Justine Ludwig, ArtPrize Seven Juror and Curator at Dallas Contemporary talked with ArtPrize's Exhibitions Director, Kevin Buist about the Dallas art scene, living in Texas and how global travel has influenced her work.


Kevin Buist (KB): I was hoping you could start out by telling us what is currently on view at Dallas Contemporary and how that came about?

Justine Ludwig (JL): Well, currently we have three exhibitions on view. Two of these exhibitions establish a conversation about contemporary painting. They are solo exhibitions of David Salle and Nate Lowman’s work. Both focus on recently made pieces. David Salle hasn’t had an exhibition in quite some time and Nate Lowman’s exhibition is his first major museum exhibition in the United States. Concurrently, we have Anila Quayyum Agha’s Intersections. Anila won the last ArtPrize, and we see this exhibition as a celebration of the upcoming ArtPrize Dallas.

KB: You haven’t been at Dallas Contemporary for very long. Could you describe your path that led there? What were you doing before that?

JL: Right before Dallas Contemporary I was working as an independent curator and writer, and prior to that I was a curator at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’ve worked for many different institutions—the List Visual Arts Center, The Rose Art Museum, the MFA Boston—all in different capacities. I am drawn to non-collecting institutions that reflect contemporary artistic practice and embrace risk taking.

Dallas Contemporary

KB: How would you describe the current art landscape in Dallas? What do you think is strong, what do you think needs work?

JL: We have a great diversity of institutions here—Dallas Contemporary, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Crow Collection of Asian Art, the Meadows Museum, the Latino Cultural Center. They are all very different from each other. As a result, there is an interesting conversation occurring between institutions. Dallas also has a vibrant gallery and DIY scene as well as a world-class collector base. 

The art scene could greatly benefit from being more supportive of artists that are based here in Dallas. There is potential to create a more conducive environment for artists to live here and feel like they have a strong support base. Cost of living is very good, there’s a ton of spaces for studios, and so it makes sense for Dallas to be a city where artists, not just art, can thrive.

KB: Yeah. Dallas is obviously a big and cosmopolitan city, but it’s also not traditionally an arts center. What advantages does that provide to you as a curator?

JL: What I’ve seen is that when you invite an artist to do an exhibition in a city like Dallas, you can ask them to really take risks and do projects that they’ve always wanted to do but perhaps didn’t feel like they had the platform to take on previously. The fact we are not New York or LA or London, enables artists to feel like they can experiment and challenge themselves. As a curator, it is an ideal situation. I think it’s really exciting and offers great opportunities. 

KB: How would you characterize the exhibitions program at Dallas Contemporary? I saw the three shows that are up there now when I was there in April, and I was just reading about recent exhibitions by people like Richard Phillips, JR, Julian Schnabel. They all seem to have a… there’s a consistent sort of attitude to those artists. Does that make sense?

JL: Yes, that does make sense.

KB: Can you describe that a little bit more? What is that thread?

JL: Dallas Contemporary focuses on new work for the most part and, due to the scale of our space, we tend to take on ambitious projects. There are five individuals curating exhibitions here. We have two adjuncts: Alison Gingeras, who is based in New York; and Pedro Alonzo, who is based in Boston. Based in Dallas we have Lilia Kudelia, who is our assistant curator, Executive Director Peter Doroshenko, and myself. The idea is that we have diversity of curatorial voices creating varied curatorial projects. The majority of the exhibitions that you mentioned were curated by Peter Doroshenko, and reflect his curatorial vision and interest. JR’s exhibition was curated by Pedro Alonzo who is known for his involvement in bringing street art into the institutional setting.

KB: What are you working on now?

JL: I have two shows opening in September. One is a solo exhibition with Bani Abidi who is a video artist originally from Pakistan and currently based in Berlin. She is creating new work for us in conjunction with some work that was shown as part of the last Berlin Biennale. These videos will be reimagined in order to function as a completely immersive video installation. And then at the same time I have an exhibition opening with Nadia Kaabi-Linke, who is a Tunisian-Russian artist who works with a diversity of media. She is based in Berlin as well. The exhibition brings together a newly commissioned performance with past works. I also have a show at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati with Pia Camil and one at MAM Rio with Laercio Redondo in the upcoming months. Next year, a large project with the Dallas-based artist, Jeff Zilm, and also in January, a project with a filmmaker from London named Aura Satz. She’s creating a new film for the exhibition.

Nadia Kaabi-Linke Smooth Criminal, 2012.

