The Interviews of ProfessioneArte.it
This is Sharon Hecker Art History and Curator.
Five questions to know in advance the great art professionals, the daily challenges to face, the choices that have determined their path in the art system and in the art market, the digital changes and the advice for those who want to undertake the same career in collaboration with ProfessioneARTE.it.
Art historian, curator, the greatest expert of the great sculptor Medardo Rosso.
This is Sharon Hecker, an American who in the eighties, after studying at Yale University, came to Italy to begin her career in the art world.
First stop was the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, years that allowed her to train on the field covering different roles, until, just before leaving for America comes the turning point.
In 1989 she met Jenny Holzer, an artist of international fame and the first American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Thanks to her experience, Sharon became the only one able to help Holzer build the pavilion, taking care of every detail, in constant dialogue with the artist: it was a success, so much so that she won the Golden Lion.
More than 30 publications on Medardo Rosso and today the foundation of the Hecker Standard for the due diligence of works of art with some news that she unveils in this interview…
Sharon Hecker is an art historian and curator of modern and contemporary Italian art.
She has dealt in particular with Medardo Rosso, editing more than thirty publications, including: A monument at the moment: Medardo Rosso and the origins of contemporary sculpture (Johan&Levi Editore, 2018), winner of the American Millard Meiss award. His work has been awarded by Getty, Mellon and Fulbright Foundations. He has curated exhibitions at Harvard University, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. He has lectured at the Master’s in Arts Management at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and the Master’s in Art Law at the Università Statale di Milano.
He worked with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and coordinated the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1990. He founded The Hecker StandardTM for due diligence on artwork. He advises collectors, lawyers, wealth managers, family offices, auction houses and trade shows. Among his new publications are Postwar Italian Art History Today. Untying ‘the Knot’. He is currently curating an exhibition dedicated to Lucio Fontana‘s ceramics at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (2022).
She is member of Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association (CRSA), International Catalogue Raisonné Association (ICRA), International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), International Council of Museums (ICOM), Italian Art Society (IAS) e Art Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art (AHNCA).
1. How did your path in the art world begin?
I studied art history at Yale and then at the University of Florence. After my studies I won a scholarship to work at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. This work led me to meet the American artist Jenny Holzer, who was chosen as the first woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.
I coordinated his Pavilion, which won the Golden Lion, and as a thank you the artist sent me to work for the Christian Stein Gallery in Milan, where I met many artists of Arte Povera. It was at the gallery that I met Luciano Fabro and his family, and I went to work for him to help him prepare his first American retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
With Fabro I translated many of the theoretical writings for that exhibition, so that the English-speaking world could begin to appreciate his art. I then went back to my studies and completed my doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley. At a certain point, on Fabro’s advice, I decided to make another trip to Italy to conduct my research on Medardo Rosso. It took me many decades of research, which I finally collected in a book and in several museum exhibitions at Harvard, Pulitzer Arts Foundation and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, to share Rosso’s international importance with the world.
I am now working on an exhibition of Lucio Fontana’s ceramics at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for 2022. Based on my years of experience as an art historian and my curatorial work, I have thought about the importance of promoting dialogue between art history, art market and art law. So I founded The Hecker Standard®, an approach to conducting due diligence on works of art.
2. How would you describe your profession today?
I think I have many “professions” in the art world, but in every sense things have changed a lot today.
I see fewer people interested in conducting deep and sustained research to acquire skills in a slow and methodical way.
There is much more desire for immediate recognition, especially linked to the acquisition of a social media presence, than there was when I was young (there were no social media!), and the market seems to move much faster than before, so today’s art world supports this way of being and working.
I believe that whether it’s about curating an exhibition that will have a lasting importance in history, writing a book that lasts over time as an approach and content, or doing detailed research on the history of a work of art, time is the factor that is always at stake and it’s the thing I see constantly sacrificed.
Artistic research, like creating art, cannot be forced or produced only quickly and immediately, or it risks being superficial. And things produced with immediacy must be the result of a certain amount of knowledge. And there has also been a negative effect on the ecological environment, with so much (perceived) need for movement and international travel in the art world for events and conferences.
3. How has your profession changed over time?
Research material has become more accessible through archives that have put a lot of information and documents online, but often people do not have the skills or patience to sift through a lot of material and weigh the validity and quality of the information.
A well thought-out catalogue should take several decades, not several years!
I think that having been forced to stand still, as happened in the months of COVID19 , will be a useful lesson for everyone and will help us indirectly to rethink the meaning of our professions and our ability to make intellectual and creative cultural contributions to the world that do not involve constant physical movement from one place to another.
It’s a tough but perhaps effective antidote.
4. What impact is digital having on your industry?
The digitized archives, the availability of online images, online exhibitions, the endless and curious connections that can be found by cross-referencing on Google make the work very productive today.
However, all good art historians and curators know that archives are almost never “complete” and many things are not online. Also, not everything you find online is valid or correct. You have to be more patient than digital.
During COVID19, many museums added very interesting comments about the works in their collections, and this greatly increased our knowledge of the works of art from various points of view. I find this fantastic, to value the works in public and private collections in an intelligent and serious way.
5. What would you recommend to a young man who wants to take up your profession?
I think that, after the COVID19, young people have a great opportunity to rethink certain aspects of today’s art world, to propose new professions that are more ecological and clean, that do not always involve the unrestrained travel and public presence that continue to contribute to the model of endless growth of the art world.
We need to slow down to make the most of what’s there. That’s why I really like the way to “cure” the art collections through small videos put online by museums right now. Young people have the chance to conceive and contribute to something new, precious and responsible in art. The idea that the COVID19 has cut down pollution should not escape us because the art world also contributes to the problem-we only think about the environmental damage done in Venice during the Biennial periods. Things have become unsustainable, and the younger generation knows it, but instead of fighting against it by bringing new ideas, they continue to join the system that already exists.
In this period of forced reflection the art world could rethink what went wrong and try to correct some “diseases”.