The Guggenheim’s Chief Curator Naomi Beckwith on Why She Still Has Faith in Museums—and How They Can Change

Last February, about a month after Naomi Beckwith was officially named chief curator and deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, she sat down for a television interview with local news station NY1

Invited for a segment addressing “the push to make the [art] industry more inclusive as the fight for racial justice continues,” Beckwith spoke at length about her role as one of the advisors for “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” an exhibition first conceived by the late curator Okwui Enwezor. The show was organized as an articulation of how societal injustices can often lead to grief; a grief that Beckwith has no doubt felt at times during her life; a grief that almost all Black people can easily find and name. The “Grievance” part of the exhibition’s title referred to how that grief is co-opted by white America. 

When we talk about Beckwith’s historic arrival at the Guggenheim, many have been conditioned to interrogate the reasons behind the museum’s decision to hire her when they did. But maybe we should focus instead on asking why Beckwith, understanding the industry as well as she does, believes that the Guggenheim is the right place for her to be.

Within the old paradigm of elite institutions as bastions of unadulterated power and prestige, the answer might be obvious. But within this new one, where we’re chipping away at how privilege and agency are distributed at nearly every level of the industry, starting from even the fundamentals of how museums engage with their audiences, the answer is much more expansive. The story becomes about how the Guggenheim will benefit from someone who is as uniquely equipped as she is to usher in this very necessary realignment of its institutional priorities—along with preserving all that we love about the institution in the process.

A general view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

A view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

In describing her attitude toward museum work, Beckwith often resorts to an anecdote. The painter “Frank Bowling writes very intentionally about how it is so important to be committed to change from the inside,” she says, before offering a metaphor the late artist Melvin Edwards once shared with her. Referring to a barbed-wire installation of his, he said: “You’re going to get nicked, you’re going to get cut sometimes, you’re going to bleed sometimes,” she paraphrases. “But you’ve got to be prepared for that. Because the reward of having walked through that barbed wire should be far greater not just for yourself, but for the entire field and for history, than just insisting that there’s a better way. You’ve got to demonstrate a better way. And you have got to put in that work at the place where it needs to be done.”

In her first extensive interview since she began at the Guggenheim, Midnight Publishing Group News spoke with Beckwith about how she identifies artists who matter, how trustees shape the culture of an institution, and why we need to change the way we think about art. 


You’ve come on board at a pretty tough time for art institutions, given the pandemic. We know the Guggenheim has made its name doing really ambitious geographical deep dives, so I wanted to start a question about that: Will these kinds of projects be possible going forward? 

The pandemic is a logistical challenge for everybody. There’s a way in which these kinds of limits on travel have been a boon to the environment, and one of the things that the Guggenheim was really focused on is sustainability. 

That said, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible, these deep dives into a global art practice. Here in New York, we have incredible public and private collections that represent a spectrum of global conversations, and we can pull those works from across the country and from people within their own communities. I’m deeply interested not only in our previous commitments to Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, but looking toward southern Saharan Africa. 

It’s also been a great moment to look across the United States. You’ll see exhibitions on the calendar with artists like [Beirut-born, Syrian American artist] Etel Adnan, who’s on the West Coast. We are still able to have global conversations even if we can’t grab everything from across borders.

Joe Fig, Hilma af Klint: The Ten Largest, Adulthood #6, 7 & 8/Guggenheim (2019). Photo courtesy of Cristin Tierney.

Joe Fig, Hilma af Klint: The Ten Largest, Adulthood #6, 7 & 8/Guggenheim (2019). Photo courtesy of Cristin Tierney.

A lot of times, the global can overshadow what’s happening within the continental United States. Will there be a bit of a shift, with more of a focus put on some of the communities in this country?

It’s easy to say that the short answer is yes, but, you know, I’m less interested in, let’s say, “We’re going to focus on x, y, and z across the Americas” and more in how we can tell stories about new understandings of abstraction. Like Hilma af Klimt [who was the subject of a major 2018 Guggenheim exhibition], right? How can we rethink some of the prescribed narratives that we’ve inherited in the world? For me, there’s a trajectory from someone like Klimt all the way up to [contemporary American artist] Howardena Pindell. To really put women at the center of abstraction, or even rethink some of the stories that we’ve heard around abstraction being about form, when in fact we can talk about all sorts of things. 

