Witching Hour w/ art dealer Kendra Jayne Patrick
Marissa Delano: Typically your itinerant gallery programming is based in New York, but since the spring you’ve been quarantined in Switzerland with Ernst [boyfriend] and his family. Can you describe the ease or difficulty of working remotely and from overseas?
Kendra Jayne Patrick: The most difficult aspect is the time difference. It has also been hard as an American to watch from another country as the economic and political situation continues to unravel in America. I found myself envying Swiss life where you can be a regular person because the government’s everyday systems work for you. It's been a mixed bag, but I am appreciative to be somewhere that's relatively safe from all the chaos.
MD: Your article Twenty-First Century Occupational Adjustments and Considerations, recently published by Yard Concept's Power Issue, presents the strip club as a site of freedom, particularly for black women. I found it insightful in terms of negotiating agency in a culture where women are taught to be afraid of sex. It also seemed to join the conversation during a time in which we are reimagining labor practices. Do you plan to write more on the topic or any adjacent issues?
KJP: With respect to writing about the strip club, my interest comes from being one of the college-age millennials in Atlanta partying at Magic City with full awareness that our mothers would have never ever set foot in a strip club! Magic City, in particular, was a cultural mecca for the trap era of hip-hop. My interest in this space has been renewed because of the way strip club aesthetics are modeled and embodied by main-stream female rappers.
What I really care about is Black women having real freedom of choice, and I want to explore more avant garde notions of what that looks like. Present day strip clubs offer a certain kind of economic and corporeal autonomy for black women whose economic status means that they must work with their bodies for a living. Considering that we are living through one of the shittiest economic contexts of the past fifty years, I'll continue to write about and explore places where these themes intersect, especially as it applies to black womanhood. I don’t think it's a coincidence that the triangulation between money, patriarchy, and female labor are the subject of so much mainstream female rap.
MD: I wonder what kinds of things the strip club and the art world have in common. For instance, the way money largely passes from the hands of old white men to the hands of other old white men seems to be a shared mode of operation. Money is often acquired by way of unsavory business practices as in arms dealing or tax evasion.
KJP: Again, female rap is very clear on who has the money, which is a good starting point for having a coherent macro-economic position. I think the observation that money largely comes from older white men whose income sources we largely ignore is also right. It is interesting that it's okay for men like Warren Kanders to be a warlord of sorts, but then questions abound about why a woman might choose to be a stripper; so many dudes were incensed By Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s song “WAP!”
MD: Do you find that your writing informs your curatorial process or vice versa?
KJP: Writing has always been a really helpful space for me to work through ideas. It's challenging to even imagine curating without writing because they inform one another. When you write, you really have to work through your ideas to assess whether they’re logical; if they make sense together and just how they fit together. All of the above informs what I choose to show, so I would say they're completely intertwined.
MD: Resilience usually registers as a positive quality, but how much of it is exploitative and ignores real narratives of growth, oppression and healing? I’m thinking about the added layers of expectation applied to Black women in the art world. Alongside the presence of overt racism, there are so many instances in which people fail to give them the respect, decency, oh and money, they’re fairly owed.
KJP: My first impulse is to say that on some level, it feels so Black? I love the @changethemuseum account and the @cancelartgalleries accounts on instagram so much because in a lot of ways they validate my and so many other Black people’s experiences in these spaces, as if to say, “you're not crazy,” “you’re not making this all up.”
MD: I fall more on the skeptical side. It happens all the time in institutions, office settings and even interpersonal relationships that Black women specifically bear more of the workload. This workload is comprised of both physical and psychological labor and yet at the end of the day, we’re still seeing discrepancies with fair compensation. Black women in the US currently earn 62 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. How much are you valued, by who, and why? What are the means and merits for this value?
KJP: That's why this idea of contemporary female rap borrowing its aesthetics so heavily from the strip club, starting conversations about the hard truth about who controls economic, political, and environmental resources, is actually very important. I do think that the one element regarding the institutional and commercial responses to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement that’s been really disheartening to see is that even at the Witching Hour, many institutions can only muster a position of pure instrumentalisation.
