What's Next for NEXT: Q&A with Curatorial Director, Ken Tyburski

Photo credit: Timothy Tompkins, Explosion_v3, 2010.

It seemed as if the entirety of the American art world descended upon Chicago at the end of April last year, and with good reason. Now heading into its fourth edition, 2011 will mark the first year that NEXT, the Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art, will sit side-by-side with the stalwart Art Chicago on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart, April 29 - May 2. Growing larger and to more and more critical acclaim in the last few years, the Spring fairs in Chicago received a staggering 50,000 visitors in 2010, and that figure is almost certain to get blown out of the water this year.

NEXT really seemed to be the hot ticket last year, featuring young, hot (even unheard of) galleries, exciting new work, and panels at Talk Shop + CONVERGE Contemporary Curators Forum, right smack in the center of the fair. However, with both NEXT and Art Chicago exhibiting alongside one another this weekend, the opportunity exists for each fair to stand out more than ever before.

So, what does the new layout mean for viewers? To find out, we spoke with NEXT's Curatorial Director, Ken Tyburski, who puts the "KT" in DCKT when he's not designing art fairs with Curatorial Advisor and NEXT co-founder, Kavi Gupta. Our conversation after the jump.

Evan J. Garza, Editor-at-Large

Shepard Fairey, Lotus, Silkscreen and Mixed Media Collage on Paper, 41.5 x 41.5 inches. Courtesy the artist and Robert Berman Gallery.

EJG: For the first time, NEXT and Art Chicago will be side by side on the same floor this year, allowing audiences to move seamlessly from one fair to the other. Will there be a clear delineation between the two? How does the new layout help NEXT this year?
KT: We’ve designed the fair so that there’s a clean look. We’ve taken out a section of the fair and revamped it into what you might consider a traditional art fair look. You're not going to see the alcoves and nooks that Art Chicago is known for. It’s a clean look. Plus there’s signage for viewers as well. It’s very seamless. I was walking the floor ten minutes ago, one last time, and you can tell the difference [between the fairs] from wherever you are.

How does this effect the curatorial direction for you and NEXT exhibitors?
For me, the challenge was how to retro fit into the existing layout [of Merchandise Mart]. Once I was able to reconfigure it, that was the main challenge: seeing what type of spaces, and what type of booths, I would have for the galleries we were approaching and who approached us.

Matthew Abbott, Totally Whatever, 2011 | Courtesy the artist and Dunham Place Salon. (Participant in NEXT)

What are your biggest challenges when working on a project of this scale? Tell me about how you make those differences clear to audiences.
The nice thing about doing fairs here at Merchandise Mart is that there’s a staff that runs over 200 events here a year, so for most fairs where logistics seem to be a big deal, for us it’s how to differentiate between Art Chicago and NEXT, and keeping NEXT fresh.

I work very closely with the team at Art Chicago, and Paul Morris, who’s our interim director. Every applicant, or every gallery we approach, are people we all know. What I look for is the emerging [component]. So say somebody from a gallery like David Zwirner wants to show a brand new artist, something like that, we would do it. There’s some flexibility, but the focus is always emerging.

What can established fairs like Art Basel and The Armory Show learn from big up-and-comers like NEXT?
You know, fairs like Art Basel and The Armory Show, they know that galleries come and go. And those fairs always need to be on top of who the up-and-coming galleries are so they can start finding them for themselves.

There were more than 50,000 visitors to the Chicago fairs in 2010. Are you expecting a larger turnout this year?
We are. This time last year we had about 650 tickets sold for First Focus, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago preview and benefit. A month ago we already had 1000 tickets sold. So I think we’re going to see the same numbers, if not more.

The Art Chicago | NEXT fairs will take place this weekend, April 29 - May 2, at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

Ken Tyburski is Curatorial Director for NEXT and is a partner at DCKT Contemporary.

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