On the heels of Professor Craig Drennen’s New York exhibition, “Mistress, Merchant and T” at Freight & Volume (a ‘Best of 2022’ pick on Dialogues: The David Zwirner Podcast), the Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design faculty member returned to New York to curate. Paula Crown’s #solotogether exhibition, curated by Drennen, opened this March at Manhattan’s landmark, Rockefeller Center. The two-part exhibition is part of Rockefeller Center’s public art program that showcases some of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists.
The newly-built Rink Level Gallery at Rockefeller Center showcases a breadth of work by Crown which extensively investigates the familiar crushed solo cup through a dynamic cast sculpture floor installation, a new suite of photographs, newly-recorded audio work and a site-specific wall piece. The exhibition invites visitors to experience the depth of Crown’s artistic meditations on this everyday object which has become iconic to her practice.
In addition to teaching at Georgia State and keeping up with his robust art practice, Drennen has curated numerous exhibitions across Atlanta. He also founded and oversees the curatorial program at The END Project: Space, a non-profit exhibition space, founded in 2019, in southwest Atlanta committed to the presentation of new artists with an emphasis on first solo exhibitions. Drennen shares his thoughts on working with Crown, the #solotogethjer project and provides his point of view as both artist and curator.
College of the Arts (COTA): You are an accomplished practicing artist, but you’ve also invested time curating exhibitions and working with artists. How did the Paula Crown #solotogether curation come about, and how does this stand out from other curatorial projects?
Craig Drennen: I like the artist/curator model, and some of my favorite recent exhibitions have been curated by artists—such as the exhibition that Amy Sillman curated at MoMA. For me, I consider curation to be just another part of the studio practice. I received the invitation to curate the Paula Crown exhibition at the end of 2022 when I was in NYC for my exhibition that opened at Freight & Volume. That’s when I did the first site visit at Rockefeller Center. I have been a fan of Crown’s work for a long time, so it was easy to say ‘yes.’ Four of the five iterations of her work on display are brand new and are being shown for the first time in this exhibition, so that was definitely an exciting challenge to embrace.
COTA: Can you touch upon the collaborative effort of working with Paula Crown with the Rockefeller Center organization?
CD: Any exhibition project is always a group effort. Crown was very generous with her time and was very open to my curatorial approach. We wanted to focus on her works related to disposable cups because disposable cups were invented in the early 20th century during the influenza pandemic. It felt timely to showcase this work at the end of another grueling pandemic. The crew at Rockefeller Center was fantastic to work with, and it’s always a great gift to work with committed professionals. We built out a brand-new gallery space at the rink level, so that a lot of work could go into this exhibition.
COTA: Would you recommend artists to curate exhibitions? And if so, what might be a key benefit of the curatorial experience?
CD: I strongly recommend artists to curate exhibitions. I was in New York City in the 1990s when so many great venues were run by artists: Momenta and Pierogi in Brooklyn or Lisa Spellman at 303 Gallery. Curating an exhibition forces artists to get out of their own heads to explore another artist’s creative universe. In my case, it’s been very useful to get to know Paula Crown’s work on a deeper level.
Paula Crown #solotogether at Rockefeller Center (New York City) is on view through May 21, 2023 — free and open to the public.