Talking about the "Universes" with Sasha Bogojev
It's at these times, doing an interview across the world with my friend, I truly miss the experience of seeing art in person. But mostly I miss talking amongst friends about the things we are viewing and hearing around the art world. But this will do, and it's on a fantastic occasion. On the precipice of opening Universes 3 at WOAW Gallery in Hong Kong, I spoke with Juxtapoz contributing editor and curator Sasha Bogojev about the Universes world, how this strange year has allowed him to focus on curation more and the changing landscape of emerging art.
Evan Pricco: Talk to me about the genesis of Universes series. Your criteria could mean a lot of things, could expand to many artists, but you have really had a vision for what the show is and was. What are you going for?
Sasha Bogojev: Well, Universes wasn't supposed to be a series, to begin with. It was gonna be one show with artists who use recurring characters, preferably made-up ones, place their images in unique, recurring settings, or use a certain approach or filter to modify the reality. But the show turned out great, if I may say so, and a few close friends told me that they could see my taste in the work that was shown. It was only then that I decided to make it a series as I kept discovering artists that match this concept. I'm aware that criteria could expand to many, but this is where I try to apply my own preference, for better or worse, and the result is what we see in the shows.
What makes Universes 3 unique? How do you see it differing from the past shows?
The one difference is that that the show features some bigger names that I couldn't dream of having in the first or second itineration. But since you mentioned expanding this concept to many, I think this show does that a bit as I wanted to broaden it a bit. Besides that, the work itself could be in any of the previous Universes. Or at least I like to think that, and that is the consistency that I'm proud of.
Did the show being far away, with little chance of visiting or traveling, play into the curation at all?
I don't feel like it did. There was actually part of me waiting for some sort of miracle which would allow me to be in Hong Kong right now, but that never happened. The location might have affected the curation in the sense that I did consider giving certain artists the chance to show their work in a region where they've never shown and I hope it will be well received.
How has that been for you? You have been very active this year with curation even though there has been this worldwide pause in other facets of life. Has that allowed you to be more focused?
Now that you said it, I think it actually did. The plans for the year collapsed like a tower of cards back in March, but then new opportunities started sprouting from that mess. I've been working from home for the past 20 years so that particular part didn't change much. But yeah, not being able to travel did make me more focused on these types of projects.
What do you think the role of the curator is in 2020? We are at a time where curators are getting, sometimes, even more attention, than the gallery. Why is that you think?
That is a tough one as I never saw myself as a "real" curator. I just kind of got into the whole thing through the back door, pretty much by chance. So I don't feel like I'm in a position to be telling others what they should do. What I usually try to do is create an exciting presentation that will give the opportunity for lesser-known artists to show work alongside their more established colleagues. At the same time, I'm trying to give art lovers a chance to experience work that otherwise might not be shown at that particular venue, or even in the region. This part I'm finding quite important. I'm also trying to be inclusive and put an accent on the younger generation and the work that I feel is having a fresh angle to it.
As for curators getting more attention than the gallery, this is something I was struggling with as a writer at Juxtapoz —I'd get a press release of events curated by XY, and this XY would be breathing on my neck making sure to mention him/her. I certainly don't have a problem give credit where it's due but there was more than once that I couldn't see how a certain project or event would be any different if XY wasn't involved. To get back to your question, I think the interconnectivity of the world makes it really easy for curators to put impressive things together and I think people feel and appreciate that. This might be the reason they get more attention, in my opinion.
Timothy Curtis and Paul Insect are some of my favorite artists, and for instance, were past cover artists so I feel like mentioning them, haha. Talk about the work in the show?
I'm so glad to have those two in the show! They are the kind of artists I don't think I could have in the first or sceond Universes. But also, both of them are schoolbook examples of Universes-type artists - you wouldn't confuse Insect's rasterized eyes painted on silhouette shapes for any other artist, just as you wouldn't confuse Curtis' scribble-like characters or objects for anyone else either. For this show, Insect painted a piece which might appear a bit less colorful than usual but I think that's photos being deceiving. The work is mostly painted in shiny silver which means that the colors of the surrounding are reflecting in it when seen in person and this is when it comes to life. Too bad I'll never experience it! As for Timothy, he painted an absolute dream of a piece with great colors, intricate marks, and lots of texture. The fact that he decided to keep it and not make it available says enough about how good it is!
When the pandemic vaccine is out, and you can go anywhere in the Universe, where are you going?
If seeing Saturn's ring from up close is an option, sign me up for that! As for trips around our little wet rock, I'll definitely head back to Croatia to see family and friends. But I'm seriously craving some Asia time! So anywhere between Japan, Hong Kong, or Korea, I'll be just fine. And if some good company happens to be there at the same time (wink!), it's a big win!
Universes 3 is on view at WOAW in Hong Kong from December 11—25, 2020