KB: That’s great. So you’ve spent time in India, the UK, and other places around the world. How does that feed into your approach?

JL: Well, I’m interested in what is happening globally, so I spend a lot of time travelling and connecting with artists, curators, creatives based around the world. London is a hub, so there are constantly artists coming there from all around the world. Living there was a great opportunity to connect with people from very diverse backgrounds. While I was in India I essentially spent 3 months just doing studio visits and spending time with artists. My curatorial approach is very artist-centric. I like spending time with the artists I work with and understanding the community that they are a part of.

KB: Texas is an interesting place. It has a charged political context sometimes. I’m thinking about the recent news of paranoia about the US military supposedly preparing to invade Texas. How do artists and curators and art institutions respond to that? Is it worth responding directly or is it just something happening in the background?

JL: I think it’s interesting talking about these things because Texas is such a large state, and the urban spaces are very different from what is outside of them. So what you hear about Texas when you’re based somewhere else are very different than what you engage with when you’re living here from day to day. It is quite a fascinating dynamic. Many of the shows we have coming up are dealing with the diversity of the community here rather than the issues that are presented in the media—what you’re seeing when you’re looking at Texas from afar.

KB: That sort of dissonance between the narrative about Texas and the experience of being there, I’ve experienced that myself from just a few visits to Dallas and Austin, where it doesn’t seem like they’re talking about the same place. So you haven’t been to ArtPrize before, so I know you can’t speak too much about it. But what’s interesting to you about ArtPrize or what are you looking forward to seeing when you’re here? 

JL: I love how ArtPrize takes over all of Grand Rapids, and becomes this huge thing. It’s something that I’ve been really excited about. Living in Cincinnati for quite some time, I was constantly hearing about it and had wanted to go in the past. Unfortunately timing did not work out. I also love the way it empowers those who are experiencing the exhibition to decide and voice what they’re most moved by and what they’re most excited about. I think instilling that power in the audience is important, and having that in conjunction with the expert juror panel creates an interesting dialogue. I’m fascinated by this. I’ve had a lot of friends show work in it and they’ve all said that they had an amazing experience. I’m excited to just be there and experience it firsthand rather than hearing about it from other people.

KB: So ArtPrize Dallas is coming in about a year. How do you think the community there in Dallas will react? Both the art community and, also, you know it’s an event that touches on a broader audience than a lot of art events do. What’s your sense on the ground there about how it will play?

JL: My hope is that ArtPrize creates a new audience and greater communal investment in the arts. Dallas is in some ways on the cusp of being a major art city, and ArtPrize offers the opportunity to further that. It’s so different from anything else that is already taking place here. It has the potential to provide a different perspective on the arts and function as a dynamic and important platform for displaying them throughout the city.

KB: In the last maybe year or so, are there any exhibitions that you’ve seen in your travels or even there in Dallas that have really stood out, that have really moved you or had an impact on you?

JL: I’ve seen a lot (laughs). I need a moment. I’ve really seen so many exhibitions that… I was just in New York, and everything at PS1 (Wael Shawky, Simon Denny, Math Bass, Halil Altindere) blew my mind. Everything that was up was amazing, and that’s sort of what I’m thinking about right now. But in the past year, I sort of have to go through my brain and see what…

Wael Shawky: Cabaret Crusades 

KB: It’s funny because I’ve been asking other jurors that same question, and it’s difficult for everyone for the same reason. You put them on the spot, and they’re like, "Oh no!"

JL: Yeah (laughs). I was just at Frieze New York, and I feel like I saw so much work that I’m still working through it all in my head right now. Hito Steyerl at Artists Space was fantastic. I visited it multiple times. I am a big fan of her work. Also, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Mariana Castillo Deball at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. 

KB: So when you go to something like Frieze, what’s your approach and what are your goals? Are you looking to see work from artists you might not be familiar with, are you looking to reconnect with people what you already know, or some combination?

JL: Mostly it’s to connect with people, but sometimes there is that magic moment when you discover somebody’s work that you haven’t come across before. Normally I don’t really have to go to art fairs because I work for a kunsthalle. The main reason I went to Frieze this year, was because Pia Camil did a Frieze commission. I have an exhibition with her opening in November at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati. We are also working on a book together. I was there to meet with her and support her project. Early in the year I was at Art Dubai because Nadia Kaabi-Linke had a big exhibition at Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, and I did a public talk with her. It’s usually not for the fair itself, but for the people and things that surround it.

By Emma Higgins on