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A Word With the 23-Year-Old Curator of ’93 Til Infinity,’ Closing Tonight - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


A Word With the 23-Year-Old Curator of ’93 Til Infinity,’ Closing Tonight


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Photo on 2012-05-31 at 18.11 #3(3)Clayton Patterson Jessie Mac

At 23, Jessie Mac is one of New York’s youngest curators. Tonight at 9 p.m., her third show at Gathering of the Tribes, “’93 Til Infinity,” closes with a party featuring a screening of “Captured,” the 2008 documentary about photographer, curator, and local historian Clayton Patterson. The exhibition features Mr. Patterson’s early-90s photos of the Lower East Side amid floor-to-ceiling graffiti work by Mint&Serf of the Peter Pan Posse art collective. Ms. Mac spoke with The Local about working with Steve Cannon, the founder of Tribes who is fighting to hold onto the space.

Q.

How did you wind up as curator of Tribes?

A.

I started working at Tribes a year ago as an intern when I met Steve Cannon. We cut a deal: if he taught me to curate I would dedicate my time to Tribes. It’s a non-profit so Steve is always in need of an extra hand. I never thought a blind man would be my artistic mentor, but I honestly would not be a curator without him. He taught me everything I know in the New York art scene. When people ask how he feels about not knowing what’s on the walls in his own space he says I’m his eyes. But I would have no direction without him.

gatheringClayton Patterson Gallery goers pose with a Clayton Patterson photo.
Q.

At 23 you are one of the youngest curators downtown. Is there added pressure to produce or does your youth allow you to work with less expectations – or both?

A.

Tribes gallery is very different from other spaces. Foremost, we have a seasoned veteran sleeping on the couch greeting attendees upon arrival with Georgi in hand; so off the bat it’s a non-conventional space that breeds non-conventional exhibitions. Steve allows me to go ahead with any ideas I have. This really takes the pressure off. I know without Steve I would not have the opportunity to curate at such a young age. So there is pressure to prove myself, but I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t from experience.

Q.

What is the genesis of the current show?

A.

The streets of L.E.S. when you were too afraid to walk them – when art was created as an escape from disaster rather than an entrance into Chelsea. The way things were before Steve was getting run out of his building. Clayton has documented the Lower East Side for as long as Steve has had Tribes. And all these graffiti writers are what’s left of it. I wanted to bring all of the aspects of classic L.E.S. into one room. There were a lot of underground legends at the opening, including Steve and Clayton themselves – all hanging out in one historical space. This aspect of the city is being run out. It’s important to hold on to what’s left. This is what Clayton does every day with his camera, and this is what we did with the show. It was classic and that’s what we hoped for.

gathering2Clayton Patterson Clayton Patterson
Q.

Do you plan to go into curation as a career now that you’ve graduated?

A.

I graduated for philosophy. Every show I do I like to focus on one theory or concept and make the show experiential rather than just an outlet for selling an artist’s work. I would like to take that a step further; continue curating, but go into an outsider-art direction. Schizophrenic art, prison art … or no art at all.

Q.

You went through a dark period recently. Can you explain the pathos of that moment and how you came out of it? Did it help or hurt your creativity?

A.

This scene cultivates a lot of whiz minds and artistic innovators, all of whom acknowledge that this potential is pretty meaningless in 2012. As Clayton said to me most everyone at the opening was a living legend, but also on the wanted list. There’s a fine line between the two, and most creative people are walking it. It’s opportunities like these that remind us we’re doing the right thing, and that keeps us sane. Clayton, PPP, and Steve Cannon – they all keep it real. They are what make NYC the place to move to. People want to become a part of this dynamic while the OGs and creators are being evicted or getting arrested. This paradox is defeating. But we’ll all keep doing what we do.