Initial Public Offering: email conversation with Miki Garcia

Hi friends,

This morning’s post contains an email interview with Executive Director and Curator of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Miki Garcia. The occasion are the exhibitions “Michele O’Marah: Video Portraits” and “Home Show, Revisited” which will be opening Saturday, May 21 at the SBCAF and at venues around Santa Barbara. “Home Show, Revisited” is a joint curatorial project of Miki Garcia and Michele O’Marah and includes the work of Piero Golia, Evan Holloway, Bettina Hubby, Florian Morlat, Kori Newkirk, Jennifer Rochlin, Ry Rocklen, Kirsten Stoltmann, Stephanie Taylor, and Jennifer West.

I have been talking with Miki Garcia and the artists involved in both exhibitions – over the remainder of this week I expect to upload images, portions of my conversations with the participants (always through the filter of my memory and shaky hand-written notes), and as much relevant information as I can get my hands on.

As you’ll find at the close of this interview with Garcia, a follow up phone conversation set with  her for this Friday leaves you hanging deliciously….. hold your breath for what comes next!


(The following is from an email dated May 8 (me, blue text) and May 10 (Miki, purple text).)


Dear Miki,

I am very much looking forward to seeing you and the show in two weeks. I have been meeting with the artists, by Friday I will have talked with each artist except for Kori Newkirk, Piero Golia, Kirsten Stoltmann and Ry Rocklen, I will catch up with them as the opportunity arises.

I am hearing truly interesting information and ideas!! If you are open to it I’d like to ask you a few questions.

While talking with Michele O’Marah about her own project we hit upon the notion of community and the several ways it can be applied to the new Home Show project and then also to O’Marah’s own practice. I shared with her my experience of your “Eating Apples in Paradise” show and our related conversations. It strikes me that questioning, re-presenting and possibly upturning ideas of “community” must be very important to you, or has become important to your curatorial practice recently. Am I getting anywhere with this line of thinking?

Miki Garcia:

Yes, absolutely. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I am the Executive Director as well as Chief Curator (of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum) and naturally my attention is focused equally on audience and reception, so this works its way into communications I have with artists.

I also think community is really an important issue in the art world–statistics show that artists are not as valued as they should be in our society – so I think the cultivation of communities is a critical component to a healthy artistic lifestyle.


I think you know how impressed I have been with your “Eating Apples in Paradise” exhibition. You managed to upturn the “community art show,” which is a mandatory part of any local art space’s schedule, by applying critique and demanding that the artists take themselves seriously not simply as artists but as practitioners whose media are ideas and culture. Yours was a completely non-condescending gesture and one that I imagine the artists appreciated, even while the process probably was difficult for them. In that show you questioned a community of artists, if you will, in a community exhibition and the very precis of the exhibition was then to question cultural assumptions about the larger community in which they all reside. Totally sweet. Just as you set the bar high for those artists, you also set the bar high for the surrounding art world to take seriously a thing they might usually politely (support but privately) mock.


Thank you for ‘getting it!’


For Home Show you are inviting artists from one community –  and a community in whose cultural shadow the locale of the show lies – into the home region of the gallery, and in fact into some of the homes within that community.

A couple of things come to mind:

While the LA artists may not all think of themselves as belonging in a relational group, because they are all at an equal distance from Santa Barbara it is easy for the Santa Barbarans to see them as a “group.” How does this forcing or enforcement of community fit in your ideas?


Well, using Michele as the nucleus of the project, this exhibition takes a group of artists working in Los Angeles at the turn of the century–it will be a portrait of an LA artist community, looking at the formal and sociological practices manifesting on the west coast today.


Of course the home owners are equally unrelated, so in fact it might be stated that you are inviting 10 home owners to host 10 artists, with a possibility for no other connection to be imposed on them. But we do things like this putting people in boxes of identity. We need to!  Talking with Bettina Hubby she offered the an insight that when recently she was visiting another town, one where “They all wore Patagonia” she felt out of place (was actively differenced?) because, although her clothing qualified as day wear casual, tilting toward professional, in the context it was just odd. Her insight is that the larger group were discomfited by her difference and when she reached out to them, beyond the wall of her difference, the Patagonians cheered up and presented happy faces to her – all it took was for her to show an interest in them.

This might seem like two unrelated subjects, what I am thinking is that within their own communities each of these artists and home owners may indeed be “odd ducks,” but in the context of greater geography or vaster difference they become more the same and the “other” group takes the role of, well, “other.”


Yes, there certainly a cynicism of outsiders here in Santa Barbara and particularly with “big city” folks from LA and/or New York. However, the structure of this exhibition has been set up to circumvent the inside/outside paradigm–in that they are working with a Santa Barbara-based organization, working with local home owners, and have had several trips and opportunities to form real relationships with all the Santa Barbara people involved in this project – homeowners, volunteers, print makers, other artists, etc.

It (Home Show, Revisited) becomes a true community-wide effort.


How does “Home Show, Revisited” offer interpretations of difference within the several groups in this show AND difference btwn the groups?

