The Art World at Home: Shed Curator Emma Enderby Is Doing Virtual Studio Visits, and Watching TV With Her Cats

Enderby is currently at work on the latest iteration of the Shed's "Open Call" exhibition series.

Emma Enderby. Photo: Jeremy Liebman.

In December, the Shed, the multi-platform New York cultural center in Hudson Yards, announced the 27 artists who has been chosen for its latest “Open Call” series of exhibitions and events. Each artist receives up to $15,000 to realize a project through the Shed, and among the winners are Emilie Gossiaux, Leslie Cuyjet, and Esteban Jefferson.

We caught up with Emma Enderby, the center’s chief curator, to learn about her role in the project, why she loves her windowsill, and how she developed a newfound approach to time.

What are you working on right now?

A few things, but up next on my Shed calendar is “Open Call,” which is our large-scale commissioning program for early career New York City-based artists. This is the second edition, as the program continues to be a cornerstone of the Shed’s mission.

It showcases artists working across all disciplines—from visual art to dance, music, theatre, social practice, and everything in between—who were selected through an open application process. We held the call last year and convened (virtually, of course) colleagues in the field to help us select 27 artists to commission.

The commissions will take place across 2021 and 2022, but this summer [will be dedicated to] our gallery exhibition of visual artists, and our plaza performance program. I mainly oversee the gallery exhibition with the visual art department, while my colleagues work with the artists presenting on the plaza—so it’s an interdepartmental endeavor, which I love.

Walk us through the when, where, and how of your approach to this project on a regular day.

When the pandemic hit, like everyone else, we had to completely reorient our program, postponing many projects or changing their scale. But one program we knew we had to fight to keep was “Open Call.” The program had grown out of a years-long examination of how the Shed would develop as an equitable, civic-minded institution that responds to the needs of 21st-century New York City. Considering how New York’s artist communities were hit so badly and in so many ways by the pandemic, we understood the importance of realizing “Open Call.”

Right now, we are in the process of working with each artist to develop their project, from helping them connect with fabricators and managing budgets, to planning rehearsals. It is hard doing this all virtually. In the first edition, I was at an artist’s studio every week, but of course, that’s not possible right now. The mediation of a screen makes open and candid conversations more difficult, especially when you’re trying to talk about objects in space, but the instantaneity of digital communication is great for discussing other things like scheduling, or sharing images and plans.

What is your favorite part of your house and why?

Probably my office windowsill because you can always find at least one of my cats, Moon or Galaxy, spying on birds through their screen while I’m Zooming away on mine. A strange synergy there.

Enderby's cats, Moon and Galaxy, are enthusiastic bird watchers. Photo courtesy Emma Enderby.

Enderby’s cats, Moon and Galaxy, are enthusiastic bird watchers. Photo courtesy Emma Enderby.

What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

There are a few comedians I follow on Instagram that make me LOL on a regular basis. This morning it was Dylan McKeever. She’s hilarious. Scroll through her feed for endless gems.

Are there any movies, music, podcasts, publications, or works of art that have made a big impact on you recently? 

Earlier in the pandemic, I listened to the London Review of Books podcast “Talking Politics: History of Ideas.” I recommended it to everyone around me. It starts with Thomas Hobbes and goes from there. Really complex ideas are unpacked and related to the state of the world today. It helped me understand how we got to this point and how we might get out.

In terms of books, I’ve been reading The Good Ancestor by Roman Krznaric and it’s really influenced my thinking. I hadn’t realized that for years I’ve been thinking about chunks of time through the lens of exhibition-making, for example counting down three years until X exhibition opens, or 6 months until Y. We all need the reminder Krznaric gives to practice deep-time thinking as our actions carry forward to generations in the future.

Also, N.K. Jemisin’s new book, The City We Became. It’s weirdly prophetic and has made me look at New York City with new eyes, giving fresh energy to the place I live. But if you haven’t read her epic The Broken Earth Trilogy, start there instead.

What’s your favorite work of art in the house and why? 

This is the hardest question, as so many memories are tied up with the art in my home. However, I have to choose a drawing by the artist Simon Denny that he gave my partner and me as a wedding gift. It holds particular significance because Simon introduced us, so I smile everytime I see it.

A work by Simon Denny gifted to Enderby and her partner upon their wedding. Photo courtesy Emma Enderby/Simon Denny.

A work by Simon Denny gifted by the artist to Enderby and her partner upon their wedding. Photo courtesy Emma Enderby/Simon Denny.

Are these any causes you support that you would like to share? 

I tend to support two principal causes, as I think they are amongst humanity’s most pressing concerns. One is our climate emergency and the other is economic injustice and inequality. I’ve donated to different charities over the years, but the Coalition for Rainforest Nations is a great, innovative organization. They have quantifiable success working with government and local communities to stop global deforestation and to champion clean energy.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Sitting on my sofa with Moon and Galaxy and watching The Great Pottery Throw Down while drinking dry Riesling. They are into it.

What’s going on in the kitchen these days? Any projects? And triumphs or tragedies? 

Well, I do zero cooking in our household, that’s my partner’s division. I asked him to share one of my favorites, his Sicilian aubergine caponata. He follows a variation on this recipe. Eat cold. Trust me, it’s better.

Which two fellow art-world people, living or dead, would you like to convene for dinner, and why? 

I am going to ask those that have passed to join me for this hypothetical dinner, as I’m hopeful I can meet the living again soon! After this past year, it would be soul-restoring to spend time with two artists, Beverly Buchanan and Agnes Martin, whom I consider mystic beings, or portals to another plane of thinking. I’ve thought so much about space and landscape this last year, about our bodily relationship to nature and place, as well as to proximity and distance. As artists, their approaches and forms are very different but I would be interested to thread the connections between Land art and abstract painting and sculpture with them. Maybe I could convince James Lee Byars to come along, as well, to add an extra strange twist.

Where would it be? I am going to have to say Jing Fong. The recent news of the Chinatown staple’s closing here in New York City broke my heart. I would do anything for one more round of dim sum and those massive, family-style dishes.

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