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Published July 10, 2023

Innovative Curation in the Digital Age: In Conversation with Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle

By Helena Haimes

Helena Haimes is an art writer, critic and editor, originally from the UK but now based in Brooklyn, NY. She's written reviews and features for The Brooklyn Rail, Flaunt Magazine, MAP Magazine and Temporary Art Review, among many others.

Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle is Senior Director of Sales and Global Head of Online at Pace Gallery. Before joining Pace in 2021, she was Senior Director at New York City gallery Canada, where she developed the gallery’s first online viewing room and virtual performance platform.

Christiana and I talked about her curatorial practice and its influence on her other professional roles, where she sees online viewing rooms fitting post-pandemic, as well as her tempered optimism about the future of NFTs. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Installation images of Black Femme: Sovereign of WAP and the Virtual Realm. Courtesy the artists and Canada. Photo: Joe DeNardo.

I know you've curated at least two shows that reflect on bodily autonomy and agency – Convergent Evolutions: The Conscious of Body Work at Pace and Black Femme: Sovereign of WAP and the Virtual Realm at Canada. Are those still subjects that you think are pertinent? Are you still interested in them?

CIKB: Absolutely. I find that specifically with the exhibitions that I've worked on in the past, a lot of the way in which I'm thinking about and seeing art is heavily affected by the way I feel within a space. I think that as a black woman, I'm hyper-aware of my own physical existence and anatomy and how that's perceived.

Also, in terms of thinking outwardly beyond race, our return to a physical (as opposed to a virtual) existence after the pandemic has changed the ways in which we experience art as well. Aesthetics has been so digitized, and that’s had a strong influence on the ways in which so many of us now are perceiving art IRL.

It’s fascinating to think about how the digital space is impacting and inhabiting artists’ practices, rather than the other way around. That links to my next question about online viewing rooms (OVRs): are they still present and valuable post-pandemic, do you think? Are people still making use of them?

CIKB: This question is perfectly timed because this is a current conversation that we're having internally at Pace: how we want to be utilizing online as a tool, what shifts need to take place as we move into a post-pandemic era.

In many ways they still do definitely serve a purpose. Even when we were all still locked in our houses, I felt this was an opportunity for us to piece together a fresh approach to programming, to make exhibitions that would be more likely to be overlooked within a white cube and not be fully analyzed as they deserve to be.

I've always seen online viewing rooms as this mode for expression that can't necessarily be achieved in a physical realm. Of course we’ve programmed some viewing rooms that were intended to be in concert with physical exhibitions, but it has also been really nice to do deep dives into artist practices in a way which I think can
easily be overlooked when you're making conventional exhibitions that focus on a single body of work and then you move on.

The perfect example of that is a Fred Wilson OVR that I curated a couple of months ago; it thoroughly explored the archival side of his practice, which is so fundamental to his work. He uses the archive as a medium in its own right, re-presenting museum archives, for example, to expose hidden, systemic structures, biases and power relations. His work in archives is crucial to the way he navigates his entire practice, but I don't necessarily think within a physical exhibition that could be heavily emphasized, because we tend to be so focused on the object.

So the Wilson online viewing room reveled in its supposed limitations, in its own ‘online-ness’, if you like. Is that the direction you see OVRs going, in that case?

CIKB: I do. I guess I'm trying to reduct this as much as possible! A successful OVR shifts the focus away from the object and towards the conceptual identities of an artist's practice, and that's what OVRs really should be utilized to do.

I understand people can argue that this really comes down to just another tool of capitalism, another means to make a sale. But I do think that there's a very clever way of being able to develop online programming that benefits artists; a way in which the viewing public are learning about their practice in a way that they're simply not able to in a white cube. For me, that sums up what successful online programming is: it's got to have added value for the artist as well as for the viewer.

As well as a deep interest in internet and post-internet art and exhibitions, your role at Pace also involves digital strategy, curation, sales and liaising with artists. Can you talk a little about your professional trajectory? How did you get your start in the art world, and what led to your current, incredibly multifaceted position?

