Eric C. Shiner says one contributing factor to his
career in the art world is coming from a family of “tireless collectors.” Andy Warhol, another tireless collector, provided lots of material to enhance Shiner’s job these days as the director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
A western Pennsylvania native, Shiner visited Japan during his “semester at sea” at the University of Pittsburgh; he soon returned as an exchange student to the University of Kobe, earning an MA in the History of Art at Osaka University. In the last semester of graduate school, he interned at the National Museum of Art in Kyoto, where he worked closely with chief curator Shinji Kohmoto. His big break came when Kohmoto became one of the artistic directors of the first Yokohama Triennial of Contemporary Art, and chose Shiner to be his assistant curator.
Post-Japan, Shiner headed for New York, where he curated exhibitions including “Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York” (2007) for the Japan Society; became managing editor for ArtAsiaPacific magazine (for which he is still a contributing editor) and worked as an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University, Pace University and Cooper Union. In 2008, Shiner became the Milton Fine Curator of Art at the Andy Warhol Museum, having come full circle (by way of Japan) from his first internship there, a week after the museum opened. In January 2011, he became acting director, and was named director in July 2011.
He is credited as curator for the upcoming exhibition “Regarding Warhol: 60 Artists, 50 Years.” This show originated at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last fall, where it was a critical flop, although a huge commercial success (Met Director Tom Campbell jokingly called it “the show everyone loves to hate”). Shiner’s new version of the show opened at the Andy Warhol Museum, February 3 (through April 28). Shiner is also at work on a special project for The New York Armory Show this year, 100 years after Modern art made its American debut at the 1913 Armory, when Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase prompted one wit in the press to characterize it as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” Shiner’s exhibit, “Armory Focus: USA,” will take place in the midst of New York’s biggest art fair March 7–10.
Artillery: I’m thinking about the quote that, “Fortune favors the prepared mind,” and imagining you, as an intern at the Andy Warhol Museum, opening that first “Fashion” box of Andy’s. What was running through your mind at that moment?
Eric Shiner: I was just so enthused about being able to do that. Those boxes hadn’t really been opened since they came from the [Warhol] estate; they were simply marked “Fashion,” or “Clothing,” and as I was opening the boxes, finding all of these amazing Commes des Garcons pieces, and Versace, I also found a lot of Warhol’s personal clothing. It was surreal to be in touch with these things that obviously meant something to him, in one way or another. Just thinking about his personal style, his taste, and the things he found to be of interest… rather similar to my own.
In renovating the Warhol exhibition, how does your version differ from the one at the Met?
We’ve spread it across the entire museum, on six floors; it will have a lot more space, and we have more Warhol to add to the mix. We’re going to put in archival materials, including objects from our Time Capsule collection. We’re doing a lot of different juxtapositions [as opposed to] the installation at the Met; I wanted to create new relationships that I didn’t see in New York that I think are really important, in addition to breaking up some of the systems in place at the Met.
Can you give your assessment of what has come to pass in the art world in the 100 years since the 1913 Armory Show?
In 1913, [the art world] was Eurocentric and rather small. Even the Soho gallery scene in New York in the ’60s—what a small world that was, where everybody knew everybody else—it was almost like a membership club, rather difficult to break into, as Warhol experienced. It’s amazing how the art world has continued to expand and grow, at exponential rates, and really seep into the mainstream culture; exciting how it went from an exclusive, highbrow world to one that the general public now feels comfortable with and wants to be part of. Warhol helped that along.
On your side of the coin, since the art world has become so enormous, trying to keep track of all the connections and relationships… what are you going to do in this year’s Armory Focus show?
I’m not attempting to take the temperature or read the pulse of contemporary art production in America because it’s simply impossible. I was thinking about Alfred Barr, Jr.’s, diagram of modern art: to attempt that today, you would need a football field—a good Matthew Barney project!
This show is to look at artists’ “takes” on America, and provide different voices, from within and also from without the American geography, to see how artists are critiquing, celebrating, making fun of America, saying, “This is what we might call America in 2013.” Not really “the shock of the new,” but “the shock of the now.”
What do you collect for yourself?
It’s a constantly changing landscape in my house. I focus almost exclusively on contemporary art by young artists, because (a) it’s what I can afford and (b) supporting a young artist means more than anything, especially when they’re just starting out, both financially and the professional support it brings.
In Miami, I bought a small painting by Nikki Katsikas of a Damien Hirst medicine chest sculpture, with the Absolutely Fabulous girl standing in front of it, drinking champagne and looking rather perplexed. I have a sculpture by Brendan Fernandes of a deer wearing an African mask. The deer is a plastic target-practice deer that you would buy at Wal-Mart, and then Brendan hand made a plastic, all-white mask and put it directly on the face of the deer, in order to disguise and hide the deer. That’s living on one side of my loft, coming out of a plant, so it looks like it’s coming out of the forest. And I have a really great sculpture by Pittsburgh artist Vanessa German, an African-American sculptor [who] makes these amazing “tar baby” dolls covered with white objects that she finds on the street or at flea markets. She’s a world-class artist, and I know she’ll get there. I was very happy to be able to get her work while she’s starting off.