Jo-ey Tang: “Unmaking” the Beeler

Suzanne Goldsmith

Jo-ey Tang, the new director of exhibitions at the Columbus College of Art and Design’s Beeler Gallery, announced his presence last week with the opening of an exhibition that, according to the program description, “is not an exhibition.”

How well do you behave? IN THE FLAT FIELD. is the name Tang has given to what he is referring to as a “season.” It’s a presentation of artworks and, in this case, printed materials that will accumulate and change as he adds and subtracts collections and pieces throughout a season that will focus on the Beeler’s role within the college and the community. Some of the pieces currently on exhibit are printed promotional materials from design school galleries near and far, and a series of exhibition posters from Portikus, a contemporary art space in Frankfurt, Germany. The season will also include a series of related events: public conversations, film, a listening evening and an international art book fair.

Tang calls it “slow programming.”

“It’s a compelling approach,” says CCAD president Melanie Corn. “It encourages students to think about how an exhibition is made, and it encourages people to come back multiple times as it changes.”

Tang, who was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Oakland, California, says his ideas and sensibilities are the result of living, studying and making art in institutions with varied cultures: Carleton College, the San Francisco Art Institute, New York University, Paris’ Palais de Tokyo and, most recently, Villa Arson, a small art school in Nice. “How different all those schools were allowed me to ... believe in the kind of power a person could have in any school,” he says, “and the sense that there are rules that can be changed.”

Slight and soft-spoken, with long dark hair and a wispy mustache, Tang nevertheless projects confidence in his ideas, moving briskly through the gallery to show a visitor the pieces he has gathered for the show. He avoids the word “curate.” “I feel like I’m organizing materials and working with people. I’m listening to, sensing the conversations around me, trying to put something concrete in this space.”

Some of the walls are still bare. One room has been designated as a “waiting room;” the entrances are covered with plexiglass but visitors can peer in to get a sneak peek at additional materials, such as a series of publications from the radical 60s-era Detroit Printing Co-op. Currently laid out on blankets on the floor, these materials will show up in the gallery later in the season.

The opening event itself was a departure for the Beeler, CCAD’s largest exhibition space; wine, beer and food were served inside the gallery while a DJ spun a thread of electronic sound. “Traditionally, they do everything outside [in the lobby] and this is a pristine art space,” Tang explained in an interview the day before the opening.

“When Jo-ey came to us, one of the ideas he talked about—even in the interview—was this concept of slow programming,” says Corn. “It is unconventional. As you can see, the exhibit is half-empty. It called for an unconventional opening.”

“I think my role is to sort of unmake this space,” says Tang. “I’m not taking down any walls, but I think about what this space means.” To that end, Tang has invited two past directors of the gallery to participate in a public conversation about “the unique role of galleries within an art school context, the recent evolution and history of Beeler Gallery, and what it means to ‘take over’ a space.”

That conversation, which will include Tang’s predecessors Michael Goodson, now senior curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts, and James Voorhies, now dean of fine arts at California College of the Arts, will take place Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

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