CIKB: I can honestly say that I'm very happy to have a role that is not homogenous in any way.

My curatorial practice is something that's particularly important to me, but what attracted me to become a dealer (given that wasn’t the goal when I first started out) was the fact that you can have a hand in everything. As long as you’re agile and nimble, you can play all these different positions. My curatorial practice heavily informs the way I am as a dealer, the way in which I have turned to online in terms of certain decisions I make. I like to constantly refer back to it because I just think it's such an important part of my interest that bleeds into my other jobs at the gallery.

Installation image of Convergent Evolutions. Courtesy of the artists and Pace Gallery. Photo: Kyle Knodell and Jonathan Nesteruk.

That’s refreshing to hear: in my experience, the art world can be pretty unimaginative and often arbitrary when it comes to job titles. A ‘curator’ or ‘director’ at one institution could purely be organizing exhibitions, whereas at another they might also be heavily involved in everything from artist liaison to online presentations to programming video installations! It seems to me that your multiple titles are simply honest!

CIKB: I’ve always strived to be multifaceted and pragmatic since starting out in the art world. To give you a backstory in terms of my professional history: I started on the institutional side. I was an intern and docent at the American Folk Art Museum when I was around 14 or 15. I found I really liked working in museums; following that I was a docent at the Met for two years. But it wasn't until college that I got a dose of the commercial side of the industry, and that was really because when I told my parents I was going to study art history, they said: “Please study business!” As part of my business degree I undertook an internship within a commercial space, and that's how I started working at galleries. I started at Gagosian, working first in Larry Gagosian's office and then also with a dealer named Sean Arp.

After that I had my first real job, which was a gallery manager position at Loretta Howard Gallery. She's a private dealer that used to work with Andre Emrick. Then that shifted into working at Lehmann Maupin, I was an assistant partner there. After that I went to a small, mid-tier gallery named Canada and I was there for about two years; I started as a director, then was promoted to senior director.

Then came the pandemic, which changed a lot for me as it did for many people. Throughout my career, I'd always had an interest in online as it relates to art making and exhibiting. I think that’s largely down to being the age I am -as a kid I grew up in the midst of the internet age. I was always very intrigued by mixed media artists, specifically those that are now referred to as post-internet. I think that existing interest was really galvanized during the pandemic. Working at Canada was very scary at the time. Costs were really tight. Of course, we were not physically open and everyone gravitated towards organizing online exhibitions. I’m sure I could have pushed for us to just sign on with a database provider, but I decided to create our online platform myself.

You say that very casually, but that’s quite the undertaking! No sourdough baking for you, I guess…

CIKB: I had a lot of time on my hands. I was just home. I knew basic HTML from, again, just being an internet kid. I watched some YouTube tutorials and taught myself how to code, built a website and started doing online shows. Looking back, it was definitely insane that I did that, but again, it was just a matter of doing what was necessary in that situation.

Screenshots from "Vaya Con Dios" online viewing room by Katherine Bernhardt. Courtesy of Canada New York.

The height of Covid was an incredibly precarious time for so many in the art world, especially not being at all sure when it was going to end. So I can very much understand that sink or swim impulse…

CIKB: Canada's such a special place too, and that fondness for the gallery meant I steered it from a more personal place. That was a huge part of my impetus to craft the gallery’s online presence at the time. I started out curating online exhibitions and programming that weren’t even really in concert with what our physical program was supposed to be. It was more inspired by just what I found to be interesting. I was having all these conversations with artists who were at home or their studios: Katherine Bernhardt was stuck in Guatemala for some time, and that's how one of her online viewing rooms came into existence. Katherine Bradford was stuck in Maine; hers was the second online exhibition I put together, and it was reviewed in the New Yorker. I believe Mark Glimcher saw that piece, which led to the creation of my job at Pace and me ending up here, so it paid off!

We first met when I was writing a piece on Kylie Manning, who I understand you brought into Pace’s stable. You’ve been working together for a few years, and she recently completed a critically acclaimed collaboration with Christopher Wheeldon for the New York City Ballet. Do you have equally fruitful relationships with other artists?