I’m also really interested in those histories, especially across the ‘60s and ‘70s, that allow us to think afresh about how our art came to be. I worked on the exhibition “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now” while I was in Chicago [at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art]. I was really interested in the way I could bring these alternative histories, these lesser-known histories—at least outside Chicago—to a broader world. But I was also really interested in how this show gives us another way of thinking about collaborative practice, rather than the usual story of the lone genius in the studio cutting off their ear. 

How can we possibly imagine how art is deeply embedded in the social? And has a responsibility to community? One thing that really excites me about the Guggenheim is that those were the core stories of the founding.

Will the Guggenheim be willing to take any chances on lesser-known names? 

We are always interested in who you would call the lesser-known names. And that isn’t necessarily even about the big show, right? The grand rotunda. Because oftentimes, younger artists or more emerging artists don’t have the oeuvre behind them for some of these grand spaces. So this comes by the way of performance, of programs, of collecting.

But what’s more important for me is not to overly valorize the new, or giving an audience the first look. It’s really important to set up exhibitions and books and programs that are about the opening salvo in an artist’s ongoing career. 

"Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night" at Tate Britain 2020. Photo: Tate. (Seraphina Neville).

“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night” at Tate Britain 2020. Photo: Tate. (Seraphina Neville).

I know you have a long history dating back to the Studio Museum of doing this, but could you get into the nitty gritty of how you make sure emerging and underrepresented voices get the scholarship they need to have that long-lasting support within institutions?

First, by asking not only if an artist makes something interesting to look at, but what proposition is this artist putting into the world? And how can it change the way we think about our history? When I did a show of [British painter] Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, I remember specifically thinking that this is an artist who is giving us figuration, and inside that figuration, she’s absorbing both the history of abstraction and the history of representational art together—let alone the brilliant things she was doing around the presence of Black bodies. So we can start breaking down some of these perceived wisdoms: the way pieces are received and how we think about our categories altogether. That’s how you know you’re dealing with an artist who has some kind of staying power. 

It seems as though museums collaborating together could advance that mission. Are there any concrete opportunities that you’re looking at right now to collaborate across New York or across the country? 

It’s easy to overstate the competitiveness. This is a field full of colleagues that I deeply, deeply respect, no matter what institution they’re in. So we’re constantly sharing ideas and information. 

This is a moment in the pandemic when we realize that institutions in general have to work together, a little bit more tightly, whether it be about sharing shipping costs, being flexible on calendars, or being judicious and generous about shows. 

You’ll also see these ongoing conversations with museum directors that are really about lobbying for this field and for the art industry in a moment when we’ve lost so much revenue and need to do the work of appealing to state and national governments to support the arts.

MCA Chicago front steps. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

The front steps of the MCA Chicago, where Beckwith worked as senior curator. Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

You had mentioned that you want a reinterpretation of the collection to be in alignment with DEAI goals. Is there anything you can share right now about how you plan to do that? 

Without a doubt, we are committed as an institution to our very specifically-stated DEI goals, putting BIPOC artists front and center, with an emphasis on Black Indigenous work. These are areas where we realize we as an institution can dive much deeper and build out the collection. 

But as I’ve said before, it’s important to me to not just have what’s called representational diversity. I do want a number shift, but that is a very long-term game. What I’d also like to see shift is the way we talk about each individual artist, not in relation to a majority art form, but regarding their importance in and of themselves—to think again about how their contribution individually has changed the way that we think about art. 

I had a very interesting conversation with former Studio Museum in Harlem director Lowery Stokes Sims about deconstructing art histories in our canon. She said something like, “You know what they say, the art canon is like a rubber band—you can only stretch it so far before eventually it snaps back.”

Yes, it snaps back, but it’s a malleable thing. I don’t think it will go back to that same shape. I don’t think it can anymore. I truly feel optimistic at this moment in time. There’s too many of us—however you define us: those who are progressive, those who consider ourselves socially engaged art historians, those who consider ourselves concerned with BIPOC artists, those who consider ourselves feminists. There’s too much information out in the world to have it go back to the way it was.

You’ve said before that you’ve thought deeply about how institutions are run—by whom and for whom. That’s probably aligned with a lot of things you are discussing here. 

