The Times Club: Interview with Manager and Curator Pete Schulte

Pete Schulte came on board as manager and curator at the Times Club over the summer with hopes of changing how a social space such as a coffee shop can be activated and perceived anew through thoughtful curation and mediation. Since Pete’s first show Gone to the Other Side in September, The Times Club has hosted a new exhibition each month of current (or “contemporary,” if you will) artists, making the space a new destination for vital artwork taking place in Iowa City. In late January and running through the month of February, The Times Club will maintain this high standard by exhibiting the work of Chicago-based artist, Richard Rezac.

I talked (or prompted Pete to talk) about Rezac, The Times Club, and the process of thoughtfully presenting a space in hopes of constructing some words worthy of print. Here’s our attempt:

JE: When did you start “curating” the Times Club and what was your idea of the space before you started?

PS: Truthfully I had been gone when they’d [Prairie Lights] done a lot of the remodeling so it was still under the previous guise. Jan and a couple people had re-envisioned it under the Prairie Lights umbrella, so I was gone when a lot of that happened. I popped in for coffee when I got back, and I really like what they had done with the space. The space has this kind of nice, loft feel to it. They had taken the carpet out and put in nice wood floors, repainted it… John Dilg [a painting professor at Iowa] had curated a couple shows up there, Mariah Dekkenga’s and Michael Perrone’s, and then he had done a show of self-taught animal paintings from his collection. I was intrigued by that but it wasn’t really on the radar as a possibility. I certainly thought those were pretty interesting shows… Todd Olmstead, who was involved with Mission Creek, had been the manager and had done a great job setting up the café in terms of great coffee, good selection of beer, good selection of wine. This set-up as more as kind of a European-style café as opposed to your typical coffee shop, you know, one on every corner… it just had a nice vibe to it right off the bat. Todd was looking to move to New York and Jan Weissmiller, one of the owner’s of the space had ideas that it could function as more than a coffee shop, as a space that could be programmed and curated. She knew I was kind of looking for some place to land after the residencies that I was on and decided to ask me if I wanted to do it. She made it a pretty good opportunity from the practical side of it… she was like, “you know you have to do the day to day of managing the cafe but in terms of curating the space, you can do whatever you want.”

JE: What do you think of (or maybe, how do you avoid) the typical coffee-shop aesthetic?

PS: In terms of the space, well, there are stigmas about art in coffee shops, I mean at least maybe I had them. You know, it’s funny when I talk to people about the stigma of art in coffee shops that look at me like they don’t know what I’m talking about. I guess what I’m saying by that is just: decoration and background. Not even that there’s anything bad with decoration necessarily, but things that are meant to be really innocuous, not get in your way, but somehow fill in the space on the walls. One thing that I’ve learned from my own creative practice that I try and carry over into my curatorial practice is that I really try not to think of any space in terms of limitations and lament what I can’t do. I try and think, what are the givens of the space and what sort of possibilities does this present. I wasn’t actively trying to take on the idea of art in coffeeshops or anything, I was more just trying to make some sort of curatorial program that didn’t so easily slide into the background. How successful that’s been I don’t know, but I know that we’re seeing some shows around here because of the space that we haven’t seen before and that I think are pretty interesting. There is not a wealth of really provocative spaces to see work in and this is the one I’ve kind of been given to use. It’s got it’s obstacles on some level, but I’m just approaching people with an open heart and they’re responding.

JE: Have you found that that’s been a mostly positive interaction, getting artists to take on the idea of the Times Club as a serious arts space?

PS: You know, it’s funny. As the shows have come together, I’ve had lists of people I liked to ask and I’ve only had one say no. And it was a very politely personalized letter rejection from a superstar in the art world, you know, somebody who’s extremely connected at this point. But everybody else I’ve asked has said yes. And like I said that rejection was extremely polite and wishing the best and all that but she just couldn’t do it. Everyone else has said yes. You know, I’m not saying we’ve have a who’s who of people but there have been some people here with pretty hefty resumes. In the upcoming show, the one opening the last week of January and into February show: Richard Rezac. And frankly, I think he’s as good as anything I see anywhere. For him to do this show is really thrilling.

JE: Well, you don’t often see people who are represented in galleries in all the major cities in America doing shows upstairs in a loft/cafe in Iowa City.

PS: Or in Iowa City period.

JE: Or in Iowa City period.

