Candice Hopkins

Candice Hopkins discusses the 2023 Focus section

Photography credit Detail of Patrick Dean Hubbell, You Were Always With Us, Even When We Thought We Were Alone, 2023. Courtesy the artist, Nina Johnson, and CANDICE MADEY. Photography by Zachary Balber.

Curated by Candice Hopkins, Focus will be dedicated to solo- and dual-artist presentations that center on emergent and established voices whose work is often decidedly outside the mainstream, including those who draw on cultural connections to tether material, image, and form in unexpected ways.

The 2023 Focus section looks to artists whose works uncover hidden histories by treating history itself as malleable. What drew you to this theme, and how central a role does history play in your curatorial practice? 

I’m honored and excited to be working with The Armory Show because I feel like there are still some corrections that need to be made in the art market, and ways to address artists who've been making extraordinary work for, in some cases, many decades; artists we might consider to be working with sedimented or, in some cases, hidden histories. In many ways, they have always been at the forefront of their practices, but have had less of a foothold in the commercial market simply because they might be working in a place that might not be recognized as an ‘art world center.’ Others, because they're working with specific vernaculars—their aesthetic, political, and cultural histories—that are in need of a broader platform.

I feel like what artists bring are ways to shed light on what I call historical amnesia, and the work of native artists, particularly in the US and other settler-colonial nations, often tells the true history of their lands. Sometimes they do that through painting a narrative but, more often, at least in this year’s Focus section, through the very materiality of the work.

This theme seems to be sort of your North Star as a curator, and I know you work mainly as an independent curator, and were recently awarded the Leo Award for that work. What does it mean to be an independent curator?

I've worked independently for the majority of my career. I was really lucky to be mentored by extraordinary curators, particularly native ones, because that was what I was interested in. I was interested in how I could work alongside institutions, alternative art spaces, and artist-run centers to do exhibitions that weren't being seen anywhere else. I found I had the most agency working independently because it meant I could work with many different institutions; there was no one place to which I had to dedicate my time, and I had the flexibility to do multiple shows a year. When I started working, there were fewer templates for that, fewer people working independently, and it was a bit of a necessity because no one was hiring native curators. We all did residencies, but all those institutions never made permanent positions for any of us. We had to make our own spaces because these institutional spaces were still spaces of exclusion.

Any curator invited to the Focus section gets to bring a whole number of galleries and artists that may never have participated in a show of this scale before. I hope to give a foothold to galleries such as the Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, which has been doing this work of representing native artists for a really long time.

The section’s theme allows for a great deal of intersectionality. Has the fair’s location in New York informed any decisions about how to explore these themes?

Absolutely. I always look to influential institutions like El Museo del Barrio in New York City, a city which is inherently intersectional. I also look to the history of native galleries here: the first native-owned and run gallery was Lloyd Oxendine’s American Art, which started in the ‘60s, or Kenkeleba House, which shows Fred Wilson and David Hammons, alongside artists like Edgar Heap of Birds. These moments of intersectionality are sometimes forgotten, but this has always been embedded in the history of New York. It's just a matter of who's been the narrator of the city’s art histories; what things are published or what things remain as oral histories.

Candice Hopkins by Thatcher Keats
Any curator invited to the Focus section gets to bring a whole number of galleries and artists that may never have participated in a show of this scale before.

Have any patterns emerged in the histories you’ve recently seen artists uncovering or concerning themselves with?

The Focus section features what visitors might view as unexpected uses of materials that tell stories of techniques, tools, and innovations. There are a lot of artists working with textiles, with weaving; some artists are working with glass to talk about the impacts of nuclear testing in indigenous lands. There are people who are deliberately using materials that are ephemeral as a critique of capital, but also as a way to speak about the ways materials like paper, within our indigenous communities, are meant to have a life cycle; they're not always meant to be preserved or kept for a long time. 

Another thread that will be on view is performativity; the fact that performance art for most, if not all, communities of color isn’t just a practice that emerged in the ‘60s, but something that has been taking place since time immemorial. I think art is meant to be active. Sometimes that comes through artists who activate the work that they're working with, from the very belief that art objects aren't simply objects; they have a social life.

I love the term “activating the art” — in examining both emerging and established artists, have you found any generational differences in how these artists activate their work? How do you see these artists from different points in their career engaging with one another – what lessons are taught, what ideas are brought to the table?

There is more in common with the youngest and the eldest artists than you would expect. Eric-Paul Riege, for example, works with maternal weaving and is one of the youngest artists featured. His work stems from the idea that art objects have a social life, and I think that also something that is carried through the work of some of the oldest artists in the section, like Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, who is showing a historic painting that was included in the National Gallery of Canada’s watershed 1992 exhibition, Land Spirit Power. Those two artists have more in common than you might realize, because that’s exactly the point Lawrence Paul was making in his painting—he was pointing to the fact that the surrealist painters were borrowing very liberally, and appropriating from, native culture. Appropriation goes both ways, and when you appropriate, you can kind of take back some of that power.

This year, the curated sections of the fair are loosely linked in theme, with Eva Respini curating the Platform section and Adrienne Edwards chairing the Curatorial Leadership Summit. Has this link influenced your research in curating the section?

It has! We all spoke together, when we were first invited to do this, and mentioned wanting to work together because we felt that there are already affinities in our practices: the idea of inheritance, the idea of making a platform for lesser-known histories and, of course, our collective excitement about young artists who are creating new tactile narratives.

Photography credit Matthew Kirk, A Glimpse Into Friendly Territory, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Halsey McKay.

Candice Hopkins, a Carcross/Tagish First Nation citizen, is Director and Chief Curator of Taghkanic, New York’s Forge Project, a Native-led initiative launched in 2021 and focusing on Indigenous art, decolonial education, and supporting leaders in culture, food security, and land justice. Her writing and curatorial practice explores the intersections of history, contemporary art and indigeneity. Hopkins was Senior Curator of both the inaugural Toronto Biennial of Art, in 2019, and its second iteration, in 2022. She served as a member of the curatorial teams organizing, respectively, the Canadian Pavilion at the Fifty-Eighth Venice Biennale, in 2019, and documenta 14, in 2017. She has co-curated a number of pathbreaking group exhibitions centered on Indigenous artists, including, forIndependent Curators International, “Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts,” which has traveled to seven venues since opening in 2019; “Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now,” at Crystal Bridges Museum for American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (2018); “Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art” at the National Gallery of Canada, Ontario (2013); and the multi-venue “Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years” in Winnipeg (2009). Hopkins' essays include “The Gilded Gaze: Wealth and Economies on the Colonial Frontier,'' for the documenta 14 Reader, “Outlawed Social Life” for South as a State of Mind, and “The Appropriation Debates (or The Gallows of History)", for MIT Press. She received the 2022 Leo Award from Independent Curators International for her curatorial practice, and the 2021 Noah Davis Prize from the Underground Museum.