In Conversation with Maceo Keeling and Zeb Smith of MOCAD

Maceo Keeling is the MOCAD Curatorial Fellow, and assisted Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator Jova Lynne in curating the Dual Vision exhibition currently on view at MOCAD. Keeling is a multi-disciplinary artist, designer, and cultural producer who explores themes in society and identity through movement, language, and imagery. He is the Executive Director of Citizens of Culture, and the author of Tao of Maceo: Identity, Relationships, Work: A Journal on Living. Zeb Smith is the Director of Exhibitions and Facility Operations at MOCAD.

How did the idea for the exhibition come to be?

ZS: It really was brought to us by Kathryn Brackett Luchs, who is one of the artist-curators, she and Bob Sestok, along with an initial core group, had been working on it for quite a few years prior to them even bringing it to us. I think the idea came from her—she often does work with her husband Michael Luchs and wanted to explore how other artists might do that, either through encouragement or already doing that. 

How did you go about selecting the individual artists and pairing them off?

ZS: There was an initial cohort that was ten artists that Kathryn had paired together, and when we saw that group we thought that we wanted to include maybe some younger voices, some people who were working in different mediums, people who we knew or had interest in, or really thought they might work great together. Jova put together a list of artists that she thought we could reach out to, and we reached out to quite a few artists, and not everybody wanted to be a part of the project, either that didn’t have time or for whatever reason. We reached out to another group that was about half of the artists who are in the final show, and it was about the same number as the initial cohort that Kathryn had selected. Primarily it was people that Jova and I were aware of and had worked with.

MK: The initial grouping was Kathryn’s first chunk, and then Zeb and Jova augmented the project by bringing in more modern and younger artists, and then I came in after helping manage and coordinate.

What were the guidelines? Certain artists collaborated on an individual piece, some had multiple pieces in conversation?

That’s actually a part of the project itself, which is to say that the dual vision aspect is not only relating to the fact that there are two artists working together, but also the ambiguous nature of what it means to collaborate and what that actually means for the artists themselves. Part of the project was a conceptual aspect of finding out how they wanted to approach it, as you said. Some artists decided to work on two separate objects, others decided to collaborate. This was made more complicated by the fact that we gave so much time as a result of COVID. The museum closed and we pushed the show back, which meant that certain artists who were interested in doing a collaborative structure or having dual portrait sessions like Martha and Gisela had intended to, were then forced as a result of social distancing and the pandemic to work independently, and then actually as a result of that they had to recalibrate and reconceptualize what the whole project was to be about. And this was something that the younger artists who were more recently added had to deal with a little more, because some of the artists like Kathryn and Michael had already lived together, or Kurt and Bob had already developed a working relationship across cities. 

What possibilities do you think are offered through collaboration compared to artists working individually?

MK: Yeah well I’ll tell you what I uncovered in speaking to some of the artists, and what I witnessed as a curator for the project. One would be that it absolutely opens up an opportunity for artists to explore mediums that the other partner might be more of an expert in. For example, because you have Betty Brownlee working with her visual art, and Cristin working with her silkscreen, they could leverage off of each other the opportunity to take new risks that they wouldn’t have been able to try.

The other example is Nancy Mitchnick and John Corbin, both of them took the opportunity to push their practice and take a little risk. Usually Nancy would create more playful figurative and landscape scenes, but because of her collaboration with Corbin was pushed to explore abstraction and scientific material and so the idea of collaboration really adds to this element of mystery and exploration, and also detachment, because you have to surrender to the fact that you’re not the only one working on a project, in the same way artists might be when working alone. And that was one of the other aspects of it, simply the challenge of making art with another human being, and all of the coordination and conversations that that entails.

ZS: Yeah I thought it was interesting, I felt like some people, because of already opening up to a single collaborator, were really excited and for the first time were sort of talking to us or talking to other artists in the space installing, and realizing that the creative process, even the personal artwork they were creating, could have all these other ideas that they could filter from outside of them. And then some of the artists I thought they already felt like it was out of control, just by having to compromise with that one individual, so they were really unable to give up any other control. I think it was really interesting for the artists to see, cause once you come in and you’re working with an installation crew and curators that’s part of the relationship and process as well, and I think it was interesting seeing when artists would come in and one of them’s way of interacting with the people helping them realized the final product was so different from each other.

In closing, what are some final reflections on the exhibition? Any favorite moments or moments that surprised you?

MK: Well one thing that surprised me was looking at the space when it was installed and seeing works that felt individually and collectively somewhat coherent. I think that we had a very abstract concept, and I think one of the challenges was negotiating the placement of the works in such a way that allows each of them to stand on their own but also to be in conversation with each other within the space. I was surprised by that. I was also surprised by the level of collaboration in some of the works, that they were two artists, one interpreting another’s sketch in a metal sculpture, so the ability for the artists to abstract and interpret was very powerful. 

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