I am reminded of something that I love by the late, great Okwui, who would always say that he was interested in the mistakes that institutions have made. Because I think it’s very easy to locate a problem inside an institution and condemn it based on that. But what if, like Okwui, and especially like myself, you are actually committed to institutions? If you think they have a place in our society and you want them around in the future, then you take what’s been termed as a mistake as actually a site of agency. 

Ellen Gallagher, Dew Breaker, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Ellen Gallagher, Dew Breaker (2015), included in the New Museum’s “Grief and Grievance” show. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

That’s contingent on the institution, because you need to be in a supportive environment in order to do that. And you’ve noted that your relationship with the Guggenheim is more of a partnership with respect to making these changes. Maybe you want to elaborate on that?

Look, it starts at the top, and top doesn’t mean the director—it’s trustees. It’s about finding an alignment with these goals throughout the institution, from our funders to the custodians.

If we have a vision for shaping the future and we want to be relevant to that future, we have to bring a more equitable world into being. What’s wonderful is that I feel like I’m in an institution that understands that that needs to happen. 

A source once told me that the late art historian David Driskell’s seminal exhibition spawned a whole generation of African American curators, and we need to realize that they’re not necessarily trying to change the conversation within these institutions—what they’re actually trying to impact is history.

I mean a lot of critique and criticism of institutions has been that they are mired in the past, that they are inflexible and it’s a constant looking back. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think every institution is not only concerned with its individual legacy, but also concerned for the far-reaching legacy of the artists that they show. 

I believe in cultural heritage and I believe in the fact that there needs to be a place not only where these objects are held, but where we tell those stories, and we continue to recast those stories over and over and over again.

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Curator Clare Barlow on the Tate’s Groundbreaking Queer Art Show, and the Work Institutions Still Need to Do

It’s Pride month in 2021 and everywhere you look, places from museums to banks to your local supermarket are waving the rainbow flag. But it wasn’t always this way.

In fact, it was not until 2017 that that the U.K.’s leading art institution, Tate, mounted its first exhibition celebrating queer British art. The date marked 50 years since male homosexuality was partially decriminalized in England. Curated by art historian Clare Barlow, who was driven to look at queer art history by her own experience growing up as a lesbian in the 1980s, it explored 100 years of work by artists and subjects with wide-ranging sexualities and gender identities, from the coded desires of the Pre-Raphaelites to representations of and by queer women, to sex in London’s Soho in the 1960s.

We caught up with Barlow, who is now a curator at the Science Museum, about her own journey through the museum world, the landmark exhibition at Tate, and the institutional work that still needs to be done to open up museum spaces to LGBTQ+ communities.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

Can you tell us about your personal experience entering the museum world? What inspired you to pursue a career in the field?

I have always loved museums. No matter who you are, what mood you’re in, or what questions you’re looking at in your life, there will be someone or something in our collections that can speak to you. It’s a privilege to introduce visitors to the fantastic objects, beautiful artworks, and incredible stories that we hold in our collections.

Your research interests are varied, and include the history of the body, as well as issues of gender and representation. Was there anything in particular that propelled you to take a deeper interest in the study of queer art history?

I think it was my own experiences growing up as a lesbian in the 1980s. Back then, lots of people seemed to have this bizarre idea that being gay was a new thing and that if everyone would just shut up about it, it would go away again. There was very little representation in the media, particularly of lesbians. I didn’t even realize that there was a history of queerness until I got to university, let alone that it would be so diverse. Researching queer histories helped me when I was coming out by showing me that we are part of a vast community, not only globally but also stretching back through time.

Four years ago you curated “Queer British Art” at Tate Britain, which marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of male homosexuality in England. Before then, how had the institution been engaged with queer art histories?

Many national museums have a long history of engaging with queer art histories, through public tours and events or through a label discussing a particular work or particular artist, and Tate was no exception. I think the big surprise, though, for all of us working on the show was the sheer range and diversity of works that could be considered queer, and how deeply queer themes run through what is sometimes portrayed as being the canon of British art. The exhibition was an opportunity to join some of the dots and to show that queer art has always been part of our heritage.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

The exhibition charted just over 100 years in history, from 1861 to 1967. Can you tell me a little about your experience digging queer histories out of that period? What challenges did you face?

