From the Executive Director: Where to Start?

September 8, 2021


One of my preferred things to do as executive director and chief curator at Art21 is hand pick a selection of two or three videos to share with new friends or new viewers. Everyone has their own short list; no two lists are alike. I love the customization.
To do this well, one must think about audience: What appeals? What might surprise? What story resonates? If you have recently encountered the massive back catalogue of our films, making choices about what to watch or what course to follow can be overwhelming. Same too for those that haven’t tuned in for a while. Where to start?
Earlier this year we embarked on a project to re-sort our films. Led by our director of digital, Jonathan Munar, the project involved staff representing curatorial, education, production, as well as our interns. The team rewatched the Art21 catalogue in search of connections and commonalities. It was a curatorial exercise of grand proportions with over 65 hours of film! We let our minds wander through circuitous paths connecting artists, ideas, narratives, and themes, and came together to debate and discuss what we observed. The result of this experiment is a new method of discovery on Art21.org called Explore.
You will find traditional paths through the Art21 catalogue according to hard-and-fast markers like medium—such as photography, painting, or video—or less predictable associations like style of film—including slow, studio time, or process. You will also find artistic themes that coalesce beyond the obvious. Some of the groupings that excite me the most find meeting points somewhere between art and everyday life, a truism I find delightful and refreshing all at once. Check out some here: Allegory, Community, Routines and Rituals, and Race in America. As the team continues to hone and expand the parameters of Explore, I invite you to journey across our growing set of throughlines that embrace the ever-expanding purpose of art.

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Explore: History of Art
Erin Shirreff’s Public Art Fund commission, Sculpture for Snow (2011), installed at MetroTech Commons, Brooklyn, New York. Production still from the New York Close Up film, “Erin Shirreff & Tony Smith Go Way Back.” © Art21, Inc. 2013.
In reverence or contempt to the artists that preceded them, these artists reference the past while expanding the art historical canon.
Uncover new dimensions of Tony Smith’s sculptures with Erin Shirreff, reconsider traditional museum narratives with Kerry James Marshall, and break from dogmatic approaches to photography with Florian Maier-Aichen in our History of Art collection.
Explore History of Art.

Upcoming workshop for educators
Join us on Tuesday, September 14, at 6:00 p.m. ET, for the latest installment of our new five-part professional development series exploring how artists use the five senses in their practice.
For “Visionaries,” behold artists with the vision to consider the human eye. Notice shape, position, brightness, and color during this glimpse into the role of sight in contemporary art.
The program is free and will take place via Zoom.
Register now.
Visit our education calendar for a list of upcoming workshops for educators.

The gift of inspiration
As a nonprofit organization, Art21 relies on the generosity of viewers like you to produce engaging films and educational resources on contemporary artists and art.
If you’ve felt inspired by our films, please consider donating today. Your gift will ensure the stories, art, and ideas of some of the most innovative artists of our time continue to reach and inspire viewers worldwide. Thank you for making a difference.