Jury Spotlight: An Interview with Kelly Montana


Each fair stARTup gathers six of the art world’s industry leaders to ensure that each fair is fresh and unique, with the highest level of exhibitors from the contemporary art scene.

In preparation for our inaugural Houston fair in October, we called upon the talent of Kelly Montana, the Assistant Curator at the Menil Drawing Institute. Artists should note that artist applications are open through August 11th.

On our most recent trip to Houston we talked to Kelly about her curatorial philosophy, favorite past shows, and what currently inspires her.

Why did you go into curation?

As a college student, I was interested in government, but some landmark exhibitions — the MFA Houston’s Inverted Utopias show always jumps to mind — made me realize that museums could also address history and politics.

From  Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America

From Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America

What is your primary inspiration when curating shows? Is it a theme, a collection of art / artists, or something else?

My exhibitions are primarily driven by a question: how was this artist using drawing differently, how does this artist’s work disrupt our understanding of a medium/movement/moment, who were the artists being left out of conversations and was that discontent expressed? But the question an exhibition always has to answer is: why now?

How do you handle difficult moments — like the feeling when an artist's work isn't as strong as you thought?

I have had moments before where I thought a particular work of art could hold a wall and that hasn’t panned out. But that’s more a failing on my end than on the work. In the argument of a given exhibition, it just meant that work of art had a different role to play. A work doesn’t have to be knockout to be integral.

Shaped by Abstraction

Shaped by Abstraction

Is there a favorite or particularly memorable show you've curated so far?

I am going to call out a show I did at Box 13 Artspace a few years ago — Shaped by Subtraction. The participating artists, Dylan Connor, Ronald Jones, Jessica Ninci, and Xochi Solis were all so generous to let me play out a theme I had been working through in my drawing curation and apply it to their work in sculpture and installation.


And finally, what inspires you currently?

Lately, I am gaining inspiration from music. There is limited ability to use words within the context of an exhibition to explain the concept driving the presentation, and music has been useful in thinking about how to relate works of art to each other to tell a story: creating staccato rhythms, visual refrains, generating momentum, and/or purposefully injecting sudden halts or sojourns.


All stARTup artists are vetted by an independent jury for each fair to ensure that art collectors, enthusiasts, and professionals are discovering and purchasing works from today's top independent artists in the market.

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Q&A by Fair Director Ray Beldner and Content Curator Mica England