I think one of the big challenges when researching queer histories for any period is finding the material, either because the records don’t survive or because they were never created in the first place. Lots of records were destroyed, often by families wanting to “heterosexualize” someone’s life after their death. It’s also very rare for someone in the past to leave a smoking gun letter, saying the equivalent of “you and me last night in the bushes, this is what we did, this is what I felt, this who I am now.” Straight couples rarely leave that kind of evidence and it’s even rarer for queer couples, who may be facing dire legal consequences if they are caught. There’s also an issue of terminology. People have understood and described their desires and genders in all sorts of ways, some of which may be deeply personal. Modern terminology often doesn’t do them justice. It’s one of the reasons I like the word queer—it covers a whole range of identities, experiences, and relationships.

In recent years, some contemporary queer artists have resisted their work being read and interpreted only thorough a queer lens. Why is this a problem? How have you distinguished queer art from work by artists who happen to be queer in your work?

It’s interesting, this question gets asked a lot about queer work, but less about work by straight artists. Queerness is one lens through which a work can be explored—it’s not the only lens, or the only aspect of any work. We need equality so that artists can choose to explore queer aspects of their identity without fear. But it’s not the responsibility of queer artists to always explicitly create work about the queer aspects of their identity, just as straight, cis artists don’t always explicitly create work about the experience of being straight and cis.

As the LGBTQ+ rights movement has advanced, many signs and signifiers of the queer community have been adopted into the mainstream, and some contemporary artists who are straight have come under fire for using queer imagery in their work. Can an artist who is explicitly straight make queer art?

Calling something a “queer work” is a very broad label and the artist’s identity isn’t the only way in which a work can be queer. Sometimes queerness is in the eye of the beholder. One of Oscar Wilde’s contemporaries, the critic Graham Robertson, greatly enjoyed the queer possibilities opened up by Walter Crane’s use of a male model for Venus in his painting The Renaissance Of Venus, even though Crane only picked a male model because his wife didn’t want him painting nude women. We also found lots of examples of collections of postcards of artworks that had been put together by queer people as a sort of touchstone for their identity. Some of those might be obvious works by queer artists but in other cases, it might be that the collector found something of themselves in the work. One man had a collection full of paintings of people in military uniform and it was only later in the album, when we came across a group of erotic photographs, that we realized that this was his kink. Were the original paintings queer? Maybe not, but the collection certainly was. There’s obviously a difference, though, between this sort of community claiming and so-called “queerbaiting,” when queerness is hinted at to try and tempt a queer audience, but is never made explicit.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

Aside from Tate, you have worked at museums including the National Portrait Gallery, the Wellcome Collection, and the Science Museum Group in different roles since 2005. In that time, what are some of the biggest changes you seen in how queer studies and queer art histories are understood?

It’s been an exciting time to be working in this area. Museums have become more aware of the queer stories they have in their collections and have been much more proactive in thinking about how to share those stories with the public. There’s also been a greater focus on intersectional representation, as museums engage with the full diversity of queer lives and communities.

Institutions are about more than just the displays on the walls, and many could argue that what happens off the walls can be just as important. How do you ensure that the exhibitions and institutions you are involved with are safe and inclusive spaces?

Museums belong to everyone. We have visitors of all backgrounds, identities, experiences, and opinions. It’s important that we listen to our audiences and work in partnership with them to understand how we can best serve them. This process can be tough for everyone involved, and it’s important to support everyone through it, but it’s necessary if we’re going to serve people better. Being more inclusive means thinking about all aspects of our visitors’ experience. At the moment, I’m excited that the Science Museum is about to install a Changing Places toilet—a toilet with hoists and adult changing facilities. Having facilities that everyone can use unlocks the museum for a whole new audience. The seemingly unsexy things in museums are just as important as our most glamorous exhibitions.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

Queer British Art, Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain, April 2017.

Where have you observed that institutional change still needs to happen?

There’s always more work to do. Every day, there’s new objects to find, new stories to explore, and new people to learn from. To take one example from the Science Museum, 20 years ago we might have told the story of medicine only from the perspective of medical personnel, but now, the voices of disabled people are represented in the heart of the five spaces which form our “Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries.” We need to keep questioning ourselves, listening to our audiences and exploring new ways to develop and unlock our collections. 

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Johannesburg-Based Curator Londi Modiko on Her Mission to Empower Black Women Creatives

Londi Modiko has unabashedly set out to change the South African art world.

For over a decade, the Johannesburg-based curator and art advisor has been working on innovative programming that champions the nation’s artists, institutions, and curators.

