Roxanne Goldberg – Arts Curator, Writer, and Student

If the first interaction you have with Roxanne Goldberg is reading through her C.V., be prepared for extreme intimidation. It reads fluidly and cohesively, with her incredible experiences fully show-cased and ready to inspire jaw-dropping moments of awe and admiration. While her career-oriented endeavors have been extensive in length and type, they have been equally passion-driven and purposeful in their makeup. Roxanne’s ongoing pursuits of intellectual and professional improvement are revealed in the hard work and commitment she delivers to every responsibility she takes on.

But when you sit down with Roxanne in person, nearly all traces of seriousness and intimidation fade – engaging, warm, and curious, Roxanne directs her efforts at trying to find out about what matters to the people around her. (Half an hour could pass before you realize you’ve spent more time talking about yourself and attempting to answer any number of thought-provoking questions Roxanne has sent your way.) Incredibly thoughtful and eager to discover, it’s no wonder that Roxanne has managed to cultivate such a strong network of personal and professional ties.

We hope you enjoy this wonderful Spotlight of Roxanne as much as we enjoyed having the opportunity to put it together. She is, quite simply, inspiring.

Name: Roxanne Goldberg
Age: 21
Education: B.A. in Art History from The George Washington University (Graduating Dec. 2014) | Art and Its Markets at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London | Human Relations and Effective Communications at the Dale Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC
Work: Curator at Gallery 102 at The George Washington University | Contributing Writer for Hi-Fructose Magazine | Curatorial Intern at The Walters Art Museum
Follow: Website | LinkedIn

Carpe Juvenis: How would you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Roxanne Goldberg: To seize your youth is to be honest with yourself and to do want you want to do when it feels right for you in your head, your heart and your stomach.

To seize your youth is to forget the immense pressures put on young people by their parents, by their teachers, and by their overachieving peers, and to take time for self reflection, to understand what is best for not just your academic or professional goals, but for what is equally and often more important, your personal health and inner desires.

CJ: What drew you to art to begin with? What keeps you hooked?

RG: Growing up, I was always surrounded by art. My mother was an interior designer and some of my earliest memories are picking out pieces of granite in stone yards. Whenever my family traveled, we visited museums and my parents always bought art from local artisans. I hadn’t thought about art as playing a central role in my life (in fact, I came to GW to study political science), but I now realize early exposure to art has largely shaped who I am and how I perceive the world today.

Art history is such a fascinating field of study because there is always something new to learn. A former boss of mine once said art history is what all the cool nerds end up studying. In many ways, I think he was right. A good art historian is an expert not only on methods and materials, but also on the social sciences, economics and political history, among other topics like languages, religion and philosophy. And yet, it’s a very social field. There is always an active discourse and it is impossible to be bored.

CJ: Could you please tell me more about your work as a curator? Do you have a favorite exhibition you’ve put together?

RG: While I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to produce exhibitions at GW and one while studying abroad in Berlin, I think the term curator gets thrown around a bit too easily. Everyone is a curator, you curate your closet, you curate your blog, but in fact, the word curator means “overseer, manager, guardian,” and what real curators do is care for, cultivate and preserve collections for posterity. Yes, I call myself a curator because if I called myself a producer or organizer that would be confusing. My greatest respect is for the true curators, those who have the expertise and devotion that so few people have in the world, necessary to perform their jobs as civil servants, caring for and nurturing the material culture of our societies and the ones that came before us.

For that reason, I’d rather speak to an upcoming loan exhibition I am assisting with at The Walters Art Museum. The exhibition looks at the later Islamic empires—Safavid Iran, Mughal India and Ottoman Turkey—through a biographical lens. We are used to thinking about Western art history in terms of blue-chip names like Rubens or Picasso, but Islamic art tends to occupy a strange place between fine art and utilitarian object, where the artists and their patrons are too often forgotten, and the stage becomes set for the viewer to create a paradigm of the ‘other.’ This exhibition humanizes the Islamic world and tells the stories of some fairly unique and interesting characters. Working on this exhibition has been the single most rewarding experience of my undergraduate years. I’ve learned quite a lot about the process of exhibition making at a major institution and have been heavily involved in the research, which has been wildly enriching. For example, my first project was researching the exchange between the Ottoman Empire and European powers in the 18th century, and then selecting objects in the Walters’ collections that exemplify the types of diplomatic gifts King Louis XV would have given to Sultan Mahmud I. It might not sound that thrilling to your readers, but to me it was the most fascinating experience, and actually motivated me to apply for a Fulbright grant to Turkey.

