Casemore Kirkeby on creating living, breathing exhibitions

Untitled (Portal), 2007, Sean McFarland

Space transforms from backdrop to medium at Casemore Kirkeby. The gallery - established in San Francisco by Julie Casemore and Stefan Kirkeby - is a platform for both emerging and established talent, with a focus on contemporary photography practices. Each exhibition is curated as a dynamic process, where audiences are encouraged to engage and inspire new, evolving conversations about the work on display.

Pretend Self Portrait #3, from the series Stutter Shutter, 2018, Whitney Hubbs

Could you tell us more about the gallery space?

Julie Casemore and Stefan Kirkeby: Casemore Kirkby is a place to shine a light on photographic practices that investigate, challenge, and expand the boundaries of what the medium is and can be. We endeavour to make the space a variable in artists’ photographic practices - not just a backdrop for their work.

How do the exhibitions influence each other?

Each exhibition is living, breathing, and ever evolving. In 2016, New Material showcased a group of Japanese and Japanese-American artists, including Daisuke Yokota, Momo Okabe, Hiroshi Takizawa, Kenta Cobayashi, Yoshi Kametani, amongst others. We invited the artists to not only present work within the gallery but to regard their place there as a residency—where they could make work, and where we could manipulate the space to make it work for them. The result was a show pulsating with energy—with work in a variety of media spilling from the walls, the ceiling. This particular project set the tone for every show we’ve done since—with artists as diverse as Anouk Kruithof, Sean McFarland, Whitney Hubbs, Steve Kahn, and Ed and Deanna Templeton. Our current show with Suné Woods utilises video, soundscapes, and a giant, triangular stage, covered with carpet and scattered with pillows, where visitors can actually sink into the space, inviting a contemplative experience and an impetus for discussion.

Half Moon, from the series Sleeping Flowers, 2018, Sean McFarland

How does your interaction with an artist evolve from your first encounter with their work to representing them in your gallery?

We begin exploring new work through direct engagement with the artist, learning more about what drives them and their practices. It is a reciprocal process: the artist has the opportunity to discover more about who Casemore Kirkeby is as a gallery -why we exist, and how we work.

How are artists involved in your curatorial process?

Our relationships with artists are intensely collaborative. An essential part of our role is understanding the vision that artists have for their images - and then working together to realise and contextualise that vision. We strive to minimise the impossible.

Is it a different process to curate a show in the gallery space to curate show for a fair?

In our gallery exhibitions, we have the freedom to work within a big space which can be transformed and manipulated. At fairs, the primary difference is in finding a way to showcase who we are as program whilst working with the limitations of space and time. Unseen's mission and point of view aligns very well with our program, so the challenge has been to crystallize our identity within the event. This year, we’re presenting work by Sean McFarland and Whitney Hubbs, two very different photographers in terms of their subject matter, but whom can coexist because of unifying qualities—a sense of dimensionality and tactility for example, as well as mystery and theatricality. Hubbs’s work is very three-dimensional because of how she photographs people, materials, and textures. Shrouded bodies and crumpled textiles create the illusion of tangibility and invite closer investigation. McFarland’’s work, on the other hand, is rooted in redefining landscape. Through colour shifts, layering, ephemeral shelving, marking and ageing his photographic paper, he makes work with a sense of subterfuge. Hubb and McFarland are thus representative of our aim to present photography which explores new territory.

Early Evening, Los Angeles, 1986, Larry Sultan

Show us your favourite piece that you own, and tell us about it.

My favourite image is Los Angeles, Early Evening by the late Larry Sultan, from his series Pictures from Home, in which he photographed his parents and their environment in a way that is both cinematic and dreamlike. Sultan is an artist I was lucky to work with during his career, and whose estate we now represent. Beginning with the seminal early work he made with Mike Mandel—like Evidence and Newsroom—Sultan’s practice was ever-evolving and hugely influential on other photographers, including some in our current program.

What is the last thing that inspired you?

Just before we were finalizing our shipment of work to the Unseen Fair, I looked very intently at Untitled (Portal) by Sean McFarland in the collection I share with my partner. Like the work we are presenting at Unseen Fair, it is a landscape, from his Dark Pictures series. This work reminded me again of how McFarland’s work remakes the convention of the landscape, capturing not what is necessarily, physically there, but what he sees and experiences. That, in turn, reminded me of how light the burden of placing art in the world can be when it is so personally inspiring.

Keep exploring

Selected by Unseen and experts from diverse fields, take an in-depth look at one artistic project every week of the year.

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