“As a Black woman from agricultural KwaZulu Natal, I am very aware of my responsibility to show Black kids that this is something that they can do too, that this is something that is in their realm of possibility,” she explained. 

Currently an associate director at Goodman Gallery, Modiko has driven a bevy of cultural and institutional initiatives focused on rethinking the contemporary art landscape.

In 2020, she co-founded the Independent Network for Contemporary Culture and Art (INCCA), a nonprofit organization that supports independent curatorial projects. For several years before that, she ran An Art Agency, through which she advised major South African collectors.

She even gave the art-fair model a go, co-founding Underline, a fair for independent curators, publishers, and print studios that was a major hit of the 2019 Johannesburg art week.

Recently, we caught up with Modiko to hear her thoughts on the future of the art world and what she’s focused on now.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

How did you find your way in the art world and to your current career?

I have always had a perpetual curiosity and invested a lot of time in immersing myself in all things visual arts. After graduating from art school, I was hired as an intern at an intaglio print studio in Johannesburg. That was the beginning of my interesting trajectory in the art world, which now spans just over 13 years. I have worked my way up in a number of art institutions. However, the highlight of my career has been the last three years, where I worked independently as a curator and art advisor.

I often get asked if I planned to be an arts practitioner and curator, but truthfully I didn’t really know it was a real profession until I had graduated from undergrad. I thought I’d become an artist after graduating, but my path led me into preferring to being in the background. This is probably because I’ve always been attracted to learning and history and the little details that most people don’t have time for. Everything has stemmed from pure curiosity and my interest in the creative manifestations of the human mind.

As a lifelong art lover, what was the first work you ever purchased for yourself?

I’ve been collecting art throughout my career, even when my salary could barely cover my necessities. The one that stands out is a wooden carved sculpture of a couple by the late Johannes Segogela. I acquired the piece from the Goodman Gallery. His attention to detail in these small sculptures reveals a close observation of life. I also really appreciate how the features on the faces, clothing buttons, ties, and especially shoes are rendered with such care.

Have you had any mentors in the art world?

I’ve not really had a mentor in the art world. The industry here is young and most of my older colleagues have been focused on trying to figure things out for themselves. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a network of people in non-creative fields who’ve been very generous with their expertise and guidance, which I’ve been able to apply to my art career. My business partner and co-founder of the Independent Network for Contemporary Culture and Art, Lara Koseff, who’s an exceptional curator, has also been a great confidant.

Can you tell me more about INCCA and why you felt drawn to found this non-profit?

INCCA is a nonprofit cultural organization that realizes independent projects and creates new platforms for visual artists, collectives, curators, and other cultural practitioners. My partners, Lara Koseff, Nthabiseng Mokoena, and I founded the group because we wanted an alternative art world. We wanted to pioneer new ways of sharing art and cultural ideas. We’re working on a number of exciting projects with various collaborators. 

What do you see as your role in the art world?

As an art practitioner, I hope to encourage people of my identity to be open to engaging and enjoying art. When it comes to the work that I’ve done and hope to do, I strongly believe that my role is to advance the art world by putting out exciting projects that empower artists, curators, and cultural practitioners. I hope to become a powerful advocate for art.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

What are some of the projects you’re working on that you’re excited about?

The work I do through our INCCA excites me. The possibilities are limitless. I enjoy exploring my passion outside of the “white cube” art systems. At the moment INCAA is working on a collaborative traveling public-art project. I’m mentoring a group of women artists through a mentorship program. It is fulfilling for me to impart the art knowledge I’ve acquired throughout my career. I’ve also recently returned to the world-renowned Goodman Gallery to take up the position of associate director at the Johannesburg space.

Who are the artists you’re most excited about right now?

I am enjoying this moment in art where there are practically no rules. Over the last four years, artists that are based in Durban have been of great interest to me. I also follow the program at Bkhz Gallery closely, as I think they are the most exciting young gallery in the country. BKHZ gallery is a space founded by artist Banele Khoza. His vision for the space is for Black young creatives to showcase their art with a support system. I love everything they do and what they stand for.

I understand that nowadays when this question is posed to people like me, it is meant to highlight which artists are likely to be a good return on investment. Some art collectors want to predict who’s going to hit it big, but honestly you really never know. You need to get out there, talk to the artists, and look for your own excitement in discovery. You really have to start there.

