Progress Report: Q&A with Kris Chatterson and Vince Contarino

Give it time and the Internet will mobilize for change in just about any arena. So it’s not surprising that artist-run exhibition spaces -- always bastions of change -- are increasingly striving for a stronger online presence, sometimes even eschewing fixed brick-and-mortar locales all together. And it’s not just exhibition spaces. Artist-run curatorial projects like HKJB, Culture hall, and Progress Report exist mainly on the web, producing information that’s decentralized and disseminated horizontally, peer-to-peer. All of which is relatively new.

One of these projects, Progress Report, is designed as an online curatorial resource centered on visual content and studio visits. Co-founded by Brooklyn-based painters Kris Chatterson and Vince Contarino, their project is particularly keen on abstraction and focuses on the creative process from the perspective of working artists. This is noteworthy not only because Chatterson and Contarino are a couple of accomplished abstract painters in their own right, but also because they prove to have an expansive grasp for what their contemporaries are up to. -

More about Progress Report and our conversation after the jump. -Matthew Smith, D.C. Contributor

Installation view of The Working Title, a group show on abstraction curated by Progress Report and exhibited at the Bronx River Arts Center, March 25 through April 29, 2011.

Installation view, The Working Title. (L to R) Pamela Jorden, Echo Music, 2010; Stacy Fisher, Fuchsia Sculpture with Wood, 2010; Ivin Ballen, More Cubes, 2010; Vince Contarino, Altar, 2011.

Earlier this year Progress Report curated their first show, The Working Title, which exhibited last spring at the Bronx River Arts Center. Borne out of their online project, and with encouragement from former BRAC curator Jose Ruiz, the show included 32 artists, most of them painters, many of whom we’ve seen on the NAP blog and in the print edition before -- among them Cordy Ryman, Jered Sprecher, (NAP #64 and 2000 MFA Annual)Joshua Abelow (NAP #44), Stacy Fischer, Britton Tolliver (NAP #65), Gary Petersen (NAP #45). The Working Title certainly packed a punch, showcasing the fluidity in materials and methods that defines contemporary abstraction.

Cordy Ryman | Vector, 2010, enamel, shellac and epoxy on wood, 36.25” x 33.5”, courtesy of DCKT, New York, NY

Fast forward a few months and Ruiz -- now D.C.-based with his project Furthermore, which is itself a cosmopolitan proponent of decentralization -- is collaborating with Progress Report again by printing editions of works by artists in The Working Title. The idea is to circumvent traditional models by producing accessible means for artists to distribute their work, all the while bridging the two cities -- New York and D.C. -- via artist-run projects.

I took Progress Report’s virtual visit to D.C. as an opportunity to catch up with Chatterson and Contarino and to get their thoughts on artist-run projects, their show The Working Title, and contemporary abstraction in general.

Installation view, The Working Title. (L to R) Keltie Ferris, Black Power, 2010; Joshua Abelow, Self-Portrait, 2010; Halsey Hathaway, Untitled, 2010

Matthew Smith: Can you tell me about Progress Report? What do you do and what’s the impulse behind it?

Progress Report: We started Progress Report as an online project in January 2010. The idea was to feature artists, share studio visits, and eventually have it grow into a curatorial resource for ourselves and others. We wanted to create something that was highly visual, giving our readers a glimpse of the creative process from the working artist’s perspective.

The format allows our readers, many of whom are artists, to discover parallels in their own work that they may not have been aware of, through a genuine, pro-active approach. Our intention is to have Progress Report become a viable resource where art enthusiasts and professionals alike are introduced to, and can potentially work with new artists.

MS: How does Progress Report reflect your own concerns as artists?

PR: While we were both already exchanging studio visits, Progress Report was instrumental in meeting artists that we respected, wanted to learn more about, and share with others. We all have our own definition of ‘progress’, and how the different ways that development is measured is central to our project.

We believe that staying active and interested in what your peers are making is a healthy extension of your own practice. It also acts as a middle ground to balance out the sometimes hyper-social spectacle of art openings and the solitary nature of studio time.

Kris Chatterson | Untitled, 2011, acrylic, uv inkjet on polyester over panel, 40” x 30”, courtesy of Jeff Bailey Gallery, New York, NY
Vince Contarino | Altar, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 18”, courtesy of the artist

MS: Considering the Internet’s democratic, decentralizing potential, I wonder if online projects like Progress Report (or HKJB, Culturehall, etc) are creating new regions of influence that artists are becoming increasingly attuned to. Would you agree with that? What do you think is the impact of online projects like yours?

PR: Yes, we think that this is definitely the case. A good deal of what we know about the exchange of ideas and conversations from art history has come down to us through certain degrees of separation, having advanced to the point of myth or legend. While the immediacy of the blog format de-mystifies assumptions about the one’s studio practice, it also offers a deeper understanding of the work through sharing our first-hand accounts with the artists. It is also empowering for artists to come together and support the work they like outside of the art market, but in tandem with the art-world-at-large.

In addition to the studio visits, an equally important section of the site is called ‘Take Five’ where we give previously featured artists the opportunity to select five artists of their choosing, allowing them to shape new content and acknowledge threads of influence in an organic way. We feel that this is an intuitive approach to get other artists more involved, giving the site a more diverse feel.

Some other on- and offline projects that we follow and support are Art Blog Art Blog, Artcards Review, Minus Space, Concrete Walls, Daily Operation, and 16 Miles of String. These types of projects have the capacity to break down geographic barriers for artists to share their work. This offers an alternative for artists to be part of a larger conversation and participate in the art world in a way that they might not be able to otherwise. In this way, the internet has had a strange shrinking and expanding effect in making the world smaller by connecting many people in ways that were impossible even ten years ago.