CJ: Out of every course you’ve taken at any institution, which has been your favorite and why?

RG: This is such a difficult question. I have a horrible habit of becoming entirely obsessed with whatever I am studying at the moment, which makes nearly every course my favorite. For that reason, I’m going to alter your question a bit. If I had to re-take a course, and re-take it again and again indefinitely, it would be a sound art course I participated in at New York University Berlin. The professor was a very talented and extraordinarily smart sound artist named Andy Graydon. The course was very theory-based and thinking through and attempting to practice such concepts as reductive listening raptured me. We also learned how to use AbletonLive, which is a software program many DJs use, so that was very cool. But what had the greatest effect on me, was spending a lot of time just listening—taking sound walks and listening to the environment; listening to interstitial spaces like whispers and feet shuffling in museums or wind passing under bridges; and listening to sound art (the abundance of which made Berlin such an inspiring city in which to study this subject). The power of observation is profound, and the impact this course continues to have on my daily life has been remarkable. It sounds corny, but I’ve literally learned to stop and smell (and listen to) the roses.

I also should note some courses and professors I feel indebted to: Modern and Post-Modern Art and Art Theory, which sealed my fate as an art history major; Black Mountain College and Beyond, which introduced me to John Cage; Professor Phil Jacks, with whom I’ve taken four courses at GW and who has become an important mentor; and Professor Mika Natif who exposed me to the wonders of Islamic art and encouraged me to pursue my current curatorial internship at The Walters Art Museum.

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CJ: As a student, what pushes you to diversify your schedule with more than just academics?

RG: I believe life is one long educational journey, so in many ways, my formal academic studies are just one small part of my identity as a student.

CJ: You recently curated LEGAL: Branco, Gen Duarte Nick Alive, Tikka, and Vermelho. What was that experience like?

RG: The process began in October 2013 when an artist I exhibited as part of Caged In, Corcoran professor Jeff Huntington, introduced me to his friend Roberta Pardo, who would become my co-curator for LEGAL. It was a very long and very exciting process and I learned quite a lot. I am excited to say it is still continuing, and the show is now traveling to Porter Contemporary in New York.

I am now working on an entirely different exhibition, Sensorium: The Art of Perception, which has been a very rewarding and creative exercise. I am collaborating with an artist friend I met at NYU Berlin, Talia Kirsh, who is an exceptional personality and a stunning photographer, videographer and sound artist. We are both interested in topics of wellness and Eastern philosophy, and the exhibition we are producing investigates both of these issues by creating an environment in which visitors are encouraged to learn about and explore these themes through sound installations, a smell sculpture, video works, and socially engaged works, in addition to more traditional media like painting and drawing. In addition to Talia, Sijae Byun, winner of the 2013 Phillips Collection Emerging Artist Prize, and Ryan McDonnell, GWU MFA candidate are included in the exhibition.

On Thursday, December 4 and Friday, December 5, we will be hosting Sensorium: The Symposium, which includes a conference featuring scholars from such diverse fields as art history, philosophy, English, Turkish, and medicine, from GW, Georgetown University and American University, as well as such activities as breathe work and sacred movement workshops. (We might also have a Cuban Shaman performing a healing ceremony, but this is not yet confirmed.)

CJ: What future advice would you give to yourself about working with international artists?

RG: Always be curious and remember a smile is recognized in all languages and cultures.

CJ: Why did you decide to travel and work abroad in Berlin?

RG: Berlin is arguably the most important center for contemporary art. The only other contender would be New York. However, because there is no or very little art market in Berlin, the city is much more susceptible to experimental and exploratory art practices. No one expects to sell his or her artwork, and therefore people aren’t afraid to take risks. There is a wonderfully contagious air of collaboration and it is an overall very supportive environment. I hadn’t thought about it before going, but the intellectual and cultural history of the country makes the German people, and Berliners in particular, very interested and supportive of the arts and humanities. I found it so exciting that I could be sitting next to a construction worker in a bar and he could speak intelligently about Deleuze and debate the merits of a recent exhibition.