MD: Again at the Whitney, they just can't figure shit out. As recently as last month, the now cancelled exhibition Collective Actions: Artist Interventions In A Time of Change, proved to be another half-hearted attempt at solidarity. The Whitney’s gesture fell short, particularly the museum’s lack of appropriate compensation for the scheduled BIPOC artists. A few of the artists were offered a mere hundred dollars as compensation! That's less than the weekly unemployment right now, even after it was reduced to a fraction of minimum wage back in August. Which is still like-
KJP: No Money!
MD: It's less than a third of a minimum living wage, which is like nothing.
KJP: It is important to be clear on what, exactly, any given wage/compensation/artist's membership at a museum will net you in your real life. Even now, during a pandemic, when so many people aren't working for various reasons, I heard a lot of hoopla about the $600/week an amount encroaching on a meaningful living wage in any given American city - effectively being “too much” compensation for someone who isn’t working. This suggests, to me anyway, that a living wage is controversial if you don't have an executive level job, which is a terrible state of affairs. Even Congress thinks its “too much” money.
MD: They (congress members) were going on vacation, "BYE!"
KJP: Yes! It's just an unbelievable situation where people with money are being really stingy and harsh with respect to ensuring that a regular person doesn't have to struggle or have a bad life because they aren’t or don’t want to be rich. Why is the current debate now centered on having to justify why you should not be in poverty? It really makes me upset.
MD: I know. It’s a whole mixed bag of emotions, as you mentioned earlier. I’m wondering, despite and in light of the turmoil that takes place on a daily basis, what are your current or upcoming projects?
KJP: I curated an exhibition for Metro Pictures online that opened this month and is on view through November. I'm continuing on, and I feel lucky to be busy. I am really excited about this exhibition because there is some significant philosophical overlap in programming and art that I really got to explore with the show.
MD: And at the end of September you have something with the Houston Center of Photography?
KJP: On September 24th, I have an online talk with the newest artist on my roster, Arden Surdam. She is a fascinating photographer and we'll be doing a talk about her new monograph, Glut, with the Houston Center of Photography. The publication extends the artist’s visual analysis and research on taste, specifically the taste-based hierarchies that arouse from 18th and 19th century European still -life painting.
MD: That's something I was thinking about too, because you have been an itinerant gallery for years. What are your thoughts on adapting to this mode? It seems to have provided you with so much freedom to be flexible.
KJP: Having an itinerant program requires adaptability; I feel like I'm a house guest every time. There's always something new to learn about the site and the space, always surprising commonalities between my programming and my host’s. In this particular climate, it’s fun to toggle between real life and the internet because one can do things on the internet that are hard to do in person, and vice versa. For example, the show I’m doing for Metro Pictures would be a serious logistical undertaking in person, but online you can combine any works with relatively little installation or consignment drama. On the digital stage, you can work through ideas and even guide your viewers’ experience in a totally different way.
MD: What books are you reading? What are you watching and/or consuming for entertainment?
KJP: I'm not reading anything right now! I've been up to my eyeballs in deadlines and new opportunities so reading has, unfortunately, been on the back burner. A mentor recently suggested that I read the Plutocrats, though, because I told him that I wanted to re-read The Theory of the Leisure Classwhile I’m here, in the site of old European money and wealth (Switzerland). Reality TV-wise, I've been watching Love & Marriage: Huntsville on the OWN channel. I also just started watching Million Dollar Beach House, because real estate reality TV cracks me up. It's not as fun as the crew on Selling Sunset. My very Swiss boyfriend thinks that Americans and our sexy, sensational, true crime shows are so gross and therefore refuses to “participate in this with [me],” so I'm starting the new Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix without him.
MD: I started watching the Epstein series on Netflix, if you're into true crime it is terrifying.
KJP: The real true crime is a podcast that I'm listening to right now called Nice White Parents, it’s a real trip. It makes very clear the ways that white people and families are the economic and bureaucratic priority in America and that it's never been any different. Chana Joffe-Walt says, "The biggest influence on the entirety of the American school system are the preferences and whims of white parents." It's unbelievable. And the show illustrates that this prioritization starts at the very beginning of all American children’s introduction to social life. I feel like everybodyin America should be listening to this.
MD: Very true! That being said, any closing notes?
KJP: Recessions are a good time to re-examine, re-think and refresh, and I think that is something that we need in the art world. I want to see VR exhibitions. I want to see us use the digital stage to its full potential and maximize its native features, despite the fact that we all know that it’s better to be able to stand in front of a painting. I'm ready to be razzled and dazzled.