David Ross interviewed by Glenn Wharton, June 13, 2019.
David Ross was associate director and chief curator at the Berkeley University Art Museum (now UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), where he curated the exhibition Joan Jonas: Performance/Video/Installation in 1980. After Berkeley, Ross went on to become the director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. He is now the chair of the MFA Art Practice program at the School of Visual Arts. In this interview Ross speaks about his work as a curator with Joan Jonas.
- “David Ross interviewed by Glenn Wharton, June 13, 2019 (Interview Transcript).” Joan Jonas Knowledge Base, Artist Archives Initiative, 2021.
The interview opens with Ross describing when he first became aware of Jonas’s work in the early 1970s, just as she was transitioning from working with Super 8 film to working with video [00:27–2:39]. Next, Ross discusses seeing Jonas’s performances for the first time at The Kitchen in New York, including Organic Honey and Mirage, and explains what drew him to her [02:45–04:41]. Ross then goes on to describe the challenges of showing Vertical Roll to contemporary audiences [04:53–7:47], such as his own undergraduate students, in terms of people’s relationship to the medium of television. The conversation turns to Ross’s views on art education and how he believes that Jonas’s work should be left to speak for itself rather than being accompanied by extensive educational material. Ross then talks about Jonas’s involvement with the 1980 Berkeley exhibition and the concerns she had about preserving the original intensity and meaning of each work despite their proximity in the exhibition space [13:25–16:11]. Ross further shares his own frustrations regarding the former building of the Berkeley University Art Museum (now UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive) and details how the staff always judged the success of a show based on the artist’s satisfaction [16:12–17:55]. Then, [18:24–23:02] Ross and Wharton discuss the variability of Jonas’s work and how this aspect came in to play when reinstalling works that had undergone significant changes [18:24–23:02]. The conversation shifts to the performances presented in conjunction with the 1980 exhibition, and Ross talks about how Jonas decided which works to perform [23:34–25:21]. Wharton then asks about the relationship between the performances and the works that were presented as installations [25:26–26:04] and the relationship of the installations to one another [26:35–27:02]. Ross then describes the involvement of other people in the performances [27:03–28:35]. The two also quickly discuss the show traveling to Eindhoven and how Ross feels that Jonas was overlooked in New York for a long time [28:27–30:33]. Ross then talks about the book Joan Jonas: Scripts and Descriptions 1968–1982, which was produced from the 1980 Berkeley exhibition [30:59–32:45]. Wharton asks Ross who else should the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base team interview, and Ross suggests talking to Robin Winters, Bill Farley, and Stanton Kaye [33:45–34:48]. Here, Ross discusses some of the main takeaways one should understand about Jonas’s work, such as her relationship to literary sources and music, in order to reperform or reinstall her work in the future in the same way a composer might reinterpret as score [35:22–40:58]. The interview ends with Ross talking about the importance of understanding the subtleties of Jonas’s work and of documenting the work of other video artists to ensure proper installation in the future [42:59–45:10].