An Interview with Paola Santoscoy

By: Leanne Goebel Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Nature of Things Paola Santoscoy When Paola Santoscoy met Adam Lerner in autumn, 2008, she had no idea that the encounter would lead her to Denver as curator of the Biennial of the Americas. At the time, she was a student in the Curatorial Practice MA program at the California College of the Arts. Lerner was still the director of the LAB at Belmar. They talked about the artist Melanie Smith with whom both had worked. Lerner then invited Santoscoy to participate in “B+ (Very Good) Explanations: An Old Fashioned Smackdown” at MCA/Denver in October, 2009. This was an event that pitted Lerner against other curators in a discussion about some of the world's most "difficult" contemporary art. A month later, Lerner sent “Punchin’ Paola’s” vitae to the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and Santoscoy had one weekend to decide whether or not to take on the enormous task of curating an international art biennial in less than six months.

Santoscoy accepted, and her exhibit, “The Nature of Things” opened on July 1st at the 28,000 square foot McNichols Building in Civic Center Park. The building itself compelled her to oversee the exhibition. “It’s not a white cube, but a historic building in the process and stages of renovation. I thought it was a very generous space with the potential to do specific things and was a good platform to create something in terms of an exhibition project,” said Santoscoy as we sipped coffee in the Highlands neighborhood, where she is living temporarily while in Denver. Santoscoy’s talent is seen when she engages available space and artwork. She envisions an exhibit that is about curiosity and subverting the viewer’s reality.

Santoscoy is utilizing her previous experience to bring together the exhibit on such short notice. The 35-year-old has been working with artists since college and her experience includes directing two museums, a non-profit art space, and an independent art organization. But she’s found herself drawing more on the independent project experiences to help her with the Biennial. "The independent projects are put together very quickly and intuitively. And it is what it is." She invited artists, designers and architects with whom she was already familiar, and the show, she says, “self-generated.” Many of the artworks needed a counterpart or complement, a point of departure that would lead her to another artist. Some of the more ambitious projects and concepts could not be completed in the limited time frame, so another artist’s project was selected instead. In total, 24 artists participated in the exhibit; most are producing new work, something Santoscoy preferred over re-exhibiting existing projects. “The artist’s are amazing,” she added. “They really wanted to do something and they know the situation and the time frame.”

“The moment it started coming together is when the artists’ voices started entering the scene. It’s their voices, criticisms, and ideas that really made the project stronger,” she said. “Those voices and conversations are the creative core of the project. That’s what brought it to life.” She envisions an exhibit that is about curiosity and subverting the viewer’s reality.

Santoscoy knows there are a lot of expectations, but she’s realistic. “I’m doing what’s possible with the time I have and the resources. There are some truly amazing projects being developed for this exhibit.” Jeronimo Hagerman is producing his largest installation ever in the U.S. for “The Nature of Things.” That includes an exterior exhibit using plants. Teddy Cruz’s project involves documenting an architectural phenomenon happening in San Diego, where old houses are being moved to Tijuana instead of being torn down. Gregory Euclide, a Minnesota artist represented by Denver’s David B. Smith Gallery, is creating a large installation that explores the relationship between man and nature. Karlo Andrei Ibarra, an artist from Puerto Rico, is exhibiting a neon sign that reads, “Yo vivo en Estados Unidos.” It will be powered by a solar panel attached to the building. Gabriel Acevedo Velarde from Peru is creating a new video installation about vandalism in Lima. Rael San Fratello Architects from Oakland, California, who are most well known for their “Prada, Marfa” project, are presenting an algorithm that localizes underdeveloped urban spaces. “We are planting seeds to spark conversation. I believe in the works I selected, but there are parts where the connections are stronger and others are not as strong,” said Santoscoy. Paola Santoscoy In the end, “The Nature of Things,” which is taken from an epic by the Roman poet Lucretius, is about perception and how we see the world. Lucretius believed that periodically a few enlightened individuals could escape from human hungers and passions. They found compassion for humanity rather than viewing man as ignorant, unhappy and unsatisfied. Just as Lucretius’ poem was overly ambitious in attempting to explain different phenomenon in the universe, the exhibit is also ambitious in bringing to light issues that are current and relevant in all of the Americas--not just the U.S. The art will be incongruous with the hermetic exterior of the building. The exhibit promises to be challenging and to raise questions about the nature of art today.

This article originally appeared online for Adobe Airstream is an online magazine that covers every facet of arts and culture. Adobe Airstream’s senior editor and writer, Leanne Goebel began blogging in 2005 at In 2010, the blog took first place in Top of the Rockies best arts blog in Colorado. In 2007, she was a Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant recipient.