Michael Wilson is a London-born, Brooklyn-based critic, curator, editor, and artist who holds masters degrees from the University of Ulster at Belfast and the Royal College of Art, London. He is the author of How to Read Contemporary Art: Experiencing the Art of the 21st Century (Abrams, 2013), and has written for publications including Art Monthly, Art in America, Artforum, frieze, and Modern Painters, as well as for numerous exhibition catalogues. He also penned the introduction to Contemporary Art in North America (London: Black Dog, 2011). Wilson is the organizer of exhibitions including “How to Read a Book” (Locust Projects, Miami, 2010) and “Written by Snakes” (Churner & Churner, New York, 2012), and is currently Editor, Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
In your book HOW TO READ CONTEMPORARY ART: EXPERIENCING THE ART OF THE 21ST CENTURY(ABRAMS, 2013) you did a great job profiling a wide swath of artists working across media and subject matter. Are there any artists that have come on your radar since it was published that you would want to include in a revised or future edition?
For reasons of space, the book was limited from the get-go to 175 artists, which may sound a lot but really isn't if one is trying to think internationally. In making that selection, I aimed to include those who are not so senior or static in their practice as to be considered modern or contemporary "masters," focusing instead on those who had not only made a key contribution over the past two decades, but who were continuing to do so. As you suggest, I tried to introduce a wide range of individuals and practices to give the general reader a basis on which to approach the field in general, and to convey something of its energy and excitement. While researching and writing the book, I maintained an ever-shifting list of potential inclusions, and there were many others who could easily have made it in. It would be misleading to suggest that personal taste and how I felt on a given day didn't play their parts. I tried to maintain a fairly equal male-female balance. If I were to produce a revised edition, I'd put more emphasis on a global spread. In my current job at the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, I've been introduced to some fascinating artists from South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa that I'd certainly consider including. And without losing the book's overall focus, I might also try to shoehorn a few more filmmakers, musicians, and perhaps even a curator or two into the mix. As much as we hear about the latter within the art world, there's still a very limited understanding in the wider world of what they do and how they differ from one another.
Are there specific galleries that you consistently return to because of their program/artists (and assuming yes, what is it about the program and/or artists do you respond to)?
In New York, there are certain major commercial galleries--the Gagosians and the Zwirners--that are unavoidable because of their unmatched ability to produce ambitious projects by major artists, but I can't help but have a greater admiration for those who work to break new ground while operating on a smaller budget, and who have a discernible aesthetic of their own. Lisa Cooley, for example, is a gallery I've admired since its inception and have been pleased to see grow while continuing to support its stable. Of the not-for-profits, White Columns continues to do sterling work, especially in bringing new attention to outsider artists. I'd also point to the Artists' Institute, a project run by Jenny Jaskey in partnership with Hunter College that dedicates six-month seasons to single artists. Beyond the art world, I love anthropological museums like Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, as well as oddball mini-museums like the City Reliquary and the Morbid Anatomy Museum, both in Brooklyn.
Is there a project you are working on right now that you can share?
Right now I'm working on a book about contemporary art for children aged roughly 7-11. It's surprising to me that so few attempts have been made to introduce new art to kids, given how accessible much of it is. There's a whole playground of recent work out there, but the available literature for young people drops off pretty steeply after Warhol.
Can you compile a short list of shows up right now (or upcoming) that you consider must-sees?
I'm looking forward to Goshka Macuga at the New Museum and Ed Atkins at the Kitchen. And the imminent new season at Mmuseumm in TriBeCa should be good.
Photo: Jude Broughan