What do you imagine the art world of the future might look like?

I hope the future of the art world encourages transparency and goodwill when it comes to the sharing of art ideas. I also hope that the art environment that is entrenched in white capitalist patriarchy will evolve and realize the importance of having Black women occupy a range of executive roles in the arts without tokenism. The future of the art world is here. There are now smaller economies with more utopian underpinnings. In summary, I imagine an alternative art world!

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‘Everything Is Connected’: Collector and Curator Raquel Cayre on Why There’s No Point in Differentiating Between Art and Design

The Tomorrowists is a four-part interview series with young art world innovators who are hoping to shake up the art industry with cutting-edge initiatives and projects.


The curator, collector, and advisor Raquel Cayre, 29, has long viewed the art and design worlds as one in the same—two spheres whose differences are superficial, bound by the fact that they share the power to stir the soul through the eyes of the beholder. 

In the years since starting her Instagram account @ettoresotsass—which began as a love letter to Sotsass, the founder of the Memphis Milano movement, whose work Cayre has come to collect herself—the young design aficionado has carved out a place of her own in the industry, earning the attention of such design heavyweights as Kelly Wearstler and Sotsass’s widow, Barbara Radice. 

Beyond her personal collecting and social media presence, Cayre is also developing a series of projects that aim to offer audiences novel ways to experience design. For her monthlong design exhibition “Raquel’s Dream House,” she took over a New York City townhouse to create a distinctly domestic-feeling display; in “Chairs Beyond Right & Wrong,” she teamed up with R & Company to present 50 chairs from famous designers around the globe, encouraging audiences to consider them more as art than functional design.  

Cayre’s latest endeavor, Open Source, is an online platform that showcases an individual artist or designer’s work that is then sold via her online shop. 

Last week, we spoke to Cayre about how she fell in love with art and design, why she loves Sotsass so much, and what the design world might look like in 10 years.

Tell me a little about your background. How did you come to fall in love with art and design? 

Lots of travel, books, and museums, and connecting with the right people in the field. I guess I’m an autodidact. I draw from direct experiences. When I was still a student, I took a year off from university to travel. One trip to Milan and boom! Everything changed. 

I think it’s fair to say you are one of the foremost young collectors and appreciators of Ettore Sottsass and an expert on the Memphis Milano movement more generally. How did you become interested in this period and work? 

I fell into Memphis Milano by chance, and with some luck. I first encountered Ettore’s earlier works (1955–69) in Milan and was attracted to his use of natural materials: rosewood, walnut, bronze, and terracotta. With Memphis, it was the plastics and laminates in bright colors and pattern that drew me in. I bought every out-of-print book on Sottsass I could find and really nerded out. I fell in love with his work and design process as a whole. His output wasn’t limited to just Memphis… it pushed outward into other disciplines. 

What, in your view, distinguishes great design from good design? 

László Moholy-Nagy describes the project for design as “seeing everything in relationships.” Great design is seeing relationships disappear. 

Photo courtesy Raquel Cayre.

Cayre’s first acquisition, a work by Cory Arcangel. Photo courtesy Raquel Cayre.

Let’s focus a little more specifically on how you began collecting. What was the first piece you got, and what’s the story behind how you came to acquire it?

In 2014, I stumbled into Cory Arcangel’s exhibition “tl;dr” (that red-carpet install!) at Team gallery, where he was presenting works from his “Lakes” series. As sculpture, these consist of flatscreen televisions turned on their sides, displaying images with the Java applet “lake” overlaid. I knew I wanted to live with the lake of Larry David and Skrillex—two opposite worlds colliding, which is something Cory was activating with the material and dated graphics in the work too.

How did that initial acquisition grow into a collection? 

Everything is connected. A collection is about making these connections visible. Like design, it’s about seeing relationships. I am always re-examining traditional methods of presenting, viewing, and experiencing art as much as its corresponding mode of display. 

What are some lessons you learned in bringing all these pieces together?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Peggy Guggenheim’s experimental gallery, Art of the Century. She’s a great inspiration for someone who wants to learn about the rules of collecting by abolishing them. She translated the act of collecting into a way of life. 

How do you like to display your collection? Do you have any decorating tips for aspiring design collectors or young appreciators of design? 

