Vincent Honoré: Curious Curator
A London-based curator with experience that includes roles at both the Palais de Tokyo and Tate Modern, Vincent Honoré has been a leading force in the industry hosting and curating innovative exhibitions and live art programs across various venues. From co-curating photographer Jeff Wall’s first European solo show to coordinating Carsten Höller’s Test Site installation, his work leaves an unforgettable impression on the world of art and, ultimately, on the human psyche of those that follow it.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
You were recently appointed the senior curator of Hayward Gallery in London. How does it feel?
It feels pretty good. I was appointed Senior Curator at the Hayward Gallery in October 2017. It is a privilege and an honor to join an institution I have admired for such a long time. The Hayward is probably one of the very last few galleries of this size allowing artists to take risks, to experiment and to push the boundaries of their art as seen in the upcoming exhibition by Korean artist Lee Bul.I am thrilled to be collaborating with talented (and fun) colleagues such as our Director Ralph Rugoff and my colleague Senior Curator Cliff Lauson. The building is a masterpiece of brutalist architecture, allowing the audience to fully experiment a wide range of artistic forms. The Hayward is also part of the Southbank Centre which includes music, poetry, dance, festivals etc. I could not be happier to work in such an artistic and popular power- house, welcoming about 27 million visitors on site every year.
You have Masters in Art Management of Art Institutions and a Masters in Comparative Literature. Before going to school and choosing a degree plan, how did you get involved with art? Then, how did your studies help you get into the art world?
I studied Literature, especially Fyodor Dostoevsky and George Bataille. This gave me an artistic and theoretical background that I needed to complete with a more practical degree. After my first Master, I enrolled in a second one that allowed me to understand better the pragmatic side of my job: budget, team management, copyright, planning, and so on. I first thought I would work in a publishing house, but quickly realized I wanted to fully embrace contemporary art. I started to intern in different structures and quickly was hired by the Palais de Tokyo first to be in charge of all the publications, and then gradually to also work on exhibitions and performances. I believe the two degrees were a good match to be able to conceive but also to produce the projects I was in charge of. Having said so, that happened some time ago. I am aware things changed. I worry if a young curator star- ting their career nowadays would have the same opportunities. Surviving in cities like Paris and London, access to education and housing is becoming a major issue we need to be fully aware of, and fight against.
“TATE MODERN WAS THE MOST MAGNIFICENT MUSEUM I COULD DREAM OF. EVERYTHING WAS INNOVATIVE AND GAME CHANGING” – VINCENT HONORÉ
Previous to joining the Hayward, you were the curator of Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2001-2004) and at Tate Modern in London (2004-2007) where you developed exhibitions and projects with Carol Bove, Pierre Huyghe, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster to name but a few. Tell us about the experience and how it prepared you for your work at the Hayward?
I was privileged to start working in a contemporary art center and be part of the team opening it. Inevitably, although one has a certain field of responsibilities, one ends up doing a little of everything and be part of a collective effort for the project to happen. I was also particularly privileged to work with Nicolas Bourriaud, who taught me a lot about theory and research. Those were my formative years, when my curatorial base was being formed. I also participated in the Venice Bienniale at that time, working with an artist. All of this formed the basis of my career. More importantly, I also learned to know what I don’t like or am not interested in.
You co-curated photographer Jeff Wall’s first European solo show. Tell us about the experience.
At that time, Tate Modern was the most magnificent museum I could dream of. Everything that was done there, from the collection displays, the programs and the Turbine Hall etc, looked so innovative and game changing. Tate was the museum for which I wanted to work. I worked on Jeff Wall’s exhibition with Sheena Wagstaff, who is now lea- ding the Modern and Contemporary art department at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Sheena, after Nicolas Bourriaud, is someone who had been very important in my formation. I guess she trusted me and wan- ted to push me. Jeff is one of the artists whose work positioned photography as a definitive contemporary art medium. Since he started, in the late 70s, he created these massive photographic tableaux which had a tremendous influence on our visual culture. He is also a respected teacher and theoretician. If I remember well, this exhibition was the first solo exhibition entirely made of photographs at the Tate Modern. The exhibition, like all exhibitions of this scale, was a complex project, working with lenders from all around the word. It was the first truly institutional exhibition in a museum I did, which allowed to understand how these big machines function.
Throughout your career, you’ve helped bring many shows to a variety of venues. What’s your favorite part about the curating process?
The best part is really to engage with artists. To research, to discuss, to debate, to share and to produce. I also really enjoy contextualizing artworks, positioning them in an exhibition to share my experience of them.
In 2011, you started Drawing Room Confessions, a series of books dedicated to one artist per issue, based on conversations and words only. Tell us about the inspiration and idea behind it.
I created it with artist Manuela Ribadeneira and designer Benjamin Reichen. We were getting bored with reading the same interviews with artists again and again. We wanted to create books in which artists would enter into deep real conversations with other creators, be they artists, writers, philosophers, scientists or politicians, so their true voice could be heard. We also wanted to be focused, and have only one artist per book, shining a light on lesser known aspects of their creations.
You are also a frequent contributor to Mousse Magazine and Cura Magazine. How do you go about finding the content for your pieces?
It often comes from my current field of research. The two last pieces I wrote, on Eleanor Antin and Lynn Hershman Leeson, were originating from my research on DRAG, my upcoming exhibition at the HENI Project Space at Hayward Gallery, on display from 22 August–7 October 2018.
Many curators who hold positions at public galleries sometimes leave to work for private collections as you did with DRAF. Do you see yourself doing that again or do you like the public sector better?
I don’t think that way. I don’t oppose public to private. It all depends on the project and how intellectually challenging I can be. DRAF was not a collection, it was an institution: we were not showcasing works for the collection for the sake of it.
I tried to find a different model and used the collection as library of forms and contents. But the program was not coming from the collection. Rather the other way around, the collection was the effect of the program. I fundamentally believe into the notion of public mission, be it sustained by public or private bodies.
As a creative director, marketing manager and fashion editor, Kyle has developed brand identities and creative strategies for a variety of businesses and written on a variety of fashion topics for ODDA and Lab A-4 magazines. With his background in advertising, he helps his clients understand complex ideas, motivates them to action and cooperates with media outlets to carry out successful brand strategies. But the madness doesn’t stop there. He is also a recipient of numerous international industry awards hosted by AVA, MarCom, Hermes and GDUSA, and a judge of several international awards competitions where he competently utilizes his passion for meaningful, quality design to give constructive criticism and insightful design advice to his peers.
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