Month: August 2015

Questions for David Little, Director and Chief Curator of the Mead

David Little, captured recently by iPhone

Were you one of those kids who loved going to museums when you were growing up or were you dragged to them against your will?

Honestly, I didn’t really catch the bug for museums until college. But I grew up as an Army brat in Europe, so my parents did bring me as a child through museums and historic sites in Italy and Germany—wearing lederhosen, no less!

lederhosen Zewy
Karl Zewy (German, 1855–1929). The New Lederhosen. Oil on canvas

People are said to “curate” everything these days, from their Facebook page to their sock drawer. Does that bother you? 

No, it doesn’t bother me at all. It suggests people are more conscious about how they make choices. Also, the exciting part of media today is that we really do have more choices. It’s hard to think back to a time when you couldn’t binge watch a series and had to wait until a specific time to watch a television show. The quality of curating is really the question; and there will always be those curators whose outstanding work will separate them from others.

In a similar vein, now that everyone has a cell-phone camera and access to Instagram filters, what do you think about the democratization of photography?

Portrait of Margaret Bourke-White by Alfred Eisenstaedt, ca. 1940. Mead Art Museum, Purchase with Acquisition Fund, 2000.380

Photography has always been democratic in nature; its popularity was one reason why many didn’t consider it an art form. But now it is cheaper than ever to own a camera and make images. More than anything, I love the fact that people can take and share images immediately. It is magical, especially having taken so many bad analogue photographs myself. Much like with curating, more people are taking photographs, but there aren’t necessarily more great photographers, like Edward Steichen or Margaret Bourke-White, in the world.

What is your greatest extravagance?

My greatest extravagance is the time I get to spend with artists and traveling to see art. It seems too much fun to be a job.

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 11.26.21 AMWho do you follow on Twitter?

LeBron James and Biddy!

What place and time in art history do you wish you could have lived in?

I would have loved to have hung out with the Dadaists and Surrealists.

You’re having a dinner party and can invite five artists—living or dead. Who do you invite? What do you serve them?

I have met many of the living artists who I admire—or I am working on it—so I will focus on the dead: James Baldwin (with his former schoolmate Richard Avedon as guest, and Gordon Parks too), Leonardo Da Vinci, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Artemisia Gentileschi, Gertrude Stein, and Marcel Duchamp. If you ask me tomorrow, I would add more . . . hard to leave out Hannah Höch, André Breton, Vladimir Tatlin, John Cage, and the list goes on. I would have Gertrude and Marcel “curate” the meal with a chef.

Marcel Duchamp Descends Staircase, by Eliot Elisofon, 1952. Mead Art Museum, Purchase, 2004.14

If you could commission any artist in the world to make your portrait, who would you pick?

That’s hard. Can I say Picasso???!!!

You’re a native New Englander, right? But you’ve spent many years in Minnesota. Do you regard this as a homecoming of sorts?

My family was based in Minnesota for seven years and we really gained a great appreciation for the Midwest, with its warm people, not so warm weather, great artists, and deep commitment to cultural philanthropy and community spirit. We loved it. But my wife and I grew up and went to school in New England. And our extended families are here. So this is, indeed, a wonderful homecoming.

Speaking of homecomings, you got your master’s degree at Williams College, which, as you know, is Amherst’s rival—in football at least. Who are you going to root for at the Homecoming game this fall?

The team wearing purple.Amherst Williams

You’re moving 1,300 miles from Minneapolis to Amherst. What are you most looking forward to, and what are you going to miss?

MIA snow
Minneapolis Institute of Art, where Little was until recently curator and head of photography & new media

I can’t wait for fall and being close to the ocean. And, oddly, I think I’ll miss the Minnesota winters. Once spring arrives in Minnesota (in early July) there is this exuberant feeling that you have survived.

Interview by Sheila Flaherty-Jones