CJ: Do you have a favorite museum?

RG: There are so many. In Berlin, KW Institute for Contemporary Art has what I think is one of the most ambitious and critically interesting programs for contemporary art, and the Pergamonmuseum fuels my love for Islamic art. All the museums in Vienna, particularly the Belvedere, Albertina and Kunsthistorisches Museum are absolutely stunning, and I have wonderful memories of visiting the Rubens House in Antwerp. In DC, nothing compares to the intimacy of the Phillips Collection. It also largely depends on what exhibitions are showing at the moment. For example, one of my most memorable museum experiences has been in the Pierre Huyghe exhibition at Museum Ludwig in Cologne, which although is a wonderful institution with a great collection, was eclipsed by the Huyghe show itself, which could have been anywhere.

CJ: How do you stay organized? What tools do you use?

RG: I owe my organizational skills to being a product of the Montessori school system. I make lists for everything and then make lists for my lists. I often don’t follow these checklists and time schedules, but seeing what needs to get done, hand-written on paper, keeps these to-do items at the front of my mind. And they get done. This includes scheduling time for things like preparing and eating three proper meals a day, exercising, and doing things that are important to my personal life, like seeing live music and hosting dinner parties.

CJ: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

RG: Nothing is impossible, only some things are temporarily inconvenient.

CJ: Do you think the career advice to “Follow your passion” is effective?

RG: I think I’m much too young to be giving career advice, but this is something that today, I believe in full-heartedly. Ask me again in ten years.

Roxanne Goldberg Qs

CJ: Your work with Caged In: DC Painters Explore the Aesthetic Influences of John Cage was a labor of love. Not only did you source artists to provide original artwork, but you also created a 34-page catalog and ran a panel discussion with scholars and composers. What did you learn from this project? How has it influenced your future work?

RG: I recently went to the opening for a solo exhibition of an artist I exhibited at Caged In, Jeff Huntington—the same artist who introduced me to Roberta Pardo, co-curator of LEGAL. One of the works, a layered collage piece, was titled “Xenia/John,” a direct reference to John Cage and his early lover Xenia Andreyevna Kashevaroff, whose portrait was the subject of Jeff’s painting for Caged In. When I spoke with Jeff about the work, he said my assignment—to paint a work of specific dimensions while listening exclusively to a given set of John Cage’s music—was a catalyst to a new process and a new body of work, and that he still to this day sometimes listens to John Cage while working.

One of the most inspiring parts of the exhibition has been the aftermath. And thus, one of the greatest lessons of Caged In has been to always remain open and receptive and to allow past influences affect me in surprising, unexpected, and sometimes uncomfortable ways. On a more practical level, it has also taught me the importance and value of following-up and staying in touch with people from my past.

It is impossible to talk about Caged In without talking about the man himself, John Cage. Arguably the single most influential person in both visual art and music of the 20th century, John Cage continues to incite profound responses, more than twenty years after his death. This is the hypothesis I sought to test, and the results speak for themselves. Getting back to your question, yes, the exhibition was a labor of love. I spent the entire summer of 2013 reading John Cage’s books and listening to his music. I was abroad at the time, so the selection of artists was a bit more hands-off than I typically prefer, but miraculously, things melded together quite naturally and each of the artists I reached out to was very receptive to the idea of the project, which required each artist to not only produce an original artwork, but also to create an original piece of writing to be juxtaposed reproductions of their artworks in the catalog. The responses were overwhelming and quite surprising. Another lesson I learned is to encourage myself and others to think outside the box. I asked for painting and got photographs, charcoal drawings and glitter.

Caged In was the first occasion I organized and moderated a panel discussion. I actually really love public speaking—I always have—so I was excited to have this opportunity, but I was incredibly intimidated at the prospect of posing questions and creating an intellectual discourse with three people I admire so deeply for their brilliance and expertise. The rewards were enormous however, as I learned so much from that one-hour, and have since relished in opportunities to bring interesting individuals together for the sake of conversation and intellectual challenge (hence Sensorium: The Symposium on Dec. 4 and 5). I also learned to never be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” be genuinely curious about everything, and that a bit of professionalism goes a long way.

