Laura Samuel Meyn 2017-08-30 00:25:01
CoolCalmCollected Her first job evolved into her dream job. Beyond having a keen eye, the curator for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth has vision. Andrea Karnes is on the move. Literally and figuratively. The first time we try to connect, she’s in a cab in NewY ork City, on her way to support photographer and filmmaker Laurie Simmons, who is speaking on a panel at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Back home a week later, the curator for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is pushing forward planning for Simmons’ solo show, scheduled at the Modern in late 2018 — while simultaneously putting the finishing touches on photographer Misty Keasler’s “Haunt” exhibition, opening later this month. It’s a typical whirlwind pace for Karnes, who recently was promoted to head the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth’s curatorial department following the retirement of Michael Auping. The promotion comes a remarkable 28 years after Karnes took her first job as receptionist at the Modern’s front desk in 1989. Working her way up from there — she went on to become research assistant, then registrar — she reached the top of her department as curator this summer. Karnes’ job has long required her to stay up to the minute on the international contemporary arts scene, which she does through sharp instincts, extensive reading and plenty of travel to places like New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Venice. She’s an intrepid exhibitiongoer and personally visits artist studios in search of work that’s just the right mix of engaging and challenging. As a curator, Karnes oversees exhibitions from concept to borrowing artwork to writing the catalog to designing its layout; it’s a process that can average about three years from start to finish. Last year’s KAWS show, organized by Karnes, broke museum attendance records before moving on to Shanghai. In late 2013, her “México Inside Out” touched a nerve. “I still get emails from people in the community telling me, ‘I’m a first-generation American, I saw it with my parents, it meant so much to us.’” During her time at the museum, she married Quincy Holloway; the couple welcomed two children, now 14 and 12; and the family built a house in Mistletoe Heights. Tending to lean more modern in style, Karnes and Holloway adopted some traditional elements that felt comfortably at home in the historic Fort Worth neighborhood, including front and back porches where they love to hang out. When she’s not traveling or working, Karnes’ pastimes are lowkey — having friends over, walking the family dogs and trying to stay awake long enough to watch a movie. Karnes’ interest in art stirred early on. As a child, the Fort Worth native frequently visited the Modern. But it was a trip to Europe with her mother at the age of 12 and then a stint studying in Holland that cemented her desire to have a career in art, not creating it but instead illuminating it. An art history degree from UNT was the first step. After graduation, Karnes landed that entry-level job at the Modern, which would be an education in itself. Drawn to the curating side, Karnes worked her way up rung by rung. Along the way, with encouragement from Auping and museum director Marla Price, she earned her graduate degree in art history from TCU. When Karnes worked as the museum registrar some 15 years ago, she drew the attention of longtime Modern board member Judy Rosenblum, who has followed her career ever since, noting that the curator’s “amazing instincts” have always set her apart. In fact, Rosenblum began to worry (for the museum) that Karnes’ blockbuster shows — which Rosenblum describes as “both challenging and accessible, fun and serious” — would lead to a position elsewhere. “As I watched her choices of rising artists, I was impressed by the works she presented and also by the insightfulness she demonstrated in identifying rising stars and putting them in the context of their peers and their masters,” says Rosenblum. “Before they were widely known on the international art scene, she created small ‘Focus’ shows for our museum, which presented diverse works of Kehinde Wiley, Barnaby Furnas, Teresita Fernández, RongRong & inri, Yinka Shonibare and KAWS.” Andrea Karnes Showtime Last summer’s blockbuster KAWS exhibit broke museum records. Karnes first introduced the artist locally through a 2011 “Focus” show, a series that spotlights lesser-known artists. A more recent Karnes’ “Focus” show included RongRong & inri. The married couple have helped shaped contemporary art photography in their home country of China and around Image courtesy of the Modern Art the world. Andrea Karnes Showtime Her “Mexico Inside Out” exhibit in 2013 touched multiple generations and was one of the most ambitious shows at the Modern. In the spring of 2015, Karnes brought in Kehinde Wiley and his large-scale canvases that are modern riffs on Old Masters paintings. CoolCalmCollected Karnes’ next effort is “Haunt” from Dallas-based photographer Misty Keasler. It looks at more than a dozen haunted houses across the country in beautifully saturated color. In spite of the fact that she’s terrified of haunted houses, Karnes felt drawn to the images. “The works are formally perfect: color, composition, the way they’re printed, everything about them,” Karnes says. “They’re conceptually deep, too; I’m attracted to the coupling of that, the formal adeptness and how she thinks about what she’s doing.” With haunted houses, reactions typically come from the element of surprise, so Karnes says that Keasler was initially concerned that the medium of photography, which not only allows for lingering looks but also is stripped of sound and smell, might demystify the experience too much. “When you’re in a haunted house, you’re on this forced path through the dark; this is a look you’d never have as a ticket-holding visitor,” says Karnes. “What it does is make them really scary in a different way. It’s interesting to think about whose fantasy it is, what people will pay to experience safe fear, and why they’ll pay for it. To me it says a lot culturally. The themes are developed down to the nittygritty — old perfume bottles, blood splatters. They’re chilling.” While the work is just about finished for “Haunt” — the essays written, the catalog going to press, the works framed — Karnes has one more challenge on the horizon: visiting a haunted house. “Misty’s husband and my husband are saying we’re going to do that together this fall,” she says, just a bit dubiously. In the meantime, Karnes is easing into her promotion, continuing to collaborate with associate curator Alison Hearst and also considering bringing new curatorial voices into the fold. “In any period, what’s happening with art is tied into that moment. I like figuring out that puzzle,” she says. “I find working with artists and organizing exhibitions exciting, even exhilarating.” THE DETAILS Misty Keasler: Haunt, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth The exhibition, curated by Andrea Karnes, includes 40 images of 13 American haunted houses, plus portraits of more than a dozen of the actors within. Sept. 23-Nov. 26. Admission, $4-$10 (half-price on Wednesdays, free on Sundays). 3200 Darnell St., Fort Worth, 817-738-9215, themodern.org.
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