WPA spoke with curator Ren Waung this week about his experiences using ArtFile Online exclusively to curate his section in this year’s WPA SELECT Art Auction Exhibition. Ren Waung is an exhibition designer and curator with extensive experience in both the nonprofit and commercial sectors. Currently he is Head of Exhibitions and Collections Management for Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington DC.

WPA: What drew you to the ArtFile Online? Why did you decide to curate your section from WPA members?

Ren Waung: I learned of ArtFile as a resource from WPA, when I was invited to be one of the curators for SELECT ’13. As a relative newcomer to DC, I saw this as an opportunity to learn about the local art scene and it just seemed natural that I should work with local artists for this project.

WPA: What were some of your initial impressions as you began to look through the profiles?

Waung: Sincerity, dedication, professionalism… The online profiles are a terrific resource for anyone interested in seeing what is being made by a large swath of the artist population in our area. It fully represents the various modes of art making in the DC region. Lots of images, lots of ideas!

WPA: Why is it important for WPA members and Washington's art community to have a resource like ArtFile Online?

Waung: I see ArtFile as a place of dialogue and support and I think WPA deserves high praise for facilitating so many opportunities to bring the DC art community together, from artists and collectors to patrons and supporters. It seems to me that in addition to giving a voice to local artists, WPA has been able to maintain an ecosystem that is often centered around art museums in other cities. ArtFile and other online resources are great tools in bringing together divergent interests.

WPA: Do you see any unifying characteristics of the work in the file? Did any styles, themes or mediums stand out to you?

Waung: I have heard that the DC look is more representational. However, as we know, DC was also the home of color-field painting... I did not see a dominant style or medium. WPA seems to represent a broad spectrum of art making, probably not all that different from what is being made throughout the many university art departments and local arts centers in the region.

WPA: As a curator, what is your process? What do you look for when you are looking at work?

Waung: I have worked more frequently as an exhibition designer than as a curator and my first involvement in the arts was my training as a painter. So I may have come at this a bit differently - I feel quite free to pursue my own interests. I was not surprised, but impressed, by the broad range of works produced by WPA artists.

For SELECT ’13, I decided to explore my own preference for abstract work and works that may defy easy categorization. At first glance, many of my selections look like the artists were driven by interests in mark-making, where content seems open-ended, thus allowing viewers to bring their own interpretations. Others have more obvious subject matter/content. I thought this was an interesting group because of the similarities and the contrasts between these artists' approaches to their work.

Pam Rogers extends the classic move in abstraction -- imagery derived from nature -- to other levels when she extracts pigments from indigenous plant life and creates larger than life installations of plant specimens. This makes interesting comparison to the painterly abstractions of Fabiano Amin and Nina Ozbey, in which the artists’ marks create a lush, atmospheric sense of space and dimensionality.

Space or dimensionality is in some sense the subject of Maggie Gourlay’s installation. The pattern of ordered geometry suggests mathematical systems or mystical symbols. Elena Patino moves the objects off the wall so that her work resembles a model of a galaxy or molecular structure. Their lively color, tactility and vernacular references also invite viewer participation -- you want to play and rearrange the pompoms.

Viewed individually, Sondra Arkin’s two-dimensional representations of spatial relationships seem to refer to landscape (horizon line), but interestingly, when seen grouped in multiple panel format, the work shifts to an interior view. Other works invited more formal readings in their different approaches to spatial relationships. Mary Holmgren and Carrie Patterson both use collage, but to very different affect; Holmgren focuses on figure/ground relations while Patterson’s shaped canvases render the gallery wall as ground.

In Maggie Michael’s gestural painting, one sees the intuitive decision making process of the artist, where marks start/stop. In direct contrast, viewers do not see the artist’s hand in Hana Kim’s constructions. One sees a pre-determined process that produced multiple units, where extreme precision achieved through computer modeling .

The final selection is a work by Julia Kim Smith, who is also a performance artist. The work clearly intends political commentary while also invoking DIY, craft tradition. It straddles the boundary between an object and graphics representation. In addition to defying classification, this work also resonates with the “handmade” nature of many works I selected for this project.

WPA: What advice do you have for the WPA member artists on getting their work seen and taking their career new places?

Waung: Wow, that’s a tough one …. Keep up the good fight?!

While I can’t really offer career advice per se, I would like to say that in general all art is - or once was - “local” and “contemporary”, so let’s keep the conversation going.

ArtFile Online is a benefit of WPA membership. For more information, or to become a member, contact WPA Membership Manager Christopher Cunetto at 202.234.7103 x 2 or at ccunetto@wpadc.org

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June 13, 2013