Gloria Sutton on the Influence of Renée Green

Renée Green. FAM Case (1994-2000) Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
ACT at MIT

Gloria Sutton is an Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History at Northeastern University and a Research Affiliate in the Program in Art, Culture and Technology at MIT. Her scholarship focuses on the ways that time-based media have critically shaped the reception of visual art since the 1960s. Sutton’s book The Experience Machine: Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome and Expanded Cinema was the first published study of a signal member of the American avant-garde. VanDerBeek’s experimental art works combined painting, film, video, photography, dance, television, computer programming, and architecture, anticipating the tension between contemporary art and digital networks.

Renée Green is another major influence on Sutton’s work and they have collaborated on a number of projects.

Marissa Friedman: You recently worked with Renée on Pacing at the Harvard Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (CCVA). Were you affiliated with her prior to ACT, or did that develop through working together here?

Gloria Sutton: One of the best parts of being an affiliate at ACT is being in the room with Renée. I think she’s one of the most important artists we have. As a contemporary art historian, I could teach my post-contemporary art survey course on her work alone. Every year since 1990 she’s made an important, prescient, compelling piece of work: an exhibition, a film, or some type of other public contribution. She’s quite prolific, and her work circulates and asks a lot of  questions. I would say that I’ve always been a student of Renée and her work, and her writing, in particular, has always been important to me.

MF: How does Renée’s work influence you as an academic?

GS: I first encountered her work in 1997 when I was at the Whitney Independent Study Program, where Renée is still a hugely influential figure in that program’s development and it’s sustainability. She lectures, and is an affiliate there every year. So when I was a student, I was in a critical studies program there in 1997, and that’s where I first met Renée, who was the faculty person in the program. Since then, I have been in dialogue with her work, looking at it for my own research… One of the other things that I really appreciate about Renée is her exhibition record, she’s exhibited internationally, again, almost every single year producing a major body of work, or a project.

She’s also always valued publication as a site of discourse and of critical engagement. I would say my own writing as a critic and art historian, and why I prioritize exhibitions and those kinds of public platforms for writing, comes out of the critical discourse that Renée highlights in her own practice. 

This has allowed me to think about, for example, what could an exhibition catalog be? It doesn’t have to always be backwards looking, or retrospective; can it be speculative? For me, she’s always modeled a kind of critical pathway to thinking about how does one work in an institution, around the kind of stagnation, departments, medium specificity, found in museums, for example? 

MF: What was your collaboration like with Renée at the Carpenter Center?

GSI’ve been in dialogue with her work in some form or capacity since ’98. She had a two year residency at the Carpenter Center, where I was Scholar-in-Residence during my sabbatical in 2017-18, and it became a priority for me to take advantage of the proximity to her, and to think about public programs. We did a series of screenings, a series of talks that she organized, and wrote some short texts. Now, we have the privilege and the opportunity to think back on that two year window, and are working on a book together for Pacing.

MF: What is it like working on one piece with a living artist, who you can actually be in dialogue with, versus someone you can’t have that interaction with?

GS: Actually, there are some similarities. It’s all about relationships, in both cases. You have to build the relationship with a living person who you are working with, and with estates and archivesThey’re not autonomous field records; they are controlled and invested in by others. I would say it’s about being attentive to building productive relationships over time, and leveraging the long-term relationship that develops.