where we could be poetic and critical. This was 2012, Obama had just been reelected. It feels like another world, especially now in 2020. The questions I asked then felt more abstract and playful than what I would ask today, especially in terms of gender, politics, oppression, and fear. 

 

Photo: Bess Adler

 

SD

That was also the year of Hurricane Sandy.

 

CM

Yes, that was intense. My apartment was completely blacked out for two weeks, and Ludlow too. I was in the middle of planning Maria’s exhibit, which was called The Tempest, a title she had chosen before the storm hit. I’m intrigued by how she often works with topics that are linked to reality in an abstract way. In this case, her project literally foresaw the future! 

 

SD

And were you able to open the exhibition?

 

CM

Yes, but it was a little crazy. We opened, but it had to be smaller than anticipated. And we had problems with the new productions. 

 

SD

Was there anything else that happened that year that impacted your work?

 

CM

No, nothing in particular that the program would have reacted to. I had invited all artists at the beginning of the year; some projects naturally changed through our conversations and due to the context. To me, artistic practice has to be the center of an exhibition. So if I have the need to respond to something, I’d rather have it resonate in events, conversations, or publications than in changing the planned program or postponing a planned show.

 

SD

Given that Ludlow is a residency program for curators who are still developing their professional practice, there’s also an implication that you will learn certain skills, approaches, or working methods. Was there a learning curve for you? How did your practice grow or change?

 

CM

Before coming to Ludlow, I had always worked as a freelance curator on a project basis. Ludlow was my first time working on the institutional side, and having to plan long-term. Before, I could always hop in and hop out, but at Ludlow I wanted to take care of the space and the audience, and program in a different way. In this context, I had to ask myself what makes sense for a whole year. For me, the best way to do this was to think of it as a book: each exhibition was like a chapter—independent and free, but connected on a different level, almost like a membrane. I set out to work on “translation,” a topic I had been researching extensively beforehand. I wanted it to be widely understood as a translation of languages, but also of thoughts into artworks. Even if I had this interest, the curatorial starting point was always the work of the artist, and they echoed, answered, molded, or thought about translation in a myriad of ways. 

 

When I arrived, I thought first and foremost about the exhibitions and the artists and not so much about the space and the requirements of the space itself. Sara Stevenson and I had a lot of conversations about this. She said, “You can’t alter the space without telling us.” I said, “But it’s best for the exhibition.” So it was a learning process. It was also great to work somewhat independently in another country for so long. I had mostly worked in Berlin, and Munich, also in France, but not for a long time. Being responsible for a space for an entire year felt great. I wanted to build and grow an audience. I was very interested in doing press work. I didn’t want to be too protective of the space and opened it up for artists—not just to those who showed their work in the gallery, but to others as well. I also felt a need to find other connections, and therefore actively tried to think about who I could work with in order to grow the space. It’s easy to recede into your own space. That’s why I reached out to Kenneth from Ubuweb, or Alex Provan at Triple Canopy, for example. Just to ask: What is your program? Can we do something together? Even if some of those connections didn’t materialize into anything concrete, it was still great to have those conversations.

 

SD

Do you feel you had more freedom at Ludlow than you had had elsewhere? Maybe you take more risks by being outside of your regular context?

 

CM

I had been working as a freelance curator, needing to find my spaces and projects. I was quite independent, and tended to take many risks. For example, in Berlin I did a performance at an empty airport. At Ludlow, though, I really felt free from the financial pressure: I had a budget, and within this framework we did what was possible. Working with Sara and Wenzel from the Goethe-Institut was great; there was a lot of trust in the content, which was liberating. I felt supported, it was a good relationship.

 

 

SD

Are there any experiences or insights from your time at Ludlow that shaped how you work now?

 

CM

Learning to take care of a space shaped me. I thought about how I could influence a space  and create a trusted platform for artists where they can create new works. Ludlow is a difficult space: you turn around and you’re pretty much hitting the wall. After my year there, I worked freelance again, but I became really interested in working within one space, in thinking about it from a structural angle. How can I connect content and space, how can I put the artwork in the space and connect to visitors? How can I support artists with production, even at a small scale? What is the vision for the program? How can I support certain communities?  It was good to experiment with these structural and institutional thoughts.  

 

Now I’m part of a bigger institution, the Gropius Bau in Berlin, where we of course have all these different departments. But Ludlow 38 still echoes inside of me, which was in a way less professionalized, but so nice, and it tapped into all the different aspects of making exhibitions (including painting the wall until dusk!). Thinking about small things was really fun. For example, when I asked Quentin to do the book, he laughed and said, “I can’t do a book, invites, and a press release with this budget.” And then had this wonderful idea. So I also learned to dream of something, ask for it, and then adjust the dream together with the artists and my collaborators. And I learned from serendipity: something always came up and surprised me.

 

SD

It’s probably more a question of visa requirements and financial considerations, but when your year ended, did you ever think about staying in New York?

 

CM

I had visited New York many times before—almost every year—and I had even spent a few months in New York before starting at Ludlow. Outside of Germany, New York is the city where I feel most at home: my brother has been living there since 2012, and I have a lot of friends there. I wanted to stay in New York, but I also wanted to finish my PhD on the topic of voice and utterance in art, which I had started at HFBK Hamburg the year prior to coming to Ludlow 38. I was also invited to do the performance programme at the 5th Marrakech Biennale, and I organized the solo exhibition Snake Grass in 2014 with Camille Henrot at Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin. In addition to those projects elsewhere, there were personal reasons driving me back home.

 

SD

Did you keep track of the program after you left?

 

CM

Yes, I also met with a few curators. People often come up and say, “Oh, you were at Ludlow 38!” It’s really nice that it sticks to you like that.

 

SD

Are there any specific aspects from the following years that stood out to you?

 

CM

The program went even more into a performative direction, which I think is interesting and nice. The choices of the Ludlow 38 selection committee for the residency program were really inspiring and challenging.

 

SD

What are your thoughts about the program ending?

 

CM

I was really sad when I found out. I think it should continue. It’s a great opportunity to learn. All the artists I worked with gave me very positive feedback. What was so great about it was that we had an institutional backdrop but it didn’t slow us down as regular institutions tend to. For example, if we wanted to change the light, we just did it; if we wanted to introduce a catalogue format, we just did that. The artists I worked with still speak very highly of their experience at Ludlow 38. A lot of young curators ask me how they can apply. I don’t know of any similar programs.