realUNreal Marcia Tanner

April 17, 2013

Kazanas, Rachael Neubauer, Philip Ross, and  IMAGE

Yoram Wolberger



Marcia Tanner


What is it men in women do require?

The lineaments of Gratified Desire.

What is it women do in men require?

The lineaments of Gratified Desire.

-William Blake


I came to curating late in life, a Grandma Moses among curators.  I welcomed my new vocation with the passion, credulity and zeal of a religious convert and with about the same dearth of theological (art historical, theoretical) immersion.  The auteur concept of curating came naturally to me once I had lost my curatorial virginity with Bad Girls West in 1994.  I was a believer, an acolyte; I had been called.  Curating was an art form, MY art form.  I was born to be a promiscuous muse, inspiring living artists to create new work.  Who could imagine a nobler metier?

I didn’t recognize this then as the delusion of the neophyte, the notion that a curator is a godlike impresario, a producer / director whose mission is to marshal a ragtag gaggle of shoeless artists under the benevolent sheltering canopy of an overarching IDEA, shaping their diverse efforts into a coherent collective FORCE, a revelation of the zeitgeist, an aesthetic whole more complex and profound than the sum of its parts.

Really, I haven’t changed much since then, except that I have a lot more respect for artists now, and my relationships with them have become more complicated and interesting.  I’m acutely aware that many artists despise the hubris of curators who think of themselves as co-creators.  Too bad, I can’t seem to do it any other way.  We’re engaged in a collaborative enterprise, in my view, although the artists may not share that perspective.  I love them anyway, mostly.

I look at a lot of work, see connections, and want to make those connections visible in a group exhibition.  The connections I look for are more thematic than formal — that is, I’m in quest of clues to the shapes and content of contemporary consciousness as artists perceive these, using whatever medium, via whatever techniques.  This means that every work in the exhibition must count, must be given its due, must be presented  and installed and given its own space to show itself to full advantage.  This perennial balancing act is the curator’s task: designing the optimum setting for each piece to stand independently and yet contribute to the greater whole, with an eye to viewers’ delight, pleasure, and discovery.

And then there’s the climactic joy / pain: the writing. Even if nobody ever reads it (and if YOU’VE read this far, thanks!), the writing is the curator’s ultimate and literal play pen.

The Lineaments of Gratified Desire is an exhibition in my mind’s eye right now.  It will feature work that sets up expectations of satisfied desire but — as with contemporary commercial advertising, mass media entertainment (film, TV), pornography, fast food, product design, political rhetoric, etc. — winds up creating conditions of perpetually unfulfilled longing, tantalization, tension, teasing.  That sounds abstract but was suggested to me by the seductive and sensual work of several artists I’m interested in, who include Anthony Discenza, Nina Katchadourian, Luisa Kazanas, Rachael Neubauer, Philip Ross, and Yoram Wolberger.  Artists have always dealt with “the lineaments of gratified desire” but these artists use contemporary media deliberately to manipulate viewers’ sensibilities with equal measures of allure and frustration, raising that subliminal state of manufactured, addictive torment to — one hopes — the level of consciousness.


Marcia Tanner

Independent Curator

Berkeley, California

January 2003