Curator to Curator: Graham Boettcher and Carter Foster

/ Interviews - Programs

The BMA's Chief Curator and Curator of American Art Graham C. Boettcher, Ph.D. & the Whitney Museum of American Art's Curator of Drawings Carter E. Foster (image from newyorksocialdiary.com)
The BMA’s Chief Curator and Curator of American Art Graham C. Boettcher, Ph.D. & the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Curator of Drawings Carter E. Foster (image from newyorksocialdiary.com)

My friend and colleague, Carter Foster is one of four curators responsible for the landmark exhibition America Is Hard to See, which recently debuted at the widely-acclaimed, and newly-renovated Whitney Museum of American Art.

For his lecture on Thursday, November 5 at 7pm, Carter will give a behind-the-scenes look at the planning of the exhibition, the exhibition’s relationship to the museum’s new architecture, and the highlights of the exhibition overall.

Carter has served as the Curator of Drawings at the Whitney for the past ten years, and I recently caught up with him about his work upcoming lecture at the BMA.

Graham Boettcher: What were some of the challenge you faced in curating America Is Hard to See, both in terms of the themes/issues you wanted to address, and the public’s expectations for the “new” Whitney’s inaugural exhibition?

Carter Foster: The biggest challenge was distilling down all we wanted to do in what is ultimately a limited amount of space (even though we expanded!) — one can never do everything. So there were lots of intense discussions when it came down to cutting artists, ideas, groups of works, etc. As we said to ourselves at the time, we all had to “kill our darlings.”

GB: America is a vast and culturally rich and diverse place. How did you narrow down the themes explored in the exhibition? Are the any subjects which you didn’t or couldn’t address and wish you had?

CF: Through months and months of discussion, starting with big ideas and winnowing and refining them. We were also led, of course, by our own collection, since we decided early on to make this a permanent collection show, so the collection’s strengths certainly were borne out by the display, at least to some degree.

At one point we were going to devote a room to Photo Realism. I wish we had, as I think it is very relevant in the age of Instagram, and the painting techniques those artists explored and perfected is deeply influential and still current, to my mind.

GB: Does the exhibition challenge or expand the canon of American art or change the historical narrative?

CF: We certainly hope so! We make a very concerted effort to delve deeply into our collection and to show work that had rarely, if ever, been shown before. We had a strong commitment to diversity and wanted to give prominence to women artists and artists of color, most of whom had traditionally been excluded from the canons of American art.

GB: Have you received any surprising feedback or learned anything unexpected as a result of the exhibition?

CF: We’ve all been pleased at the open mindedness of people at our inclusion of relatively lesser known figures and the fact that people seem to want a refreshed view and an expanded canon. Over and over people have told us how much they’ve loved discovering artists with whom they were unfamiliar.

GB: The Birmingham Museum of Art is exploring the potential for expansion. How has the Whitney’s new building impacted the way you conceive exhibitions and think about displaying the permanent collection?

CF: I think myself and my colleagues remain committed to many of the ideas we explored and principles we set for ourselves while working on “America is Hard to See” — we liked rejiggering the canon, so to speak. I think that will continue to guide us. The other great factor is of course the type of space we now have — we all think of it holistically with the art we show in it, so certainly our beautiful new galleries are a factor in deciding how we will install the art we have.

GB: What’s next for you?

CF: An exhibition in April on June Leaf, and amazing artist who has been working since the 1950s. And very likely a retrospective of the work of Grant Wood in a few years.