CIKB: Yes, Kylie’s set and costume designs were really the ‘ultimate artist statement’ as we call it! I definitely have very similar relationships with other artists, but the interesting thing is they're not represented by Pace. I think something that I've been really grateful and thankful for at Pace is the ability to support artists in that capacity. I'm still in constant communication with and supportive of many of the artists that I curated in Convergent Evolutions and Black Femme: if I can bring in work to sell, I make sure I do that. I advise them and do my best in every way to maintain some form of a relationship. A lot of them are my friends and I want to see them do really well and excel, whether they're at Pace or not.

Installation images of Convergent Evolutions. Courtesy of the artists and Pace Gallery. Photo: Kyle Knodell and Jonathan Nesteruk.

As one of the forces behind Pace Verso – the gallery’s platform for minting, exhibiting and collecting NFTs – can you offer any words of wisdom on where you think NFT making, exhibiting and collecting are heading? The 2022 crypto crash certainly shook things up, didn’t it?

CIKB: Quite frankly, financially it was a nightmare! At the same time, I honestly think it was really necessary and needed. I've said it from the beginning and I'll say it now: there needed to be a forest clearing, a ‘burning’ of sorts. There was so much noise in that space; a lot of the projects and art that were fueling the extraordinary financial gains had nothing to do with real art, and I'm very happy that those have been jettisoned. I think that the real focus should be the work that artists are creating and how they're utilizing this technology to actualize ideas that they weren't able to create within a white cube.

We're getting back to the bare bones of it as a medium, right?

CIKB: Exactly. I have to emphasize Pace Verso is powered by a team of women. I was heavily involved with ideation of Verso’s launch and development, though recently a growing office and responsibilities have drawn me away. I can say that the team has made a lot of great strategic choices recently: notably a partnership with Art Blocks, specifically focusing on generative art, which I think has been so fantastic in terms of its contributions to our artists’ practices, enabling them to really play with certain concepts and ideas.

I feel like Tare Donovan and John Gerard are really good examples of that. For me, I’m excited that we’re now in a moment where people can’t focus on NFTs’ financial game side, but simply on creating very, very good work. Ultimately, that should give those works a backbone and a longevity that was potentially lacking before. There’s also room now for academic conversations, to cultivate a level of criticality that was previously missing, and for more curators to enter the space. It’s actually a really good time to be focusing attention on it, quite frankly, because it's in its most honest form right now.

I think what you're saying about NFTs could also be said about contemporary painting or sculpture. Artists working in those media today are inevitably building on a lineage, entering into a dialogue with art of the past as well as their peers…

CIKB: Something else about the space that I think is so interesting is the way in which it's been ‘othered’. I really love when artists are able to pull it back into a realm of making an NFT feel just an extension of IRL. An artist that I feel does this really well is Lans King; he’s currently working on a project called Cyborg Manifesto, which has both an NFT and a performance component. He also makes paintings, which he digitizes and adds video elements to.
Artists that are working like that I feel are so important to nurture and support. They're very canny in terms of the way in which they utilize blockchain technology to support their practice.

You are actually making me really excited about NFTs again. Thank you! At the start of 2022, personally I’d reached critical mass with all the hype and money surrounding NFTs. Often it felt as if the quality of the artworks themselves was of secondary importance. Then it all crashed and I thought, I'm going to ignore that space for a while, because it had all felt so gimmicky and overwhelming.

This is a broad brush question, but what do you think makes for an NFT work that will stand the test of time, especially as far as collectors are concerned?

CIKB: Of course at this core and center of it is some form of utility. Can the NFT actually be utilized in some form outside of its existence as a technological object that exists on the blockchain? Is it also contributing in some way to the progression of the space in some form? You can trace the timeline of generative art back to artists working with early computer technology in the 1960s right up to the present day. As long as you're within some form of a timeline and contributing, I feel like that is what makes an NFT worth its salt.

Also, how is it contributing to the conversation within the space? How is it in some way developing community, because that's also at the core of it, right? A huge reason people gravitated towards PFPs so much is because they supported the idea of community.

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