MS: Did the exhibition The Working Title grow from your online presence, and how is the philosophy of your project reflected in the works and artists you selected for the show?

PR: Based on our work through Progress Report, we were invited by Jose Ruiz, founder of Furthermore and the former Director of the Bronx River Art Center to organize a recent survey of contemporary abstraction from the artist’s perspective. In this way, The Working Title was about bringing the spirit of Progress Report into a physical space.

The timing for The Working Title was relevant to other larger-scale surveys, writing and publications that were happening around the same time.

Selecting work for the show was really a mixture of artists that we found through our peer group, word of mouth, and those we became aware of through seeing in exhibitions around town. It was important to get perspectives from artists at different points in their careers to give the show a wider context for current abstraction. The way we were able to narrow down the final list was to focus on artists whose individual works had a real presence, but we also considered how they would relate to each other in the group and activate the space in unexpected ways.

Jered Sprecher | Ahab, 2010, oil on canvas, 20” x 16”, courtesy of Jeff Bailey Gallery, New York, NY

MS: Most of the works in The Working Title are paintings, with a couple of exceptions. Was the show meant to explore painterly concerns? And how are the more three-dimensional works related to those concerns?

PR: That was an interesting discovery in selecting work for the show. From the onset we knew that we did not want to make a ‘painting’ show, but explore abstraction in a broad sense with the ideas, approach to materials, and formal invention driving the work. Most of the time, when someone mentions ‘abstraction’, it’s assumed that the work being made is painting, but some of the most exciting work we were seeing was sculpture, video, and other hybrid approaches to art-making.

Inna Babaeva, one of the artists in the show who we collaborated with on our first print edition with Furthermore, is a sculptor who makes very painterly decisions in her work. Instead of traditional art supplies, she uses materials mostly found in hardware stores, creating bold works that are exercises in absurd sophistication.

On the flipslide, there were also painters that were exploring the perception of space that had sculptural inner workings on the flat plane of the canvas. Much like in our own work, we were interested in how the push and pull of these two separate approaches come together for the sake of discovering a fresh perspective on abstraction.

Inna Babaeva | More Than You Think, 2011, softwood lumber, pvc clear sheets, casters, 64” x 90” x 40”, courtesy of Progress Report and the artist.

Installation view, The Working Title. (L to R) Letha Wilson, Double Dip, 2009; Patrick Brennan, The Montauk Discussion, 2010–11; Jasmine Justice, Rosy View, 2009; Benjamin King, Untitled, 2010.

MS: What, if anything, does The Working Title tell us about the way that artists approach abstraction today?

PR: The reason we pulled together the group that we did for The Working Title, was to highlight many different approaches to abstraction...with freedom, rigor, and a cross-current of visual conversations being central to the work we selected. It was important to feature work that was uninterested in coining a new term or movement, but more concerned with breathing new life into what we view as a relatively young tradition.

We feel that abstraction is wide open right now and is reminiscent of work being made in the 1970s with a lot of experimentation going on and artists supporting each other in the process. The approaches are not regulated to this time period, but similar in spirit and impulse. There is no one dogma or style that is dominant at the moment and we wanted our show to reflect that.

On a related note, here is an interesting excerpt from David Reed’s recent feature in Art in America, reminiscing on the words of his mentor Milton Resnick, one of the key figures of Abstract Expressionism:

“Speaking of his generation, Milton said: “It’s over for us. Something else must be done. We didn’t make it: learn from our failure.” Abstract Expressionist painters had too highly valued their personal techniques and too carefully protected their individual styles; “the ladder was forced under us” by critics and curators.”

This is a very strong statement that encourages learning from, challenging, and supporting one another. The thing that excites us the most about abstraction is that we believe this remains fertile ground for artists to approach their work with ground-breaking ambition or to further explore previous movements with a fresh set of eyes.

Amy Feldman | Whole, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 80” x 90”, courtesy of Progress Report and the artist

MS: Any other big projects in the works?

PR: We’re excited about our new print collaboration with Furthermore as a way to continue working with the artists from The Working Title. Our next curatorial project will open in early December at Tompkins Projects in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn. The show is called Ritual Aesthetics, with the work selected for the exhibition focusing on different ways ritual can influence or drive the studio practice through ceremonial performance, an allegiance to underground movements, or systematic approaches to art-making. Aside from that, we’re just looking forward to the year ahead in visiting and discovering new artists to feature on Progress Report.


Kris Chatterson is a Brooklyn-based artist. In September 2011 he had his first solo show with the Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York City, and in February 2011 he had his second solo show with Western Project in Los Angeles CA. Select past group exhibitions include: Pieced Together, HKJB, Brooklyn, NY; Power to the People, Feature INC., New York, NY; I Wanna Be Somewhere, Daily Operation, New York, NY; and Keep Feeling (Fasinotation) New Abstract Painting in LA, Luckman Gallery, Cal State, Los Angeles, CA. Kris received his MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 2004. He is represented by Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York and Western Project in Los Angeles.

Vince Contarino is a Brooklyn-based abstract painter. Recent exhibition venues include: 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel (solo), New York, NY; Janet Kurnatowski Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; Geoffrey Young Gallery, Great Barrington, MA. He was an artist-in-residence at The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation Space Program 2010-11. His work has been featured in Artcards Review, EMPTY Magazine, and Hyperallergic.

Furthermore's print shop in downtown Washington, D.C. will be producing limited-edition prints by artists from the exhibition The Working Title, in partnership with Progress Report and the Bronx River Art Center. The first project is a limited-edition print by Ukrainian-born, NY-based artist Inna Babaeva. The next project, scheduled for late October, will feature the work of painter Halsey Hathaway.

Matthew Smith is an artist and writer in Washington, DC and a frequent contributor to DCist.