CJ: Who – from the past or present – inspires you?

RG: This is another difficult question. I’m continually inspired, not just by people, but also by objects, spaces, sensory experiences. If you hadn’t already asked the question about Caged In, I would say John Cage without hesitation. But I won’t bore you with more praises of Cage.

I am incredibly inspired by my intern supervisor at The Walters Art Museum, associate curator of Islamic and South Asian Art Dr. Amy Landau. Amy is one of the most brilliant and poised people I have ever met and her level of commitment to and care for her curatorial projects and scholarly pursuits is unparalleled. I feel so fortunate to have had such a thoughtful individual not only as a boss, but also as a mentor and a teacher. I am really quite devastated that as my time at GW is coming to an end, so too is my internship.

IMG_8236CJ: Would you agree with the thought that the “Art World” can be characterized as inaccessible? How would you respond to that type of critique?

RG: Sure, the “art world” can be inaccessible. But so can music or food, technology or finance, or any other field or subject for that matter.

CJ: What is your dream job?

RG: My major goal is to earn a Ph.D. in art history. I want to advance knowledge as an academic, and I aspire to be a curator at a major museum institution, where I will aim to create compelling exhibitions that contribute innovative approaches to the field, while also educating and enriching individual viewers and the larger community.

CJ: Who is your favorite artist?

RG: In terms of contemporary artists, I can never say I have a favorite because I am always learning about and being exposed to new individuals. At this moment however, I am very interested in Camille Henrot, a French artist whose exhibition Snake Grass (Schinkel Pavillion, Berlin) continues to haunt me; Susan Phillipz, Janet Cardiff, Angela Bulloch, and Fatima Al Qadiri are dizzyingly brilliant women working in sound; Anri Sala, Pipolotti Rist, Fang Lu, and Shirin Neshat all primarily work in video and are quite remarkable. Currently, I am deeply immersed in writing my honors thesis, which focuses on the artist collective Slavs and Tatars, and through my research, I’ve come to be highly interested in the socially engaged practices of Pedro Reyes, Francis Alÿs, Tino Seghal, and Pierre Huyghe. Other contemporary artists of current intrigue include: Alicja Kwade, Danh Vo, Double Fly Art Center, Olafur Eliasson, Afruz Amighi, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rachid Koraïchi, Faig Ahmed, and Hassan Hajjaj.

Going a bit further back in history, Franz Kline captured my heart long ago; I have a penchant for Dark Romanticism, particularly the works of Henry Füssli, Goya, Gauguin and Caspar David Friedrich; and though they often cannot be attributed to single artists, Islamic manuscripts are among the most captivating objects ever created.

CJ: Have you ever made art yourself?

RG: I make great two-dimensional boxes.

CJ: If you were to make art yourself, which medium would you use? (Painting, Drawing, Ceramics, installation, etc.)

RG: It would depend on the project! Probably something very intricate and detail oriented, like Jianzhi, which is the ancient art of Chinese paper cutting.

CJ: You’ve mentioned that you intend to earn a Ph.D. in art history. When would this happen and how would it benefit you? What would deter you from earning it?

RG: At this time, my focus is on honing my language skills before I commit to a Ph.D. program. Ideally, I would like to complete the Ph.D. before I am 30. If there were one word to describe me, it would be student. I love learning and there is nothing I can think of which could be more rewarding than fully dedicating myself to an academic study and contributing nuanced thought to a field about which I am highly zealous. I understand there are few things as arduous as writing a dissertation, however I crave that intellectual challenge and do not believe there is anything that would deter me.

CJ: What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self?

RG: Be confident, but be open and receptive to new influences and the possibility of change. Your beliefs and values are important, but they are not fixed. College is not a means to a job; it is a medium through which to gain a particular world perspective, one of an infinite number of lenses through which to see the world. This tinted perspective may challenge your previously held convictions, but this is good, this is a sign of growth.

Images: Courtesy of Roxanne Goldberg and Donna Ra’anan-Lerner