The Unconventional Curator
For South African-born contemporary art curator and writer Claire Breukel, art is inherently political. Having witnessed the injustices of Apartheid first-hand—coupled with an interest in the emotional power of art from a young age—Breukel is concerned with gathering, supporting and nurturing artists whose work ruptures social norms and invents new paradigms for social interaction.
In 2002, she co-curated the Cape Town Month of Photography biennale and in 2003 and 2004 the Brett Kebble Art Awards, South Africa. She was then introduced to Miami through the Rubell Family Collection where she took the position of Executive Director at Locust Projects, a renowned alternative non-profit. Since then she’s curated exhibitions in cities all over the world, including New York, Prague, and Vienna. Now, she brings her unique worldview to Miami and San Salvador where she is the Director and Chief Curator of Y.ES and Curator of the Unscripted art program for the city of Bal Harbour.
Below Breukel shares her insight into the “emerging” contemporary art scene in Miami, and more.
Do you remember your first profound experience with an artwork?
When I was 5-years-old a Belgian family moved in next door to our house. The father, Jan Vermeiren, was a renowned painter. I would spend hours playing with his two children and I would see him painting in his studio. A large canvas by him hung in their living room. It was an image of a stylized naked woman riding a bull in deep royal blue, brown and oxide red. I would stare at it for hours wandering who this mystical character was. When I asked him he explained to me the image had come to him in a dream. I believe it was then that I basically understood the value of the intangible and the validity of the ephemeral in fueling creative ideas. It was also then that I understood the power of art to stir deep emotions beyond the rational and the lucid.
When did you realize being a curator was for you? What is the driving force behind your curatorial work?
I landed the job of co-curating the Cape Town Month of Photography when I was only 21, so in a sense curating found me. One project led to another and I soon realized that facilitating an artists project to be realized to its full potential was both necessary and rewarding. There are so many roadblocks in an artist’s way, including lack of support, institutional restrictiveness, pressure to continually make work that sells which results in little room for necessary creative experimentation, among others. Helping to smooth the way for big ideas to come to fruition, and for artists to receive the necessary support and respect in order to do so, is what drives my practice.
You currently live and work between Miami and San Salvador? Can you describe how and why these cities inform your work?
I was born in South Africa and grew up during Apartheid as well as during its thankful end, which is perhaps why I believe so strongly that art is inherently political. Many contemporary artists in El Salvador make work that draws on the everyday for inspiration whether it’s using found objects as creative materials, performing in public spaces, or even using human bones bought at the street market as part of an installation. The work is connected to the reality of living in a complex society, and the artists often reflect and react to this through direct expression, satire and humor. I feel a deep connection with this multifaceted approach. Miami is a rapidly growing city full of possibility, and I believe this provides the ideal environment in which to rethink ways to show artwork by “emerging” contemporary artists outside traditional approaches to art. In some ways these two cities work hand in hand.
Can you describe your dream day in Miami?
Panther coffee and the New York Times before heading to bootcamp. A motorbike ride over the MacArthur causeway to PAMM for brunch at Verde overlooking the surreal movement of cruise-ships in the bay before heading upstairs for an art fix…which continues to MDC Museum at the Freedom Tower and gallery hopping to Michael Jon, Diet, VersaceVersaceVersace, Fred Snitzer, Alejandra von Hartz, The Screening Room, Locust Projects, among others. Back to Miami Beach for a cocktail with friends at Sweet Liberty followed by a delicious dinner at Talde at the Thompson Hotel—I’m obsessed with the Chow Fun noodles and Lychee martinis! A nightcap at the Regent bar with live jazz makes for a perfect end.
Do you have any projects coming up in early 2016 that you can share with us?
I currently work on two projects. For Y.ES, an initiative of the Robert S. Wennett and Mario Cader-Frech Foundation, we have launched a call to art professionals inviting them to visit and experience El Salvador for a full travel expenses paid week in September 2016 (deadline is May 15 to apply!). These trips are truly rewarding for visitors, artists and staff alike. As part of the Unscripted art program for the city of Bal Harbour, we have a number of exciting plans including a trip to The Armory Show in New York, a private visit to Judge Amy Dean and Alan Kluger’s home and a public talk with the talented Teresita Fernandez and PAMM director Franklin Sirmans, and more.