Curator Gabriel Ritter Envisions a Post-Human Future

For the Armory Show’s Focus section this March, the Minneapolis-based curator confronts what happens to the body when technology replaces the mind.

These days, curator Gabe Ritter spends a lot of time thinking about the future. Even in casual conversation, terms like cyborg, telepresence, digital avatar, and singularity (the hypothesis that artificial intelligence is poised to take over the world as we know it) roll easily off his tongue.

Ritter’s not a conspiracy theorist, or even a technophile, but he is interested in how art reflects contemporary culture. Increasingly, that has translated into a fascination with how artists respond to the technological innovations sweeping hard and fast through society, changing not just the world around us, but our minds and bodies, too.

“How does technology affect how we see ourselves, and what our future selves might be?” Ritter says from his office at the the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where I catch him by phone. “This is something that has been, and continues to be, on the minds of many artists.” For years, the question has occupied his own thoughts as well.

Tabita Rezaire's "Seneb" (2016) installation. Courtesy Goodman Gallery.
Tabita Rezaire's "Deep Down Tidal" (2017) installation. Courtesy Goodman Gallery.

Ritter, who was raised in Los Angeles, has been MIA’s curator of contemporary art since 2016. Before that, he cut his curatorial teeth at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Dallas Museum of Art. While at the latter, he began formally investigating the connection between art and technology with a breakout show called “Mirror Stage—Visualizing the Self After the Internet.”

The exhibition brought together innovative video work by artists such as Ryan Trecartin and Hito Steyerl, both of whom have explored “the idea that screen space has become a new way to re-envision ourselves—our identities,” Ritter says.

This March, he takes that theme a step further in his next major curatorial project: the Armory Show’s Focus section, an area of the famed art fair organized by a different outside curator each year. Together, the 28 gallery presentations selected by Ritter explore not just how the digital age has transformed the way we express identity (via social media, for example) but how it might change our bodies themselves.

Hermann Nitsch's "Schuttbild" (1983). Courtesy Marc Straus Gallery.

Each of the 34 artists tapped for the section makes work that provokes questions about what the curator cautiously refers to as the “post-human future.” “What is going to happen to the human body when technology eclipses the human mind? What does it mean to be without a body? Is that something that’s even going happen?” he says of the themes that emerge from various practices on view.

Some artists in the presentation broach these ideas head-on, by harnessing the technologies that inspire them. South Africa–based artist Tabita Rezaire explores the exclusionary, racist underbelly of internet culture in videos filled with bodies that float, at once caged and liberated, in digital space.

Other works, like a grouping of paintings by the septuagenarian Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch, are more tangible. The canvases seethe with violent, coagulated splatters resembling bodily fluids. According to Ritter, they offer a counterpoint to work like Rezaire’s by reminding us “how fragile the physical body is at the end of the day. Just a sack of flesh and bones,” he says. “I think the inclusion of something like that is a very visceral reminder of what we are—despite all of what we hope to be.”

Keep reading for a tour of Ritter’s home and personal art collection.

From 2011-2012 I was living in Tokyo on a Japan Foundation Doctoral Foundation. Instead of working on my dissertation, I really just hung out with artist friends and immersed myself in the Tokyo arts scene. Shimon [Minamikawa] was a friend through his gallery Misako & Rosen, the owners of which I have known for ages and consider to be family. I saved up as much as I could while studying abroad, and used that money to put a down payment on this work, “Black dots man stripes” (2009). I love the mix of pop and gestural abstraction and how that visual language informs the articulation of the figure. It should be noted that I eventually paid off this work, and completed my dissertation, so this work is a testament to keeping your priorities straight!

I first saw Aliza Nisenbaum’s work at the 2015 Liste fair in Basel, Switzerland where this small painting, “Anthony and I, Susanna’s letter” (2015), caught my attention. From that chance encounter,  I subsequently met with the artist at her studio in New York and started what would become a lovely friendship. Fast-forward more than two years, and I am proud to have organized Aliza’s first solo museum exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art titled, A Place We Share. This particular work is both a still life and a self-portrait of sorts, which is very special to me.

This is a work by Kyoto-based artist Teppei Kaneuji, who works primarily in collage and assemblage with materials taken from Japanese popular culture or daily life, combining unlikely materials to create new forms. Titled “Splash and Flake (Pipeline #1)” (2009), the core is a tree stump that branches out with colorful prosthesis made out of plumbing fixtures and other industrial materials. We don’t own a TV, so this work acts as the centerpiece for the family entertainment system above the stereo. As long as it doesn’t poke your eye out, it’s quite a conversation piece.

Over the last year I’ve started a modest record collection, inspired by the L.A.-based artist Dave Muller who has a massive collection of over 5000 LPs. Minneapolis turns out to be an amazing place for collecting vinyl, and on any given day I can stop by two or three record stores around Mia on the way home. It’s also another way to collect and engage with the cities I visit on my curatorial travels. I went a little overboard on this last trip to South Africa with a ton of rare Afrobeat and Afrofunk finds from the 1970s.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the gallery One & J. Gallery, located in Seoul, on a few international projects over the years, and they very kindly gifted me this work, called “Night Tree” (2007). Jina Park is known for these amazing moonlight picnic scenes, and snapshots of daily life in the Seoul art world—artist studios, gallery openings, installations, etc. I really love the dark atmosphere of this willow tree, and it is representative of the fun times the gallery and I have had in L.A., Seoul, and elsewhere.

Obligatory stack of art catalogs and coffee table art books. I work as the Curator of Contemporary Art at an encyclopedic institution, so this covers a range of my interests from emerging artists like Sara Cwynar and Chihiro Mori to more established figures like Tiffany Chung, Gabriel Orozco, Richard Tuttle, and Shinro Ohtake who will be the subject of a major survey exhibition I am planning for 2020/2021.

Curators tend to move around a lot, and now with a young son, there are a number of works that my wife and I have collected that we either don’t have space for or are not safe with my son running around. This somewhat unsightly scene is our art storage corner, and a “work in progress.”

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