PS: Or in Iowa City period. Yes. One of the artists I was talking to, she started referring to it as a “mixed-use space.” I thought that was really good. I’ve kind of adopted that and so it is. There are things to consider. We’re not presenting things in a typical white box which, frankly, is kind of exciting. For Richard, for example, this is a whole different situation then he’s used to showing in, at least these days. And for him it’s sort of a homecoming too because he actually lived in Iowa City for a period of time. I know he has some friendships here. Richard’s wife, Julia Fish, a painter who was just in the most recent Whitney Biennial, was a visiting artist here for a period of time and Richard lived here also in the late 1980’s early 90’s I’m not exactly sure, we can fact check that.

JE: I’m gonna get out some paper just because the music has gotten so loud.

PS: Yeah, I don’t know what you’re gonna get from that [points to computer [recording conversation]].

JE: Oh, let’s see, sorry.

PS: No you’re fine.

G: indistinct crowd noise and paper sounds. Shuffling. Neil Young music in the background.

JE: Ju-lia Fish. Do you know how she spells her last name?

PS: I think…

JE: Is there a ‘p’?

PS: No, no, no. I think it’s just f-i-s-h.

JE: It’s not like the band? Or phaucet? Is there a ‘c’?

PS: It might be f-i-s-c-h but I think it’s just f-i-s-h. Yea. You can just google her.

JE: Ok. Well. Ah… so your first show at the Times Club was in September?

PS: Yeah we did September and carried it over into October. And now we’ve done November and December. And then, because of the break we’ll carry this into mid-January, roll the walls, and set up Richard Rezac those last days of January and go through February.

Richard will be coming to do the install and is very particular about the installation. Him and I will be doing that together. Then he’s going to speak at the University of Iowa and then we’ll have the opening reception after his talk at the Times Club. So it’ll be great: he’ll actually be here, people will be able to see the work after his lecture, you know how it is. He picked the work specifically for the space and it’s an amazing selection of work. It’s gonna be really good.

JE: How has the correspondence with Richard Rezac been?

PS: It’s been great so far, I’m doing a studio visit with him on Friday, so if you wanna talk, you know the other thing. We could get together Sunday night?

JE: Yeah. I think we should do that, and you know I’ll take whatever we do tonight and really I see tonight as kind of a preliminary thing, and I’ll sketch out some things and send them to you, like tomorrow. Then you can kind of look over some of these-

PS: Tomorrow I have just a little bit of time.

JE: Well- what I’ll do, I’ll just send you stuff you can read and think about for the rest of the weekend and then we can just hammer it out on Sunday.

PS: Maybe get together at a place that will be quiet or something.

JE: Yeah.

PS: Maybe we could meet at my house or some place else?

JE: Yeah. Yeah, you know I really didn’t see tonight as me being like “give me all the answers and stuff (fade to indetermination)…”

PS: No, no. It’s a short turnaround I understand. I’m really happy you’re doing it. SO whatever we need to do to get it done is cool with me

JE: Yeah.

PS: Um, so yeah. I’ll have some more insight after my studio visit. We’re gonna look at the work and go out to dinner and stuff. I think I’ll have a lot more things to say. But the interaction so far has been great. He was someone who came to mind right from the beginning as far as wanting to show here. I have really been a fan of his work for many years, you know seeing things here and there, it’s just really, really unique work, in that it uses an economy of means that might– um, some people when you read articles about him it’s almost like coming off as some relationship to minimalism but this stuff does not function in that realm at all. I mean it does in terms of its economy of means but if you showed Donald Judd a Richard Rezac sculpture he would just roll over in his grave. It’s much more idiosyncratic, it’s extremely soulful, and its also, well it kind of reminds you of all these things but it never goes there. And then also just the color relationships that he does, I don’t want to use the word quirky… they’re idiosyncratic for sure. They almost, um, you know, ahh, people fumble for words when they’re trying to write about him.

JE: Yeah.

PS: They almost always start off with his relationship to minimalism. People talk about a relationship to you know like consumer goods, and product packaging, things like that. These things look like shelves or they have the color palette from something you’d buy at a strip mall, or maybe they look like part of the strip mall itself. But they don’t ever commit in those ways. They’re far too individuated, far too, I don’t know, there is too much love in them to go in that direction, to either direction: minimalism or consumer culture. You know what I mean?

JE: Yeah.

PS: This is a guy that’s lived a life in art. And he’s just kept refining and refining and refining and even when his work is fabricated or if some aspect of it is fabricated there is still this element of touch to it. You know what I mean?

JE: Yeah.

