“We came up with this idea of California as a zone that has a lot of creative energies and shifts,” says Focus: California co-curator Glen Helfand of the process he and his colleague Kim Nguyen have been involved in over recent months. “We feel there is a lot of latitude in terms of what California has to offer—from notions of landscape to social and political dynamics—allowing for some really good kinds of interactions.”
Helfand and Nguyen are well situated to co-curate a project that reframes California art for a largely Canadian audience. Born in the San Fernando Valley, Helfand is now based in Oakland, where he writes about art, film and culture for publications including Artforum and the Guardian, and he teaches at California College of the Arts. Nguyen was director and curator of Artspeak in Vancouver from 2011 to 2016, after which she moved to San Francisco to become curator and head of programs at the CCA Wattis Institute. Her international reach is also wide, with recent texts published with Mousse in Milan and the Herning Museum of Art in Denmark.
“There is crossover” already between Canada and California, of course, Helfand points out. “Kim actually just did a show with Ken Lum at the Wattis,” he notes. While at Art Toronto, the San Francisco gallery Casemore Kirkeby will be showing work by Canadian artist Owen Kydd, who is now based in Los Angeles. Other parts of the Focus: California section include Night Gallery, the prominent LA space founded by Canadian Davida Nemeroff. At this year’s fair, Night Gallery will be showing work by Brooklyn-based Canadian Elise Rasmussen, in particular her Rupestrian Sculptures project that proved the existence of Ana Mendieta Land-art pieces previously thought to have been destroyed or lost. Other works in Focus: California include clay sculptures by Brie Ruais, brought by Night Gallery; an interactive installation by Chris Finley, brought by Chimento Contemporary; and stark yet romantic landscape paintings by Jake Longstreth, brought by Gregory Lind Gallery.
“The literary, the scientific and the museological” are just some of the threads that will be woven through the spaces, both close and far, that Focus: California manifests. “I’m excited about it,” says Helfand. “There are a lot of things still excitingly in formation.”