Art AND: Lou Joseph

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Hypnagogic Gags and 8-Bit Melancholy: Albert Birn [...]

Lou Joseph wants to visit your studio. Formerly of the MICA exhibitions department, the BOPA Visual Arts Specialist and ICA Director is always looking for artists just under the radar, who have invested in Baltimore, who have been making their work here for some time perhaps without a lot of recognition. While he’s technically a man in charge, Joseph doesn’t want to be a gatekeeper and frequently mentions his stellar coworkers at BOPA and dedicated artist advisory board at ICA—he clearly believes in and practices collaboration in all facets of his work life.

Perhaps a lesser known fact is that Joseph is also himself an artist, and graduated from Indiana University with an MFA in printmaking. His current body of work, begun during his paternity leave two years ago, repurposes vinyl banners from his day job. Joseph prepares the surfaces with grommets and is able to swap them out as he likes, taking them outside to spray paint and applying house paint in his basement studio while his son naps upstairs.

The work is first and foremost a practical solution to the dual demands on his time as a full-time arts administrator and father, but Joseph has been making steady progress through his pile of over 100 prepared surfaces by finding “10 minutes to work” where he can. Largely abstract, the works reference “body grossness as well as recent political events and thoughts of climatological doom” obtusely. While in Joseph’s studio, I pointed out that perhaps the medium drives this reading, but for me, the works are celebratory, a collision of bright and pastel colors which could be inadvertently influenced by his son’s toys directly above us in the playroom.

Lou Joseph in his studio (photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Subject: Lou Joseph, 43
Wearing: “Pants and a shirt” and shoes from DSW, “Midwest business casual”
Place: Radnor-Winston, Baltimore

What is the most important book (or books) you’ve read?

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. I’ve read it four times since college and have found it fascinating how much my response to it changes as I get older; the variety of deep characters and weird humor are what keeps it so relevant for me through different phases of my life. Seeing is Forgetting the Name of What One Sees has been my art version of that, it’s a Lawrence Weschler biography of Robert Irwin, though some parts have not aged well (looking at you, chapter on horse betting.)

What was the worst career or life advice you’ve ever received? What  is the best?

Not exactly advice, but I once had a summer job in my hometown (Youngstown, Ohio), going door-to-door inspecting indoor water meters. Because it was mostly retirees who were home during the day to let me in, I got to see many options for the end of my life. I could see pretty quickly who had and hadn’t developed interests and it seemed to directly correlate with how happy they were. In one specific case there was an older gentleman with an immaculate hi-fi and a massive record collection. The day I came by he was just listening to music and having a great time. He seemed to have a satisfying interior life. I think I’ve invested a lot of time in art, music, literature and movies/TV to stay engaged, develop ideas and be a part of the world.

Did you have a favorite toy as a child? Do you remember what happened to it?

A brown bear named Blinkie. I still have it, I think my son is scared of it though.

What is the art supply/business-related material you should buy stock in, you use it so much?

Stamps. I have done a lot of collaborations through the mail. Postage adds up!

Is this because you’re working with artists that are from the Midwest or folks you know that have moved away? Did you always seek out pen pals or this is just how it happened?

Most of the collaborations are with artists I’ve met living in different cities, but mostly from Bloomington, where I went to grad school. Everyone just spread out and it’s one way to stay connected.

Who do you admire? Why?

I associate the word “admire” with being a fan or putting someone on a pedestal. My favorite baseball player when I was 10 was Don Mattingly, and then he injured his back and his career was never the same. I didn’t really know what to do with that. Now, even though I like sports, I’m not really a die-hard fan for any team or person. So there are artists and art administrators whose work is great or whose approaches are interesting and I try to take what I can from that and appreciate or use it.

What mundane thing would you like to be remembered for?

Making brownies on request—I misread the Smitten Kitchen brownie recipe once and put in ¾ oz of chocolate instead of 3 oz of chocolate. I ended up with a brownie that’s more of a blondie but always comes out how I want it—nice and chewy. I make those for people a lot.

What’s the best local snack food?

If by snack food you mean sandwiches, I would go with the Pambazo at Fiesta Mexicana, the prosciutto sandwich at Trinacria, the old world Italian at DiPasquale’s, and the Neighborhood Bird at Ekiben.

Why is a sandwich a perfect meal?
You can eat it with your hands, and the best sandwiches have a great combination of flavors and textures in each bite—the Pambazo is a roll griddled in spicy chili, with chorizo, poblano pepper, avocado, potatoes, shredded lettuce, cheese, crema and salsa, and each bite is a delight.

Complete this sentence: My parents _____________________.

Taught me how to work hard.

Do you have what might be described as an unusual hobby? What is it? How did you get into that?

Not a whole lot of time for hobbies but I do like going bowling (tenpin, not duckpin), I grew up in Ohio and basically have been bowling forever.

Whose work would you want in your home? Specific piece?

Richard Serra, “Tilted Arc,” reassembled and placed vertically in my front yard.

As a curator at BOPA and ICA, you see tons of work. Is there any boilerplate advice you can offer to artists?

I would say don’t be afraid to email and ask for a studio visit. Most people will at least write back, I always try to. Make sure your images are very good and that your work is your best, completed stuff. Don’t send works in progress. Especially if you’re an installation artist, make sure your photos are excellent.

Do you have a typical day or not right now?

We wake up when our toddler yells, and do snuggling and books before heading to daycare drop off, then work. My wife, Miriam, and I both have 9-5 jobs so one person picks him up from daycare, and we make dinner, do bathtime and storytime then put him to sleep by 7:30–8 p.m. My sister comes over a few times a week and we all hang out. I have been consistent in the evenings of getting in at least 30-60 minutes of studio time, 5 minutes for meditation, 5 minutes of focused looking at a recent painting and a 10-minute exercise routine.

Is there a show you’ve seen in the last 5 years that made you envious that you didn’t get to curate it first?

I don’t think of myself as a curator, I prefer arts producer or arts facilitator? I guess I have some negative associations with curators as gatekeepers or using artists to make their own name ring out. I would say I’m trying to make platforms for the artist to look their best—sometimes that requires some intervention but I am more interested in artists working independently and challenging themselves.

But, in any case here are some shows I’ve really enjoyed: the Charline von Heyl and Ragnar Kjartansson exhibitions at the Hirshhorn, Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry at the Met Breuer, Cindy Cheng and Jackie Milad at School 33, and Pied du Courant in Montreal.

What is a trend you wish would die? 

Overly acidic coffee.

What would your teenage self think of you today?

“Jeez, that dude is as old as my dad.” (I was 18 when my dad was 43.)

Lou and his cat, Dexter (Photo by Suzy Kopf)

Photos by Justin Tsucalas, except where otherwise noted.

This story is from Issue 11: Comfort,

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