PS: Not in a clear way. Not like, “oh you see that brushiness” or whatever. In just the way that a human has crafted these things. And maybe not just in that work, but maybe all the work leading up to it has led to this point… plus just a real keen eye. It’s really peculiar work, too.

JE: Something that stuck with me from you talking about his work before and having seen some of the images on various websites, which obviously isn’t the same as seeing them in person, is this alien quality. And maybe that’s just an easy caveat or something. But there’s something sophisticated, familiar but not quite…

PS: Yeah. John Dilg mentioned that idea of the extraterrestrial. I always shy away from that whether it’s in Richard’s work or someone like John McCracken, or somebody who’s putting it out there, as these things being a monolith or something. I don’t know why, maybe it’s just my resistance to sci-fi or something, but it’s there. It is there. But there’s these things that you feel like they can only exist the way that they are, and when they really click, they’re just right. You know what I mean?

JE: Mnn-hm.

PS: And even within a certain modesty of scale, they seem to be really aware of people, of a person’s interaction with them. And one of the things I’m really excited to see play out is the way he negotiates a space like that’s heavily trafficked and has tables. Because he’s very concerned about the way people move through and negotiate the space. So I’m pretty thrilled to talk to him about this.

JE: Well, I’m excited to see it. And I think that’s interesting and brings up another point, or one of my interests in your space: what it means to have art on the walls as the main driving factor for people to come instead, perhaps the cup of coffee. What does it mean when you come into the space and there are people sitting at a table below you mediating your experience with the art that’s hanging above their heads?

PS: It’s a good question. But it’s one that I’m still learning about, to be honest with you. Like it seems like this show that’s up right now [The December show: As The Crow Flies], this show seems to be a tipping point where people realize “oh this is a serious art space.” People have come and they’ve really been looking at the show: taking the list down and walking around and doing it. And it is kind of strange when you have somebody sitting at a table and somebody’s looking over you at a painting. But I don’t know. I like anything that pushes work and viewer into–not that this is unprecedented territory–but into a different way of looking, way of seeing and negotiating the space, into a different awareness of self as you’re engaging with the art.

JE: There is something about the space being so active but not necessarily in a gallery type situation, where people who aren’t looking to be confronted with art are, in some way. Or not. Maybe that’s putting too much weight or reading into our field too much.

PS: Well being back there when it’s slow I like to watch the room and I’m really surprised how people start looking at the stuff and looking at it and looking at it. You know like the piece in this show, the Ryan Standfast piece, the piece I keep turning around. When I flip that piece around I’ll catch people looking at me, of course because I’m touching the pieces, but then also really scutinizing what they see.

But a lot of people talk in between tables and it kind of does feel more like a European café, with banter going on. It’s becoming really interesting.

JE: Well, and then you’ve programmed other events there.

PS: Yeah, we’ve done an Anthology {non-fiction reading series} there. Skye Carrasco and Vincent Peiffer both did solo acoustic performances in an event called Autumn Falls. Those were really, really special performances: no PA system, and they both do very good work and hearing the instruments and their voices unmediated by a PA system was really nice and the acoustics up there are really solid too. We’re gonna do some more music, not a lot, but in the right situation.

JE: What do you think of the Prairie Lights name, specifically as a draw for artists?

PS: One of the artists in the first show [September’s exhibition: Gone to the Other Side], this guy Joel Ross, is from Texas but is teaching at Champaign. He’s a guy I never met or had any connection with but I’d been seeing his work for years at Monique Meloche Gallery in Chicago and really thought it was interesting. So when the idea for that show emerged, well, I knew he was in Champaign, I’m just gonna send him an email. It turned out he had had friends here at some point and knew about Prairie Lights and loved it. And Deb Sokolow who’s going do a show in April, a two-person show with Travis Head, is somebody who’s doing stuff all over the place right now, was just in that big studio show at the MCA in Chicago. She had known of the reputation of Iowa City and Prairie Lights and was into it. Well, I should say, she knew about the literary tradition surrounding Iowa City and was really happy because so much of her work is about the written word, and these kind of stories and narratives she puts through them. She was excited to come. It was just a matter of timing with her because she has a big show up at Western Exhibitions right now.

JE: That’s cool. We have a Chicago artist in April, too.

PS: Oh who do you have?

JE: Amber Ginsberg.

PS: I’m not familiar with her for some reason.

JE: She comes from the social practice realm. I don’t even know exactly what she’s gonna do in our space. She had a show in one of the storefronts for the Chicago Art Loop. She was manufacturing clay bombs. That’s probably not even close at all to what she was actually doing. I’m not sure.

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