I am thinking about the past Home Show’s and thinking that one crux of their investigations can be termed “an institutional critique of the domestic space.” In this new show I am finding a different sort of relation to the home as a site of cultural power – it seems these artists today are seeking ways for their work to exist in relation with the homes that perhaps comes from a presumption of equality, that perhaps these artists do not need to question or debunk these homes. Can you talk about this a bit? Also, if you find one or several strains of investigation going on between artistic practice and domestic life can you share your insight with me?


Well, the initial “Home Show” in the 1980s was part of its time for sure – an exhibition taking place amid new genre public art discourse and emergent issues regarding site-specificity. Both of these are now pretty standard practices in 2011.

The more interesting impetus for this show was to ask artists to think about the notion of home ownership particularly in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, but also in a generation that is questioning the myth of owning property. …. it is also about gently asking who gets to live where –  under what conditions and why?


How do you see this Home Show in context with the others? What sort of continuation of this program do you have in mind?

Anecdotally, I am finding that the Santa Barbara participants who own the homes are a bit more conservative than twenty years ago. I suppose this is to be expected, as this conservative shift is reflected so starkly in our larger culture. It is funny to find it in a thing so… open and seeming off to the side of that sort of quotidian political consciousness as art.

Thinking about my comments on “Eating Apples” and also the information I am gathering on the Home Show, can you talk a bit about your own practice and if you see a path of interest developing? As you look back on a decade or more of professional curatorial practice, what roads have you traveled with your shows? Can you talk about your work in this way? Do you see trends after the fact, are you perhaps more premeditated and have planned out some of your paths of ongoing inquiry in advance?


This will take a whole day! Can we do this one on the phone?!


I want to discuss a possibly charged or personal or simply impolite thought I had while thinking about “Eating Apples…” and am considering again. At this point I wish I were in SB and talking with you rather than emailing.

You grew up near the US /  Mexico border in Texas. And you are of Hispanic descent. I suspect, from things I have been told by friends from other parts of my life than the art world, that this is not the most felicitous place for someone of Latino descent to grow up. I have heard many of the stereotypes of Texans and I imagine some of them are true – I know similar stereotypes are true of people in LA, too.

This background might give you an interest in questioning community.

You also must have worked and studied your proverbial butt off, because you had a pretty stellar academic career and then went off to all the glamorous and intellectually serious places in our country to practice.

Perhaps you can see why “Eating Apples…” brought this to my mind, I would say that Kimberly Hahn’s project “Bloodlines” moved me greatly and one of the several impulses I had was to ask you about it.

Having said all that, would you mind sharing with me any thoughts you might have? I see you working very hard in your curatorial practice to bring people together. The tools you use are cultural investigation and contemporary art. The projects seems not only to bring them together, but to do it with a sense of honesty and to come from a place that imposes intellectual rigor and that requires an investment of personal time and human emotion–relative to both artist and audience. This works into my thought that the critique has changed (perhaps you are helping to changing it?): rather than presume an opposition, which might require also condescension on somebody’s part, you seem to be making a case that… we are all here, together, these are the terms we have and this is the world. “Take your tools, work together and show what you find.”


I really appreciate that question Geoff. I think that sometimes people think that bringing up my heritage is something I would bristle at and that I should “be treated as everyone else” or something. On the contrary, where I come from and what my experience and lenses are are extremely relevant.

Yes, it struck me immediately that there are lines (visible and not) demarcating color and difference in Santa Barbara, that diversity was lacking, that those in power tended to look the same. I recognize those perhaps I am outside of those contexts and so the difference my be more evident to me. Certainly in my own work, I am bringing a political/cultural position–however that is not meant to be judgmental, combative or angry – my work comes from a position of questioning, hybridity, community and I am particularly interested in how artists are especially savvy and sophisticated in addressing these issues – not from a linguistic place but from a visual and expressive place. …..I hope I am making sense!!


I always, always go long. Thanks in advance!



All images are from July, 2010 artist’s visit to volunteer homes in the Santa Barbara area and are courtesy of Miki Garcia, the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, the artists and the home owners. Individuals in the pictures are not named because I am not able to name them all. It feels awkward to do a half way job. If I gather information I will certainly let you know.

More CAF posting, including studio visits with the artists, some Home Show history, fun linkage, photos galore PLUS Michele O’Marah “From A to B and back again” coming next. (Yes my friends, similar to our friend Andy, O’Marah fits right into the space btwn two letters. And Michele makes the decor and furnishings, too! Powerful good stuff.)


CAF Part 1: Michele O’Marah – Video Portraits

CAF Part 2: Conversation with curator Miki Garcia

CAF Part 3: The Home Show in general – 1988, 1996

CAF Part 4: Florian Morlat – A Monument for the Dovers

CAF Part 5: Bettina Hubby for Home Show, Revisited

CAF Part 6: Jennifer West at Andy Perry’s house

CAF Part 7: Jennifer Rochlin for Home Show, Revisited

CAF Part 8: Evan Holloway: Art History = Successful Products + Time (a smorgasbord)

CAF Part 9: “Home Show” again

CAF Part 10: “One More Time For Home Show 1988

1 Comment

  1. It’s really wonderful to hear that my artwork affected you deeply Geoff. Thanks for sharing it’s impact.

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