It’s always changing. To quote some lines from Sottsass: “These objects, which sit next to each other and around people, influence not only physical conditions but also emotions… They can touch the nerves, the blood, the muscles, the eyes, and moods of their observers… There is no special difference between [art] and design. They are two different stages of invention.” 

Art collector Peggy Guggenheim poses with paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Oct. 22, 1942. (AP Photo)

Art collector Peggy Guggenheim poses with paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Oct. 22, 1942. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

It seems that in recent years, design has come to be valued as art in its own right. There’s also a lot of crossover between the two fields, with many new galleries, art fairs, and shops showing art and design alongside one another. Do you think that will become the norm over time? 

This really isn’t a new idea. Since the early 20th century, we’ve been thinking about interdisciplinary art practices and museums without walls. The flatness of painting has always been linked to the flatness of pages, posters, and the flattening out of different mediums and disciplines, like the flatness of an interface. There are connections forged between photography and typography or illustration and exhibition design, between decorative objects and a poem. Everything is connected. 

Perhaps what has changed is the model for making these relationships more equitable, more commercial. Instead of a museum without walls, we get a museum shop without walls. The interface isn’t just about reproduction, but where taste and subjectivity are constructed. It brings equivalence to the relationship between production and reception. We are the museum. 

In your view, how should we engage with design in order to try and view it in a different or more meaningful way? 

I always start by asking the question: Is it productive? 

What are you focused on at the moment? 

Right now, I’m working on Open Source, an online initiative to present works by individual artists and designers through my website. Works are sold through the website’s online shop and focus on one artist at a time. It does not propose to rethink e-commerce or the exhibition format, but, like a laboratory or workshop, test and iterate as it develops instead. Right now, there are no [formalized] shows, programs, seasons, or space. I’m presenting works by Nikako Kanamoto and Jasmine Gutbrod next. 

What do you think the design world will look like in 10 years? 

Nature. Design is always coupled with relationship and context. Like music, it’s about the production of space. Design thinking traffics in experience and reconstitutes as an act of being and seeing in the world.

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Shattering the Glass Ceiling (Re-Air): Curator Lauren Haynes on Working to Forge a Fuller Story of American Art

Welcome to Shattering the Glass Ceiling, a podcast from the team at the Art Angle where we speak to boundary-breaking women in the art world and beyond about how art has shaped their lives and careers.



For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been running a little experiment here at the Art Angle—namely, our first-ever breakout mini-series, called Shattering the Glass Ceiling, dedicated to remarkable women in the art world who have succeeded in changing the game in their respective arenas.

It’s such a good group of interviews, and we want to make sure you have a chance to hear it. (We also, it so happens, are taking a little belated Memorial Day vacation to rest up after the launch of Midnight Publishing Group News Pro, our brand-new members-only offering for participants in the art trade.)

And so, without further ado, please enjoy this re-air of the first installment of Shattering the Glass ceiling, featuring Midnight Publishing Group News executive editor talking to the powerhouse curator Lauren Haynes, who recently took a prominent post at Duke Museum’s Nasher Museum.

Listen to the other episodes of Shattering the Glass Ceiling, below, and we’ll be back next week with a brand new episode.

Art Collector and Media Executive Catherine Levene on Empathetic Leadership

Curator and Author Legacy Russell on Rebuilding Art Institutions From Within

Art Dealer Mariane Ibrahim on the Power of the Right Relationships

Listen to Other Episodes:

The Art Angle Podcast: How Kenny Schachter Became an NFT Evangelist Overnight

The Art Angle Podcast: How Breonna Taylor’s Life Inspired an Unforgettable Museum Exhibition

Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Art Dealer Mariane Ibrahim on the Power of the Right Relationships

The Art Angle Podcast:‘Art Detective’ Katya Kazakina on How She Lands Her Epic Scoops

Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Curator and Author Legacy Russell on Rebuilding Art Institutions From Within

The Art Angle Podcast: How Frieze Managed to Put Together the First Art Fair of the Pandemic

Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Art Collector and Media Executive Catherine Levene on Empathetic Leadership

Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Curator Lauren Haynes on Working to Forge a Fuller Story of American Art

The Art Angle Podcast: KAWS Is the World’s Most Popular Artist. Why?

The Art Angle Podcast: How the Pandemic Totally Changed the Art Market

The Art Angle Podcast: How NFTs Are Changing the Art Market as We Know It

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