The goal of the Lux Archive Blog is to inform and educate people like you about fine art photography. Whether you’re a university student or long time art collector you’ve come to the right place.
Here you’ll find thoughtful, engaging content including interviews with artists, curators, collectors, and interior designers about a range of topics related to fine art photography. You’ll also find occasional announcements related to the photography prints that we sell on our sister website Lux Archive. Nevertheless, this blog will stand on it’s own as a valuable resource for fine art lovers; regardless of whether they’re looking to make a purchase.
We are excited to introduce our very first interview on this blog! We spoke with the very intelligent and accomplished Karen Irvine, Curator and Associate Director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. She has organized over forty exhibitions of contemporary photography at the MoCP and other institutions and is a part-time instructor of photography at Columbia College Chicago. Our discussion follows below.
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LUX ARCHIVE: You consistently produce interesting new topics for exhibitions, how do you come up with ideas for curating a show?
IRVINE: Most of my ideas come from meeting an individual artist and seeing what they’re working on and then thinking ‘wow, what a great idea, what a great topic.’ Most of the group shows I organize stem from one person’s work and expand on it. For example I’m working on a crime show right now which opens at the end of October and although I had been considering the topic for some time, the impetus for organizing the show this year was a book project I began working on with Christian Patterson of his Redheaded Peckerwood work [about crime]. I built a group show of eight artists who look back at crimes, mostly historical but some more recent, and revisit violent stories. So that’s a very typical scenario. And then sometimes ideas come from looking at what’s happening in the world and then thinking ‘okay, this seems like an important topic.’ We also want to keep our programming fresh so we try to do a variety of things to appeal to different people and different audiences.
LUX ARCHIVE: Do you fee like there are certain photographic topics or content that appeal to certain audiences?
IRVINE: Our general audience still likes very classical photography. We have an amazing collection of historical work and I think sometimes people expect to see work by extremely well-known photographers such as Ansel Adams when they come to a photography museum. I think at its broadest, our audience is typically looking for that sort of work. What they think of as fine art photography is typically black and white, very sharp photographs of an exotic place or some grand scene.
LUX ARCHIVE: What about the people who are in their late twenties or thirties, who didn’t grow up with Ansel Adams or black and white photography, do they respond more to the ‘contemporary’ works?
IRVINE: That’s a good question—I’ve never measured it in any way, but I wouldn’t say they respond more to contemporary works, but are perhaps more open to them. Possibly because everybody’s hooked to a screen and used to looking at a lot of imagery all the time on the Internet, I do think that it makes sense that there are certain types of artwork that that a younger generation would respond to a little bit more easily. I’m very interesting in challenging, conceptual work but I also have to keep in mind that a lot of people walking into this museum perhaps don’t engage with contemporary art or photography on a regular basis, so I’m always looking for artists who make work that is accessible on some level, and then has multiple layers of concept and complexity. Work that can be appreciated if you know about art history or not, if you know about the political situation of this place or not, or what have you—but there should be something that can touch everyone.
LUX ARCHIVE: Do you have your own personal collection of photography that you collect?
IRVINE: At home I have mostly small membership prints like the ones our museum commissions from artists to sell and raise money for our programming. Since photographs are editioned artists often are able to produce large editions at smaller sizes for various purposes. I’ve bought some from because it’s a good way to get nice pieces of work cheaper—but the end result is that everything is a bit more miniature. Working as a curator I have the pleasure of collecting vicariously for my institution. I also keep a collection of bad photography in my desk, just really cheesy stuff that comes in as mailers, for example. At one point I am going to make all my colleagues Christmas cards with images from that collection.
LUX ARCHIVE: Do you have any recommendations for younger collectors out there who are interested in starting a collection or adding to one?
IRVINE: It’s all about just getting to know the medium and what you like. So I think the best advice is to travel and look at shows, visit galleries, and start by buying things like the membership prints I mentioned. In general the rule is never buy for investment but buy because you love it. I think if you love what you buy you can’t make any mistakes. And the great thing about collecting contemporary work is that you can meet the artist. I would encourage people to reach out to the artists, often they’re very accessible and it will likely enrich your experience with their work.
Find out more about the exhibitions at MoCP >>