Bonnie Clearwater is the director and chief curator at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Originally from Rockland County, New York; she has also been the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami; Executive Director of the Lannan Foundation Art Programs in Los Angeles, and Director of the Lannan Museum in Lake Worth, Florida. Bonnie is known for her scholarship on contemporary and modern art—particularly Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, and Tracey Emin. She is recognized for her curatorial vision, museum education and outreach programs, and developing the careers of emerging artists.
Finding Recognition as an Artist—Emerging and Under-Recognized Categories“The art world is always looking for artists who are under-represented, and in my career, not only do I look for up-and-coming new talent, but also the artists who are overlooked for some reason or another— it wasn’t the right time or the right place.”“[Mark] Rothko was particularly concerned as to why he became well-known, whereas a number of the other artists he started out with or got to know later in his career—he felt that they were great talent as well and yet had not achieved recognition.”“Not any one person can ‘make’ an artist…it’s a mysterious process…who the influencers are changes.”“It’s hard to say to an artist that this is how they can identify how [the process of being recognized as an emerging artist] is done… the best thing they can do is make their art, have the contacts and be ready and open to possibilities.”“I think right now what I am seeing in the art world is that it has returned to the artist- driven art world.”
Visibility for Artists and their Work“There are so many platforms now for an artist living in obscure or out-of-the way places to get their work out and be seen.”“Network. Make sure that if there is a museum or an art center or dealers…that the artist attends their events…that’s a number one thing an artist needs to do to in order to get their art out in front and known—it’s really hard to just send work out cold to a gallery or curator.”“If there are grants…[artists] should definitely apply for those. In most cases those grants are reviewed by a peer panel, or of professionals who are either curators or critics; therefore it’s getting in front of exactly the people you want.”“Travel. Make sure that you know what’s happening in the rest of the United States, or your region, and around the world.”“Find other artists to be able to talk to. When artists are in art school, they have a support base that will critique them. But what happens after graduation, is that artists are in their studio all alone, there’s no one to talk to, no one to get that critical feedback from. So it’s important to also build up a network of artists one respects and have that kind of critical dialogue.”
Curatorial Decisions“I can tell you almost exclusively, any artist whose work I’ve been interested in, it’s the work that’s attracted me first…I could see in the work that there is something about it that is true, that’s compelling, that is bringing a new way to think about things and is making me want to think about it.”“After I meet with the artist, I do want to have a sense that there is enough in them to carry a career. That what they’re trying to do is so expansive and multi-faceted that they won’t get stuck in one idea that they’ll be repeating for the rest of their career.”
Artist-Collector Connections“It is interesting to hear why collectors collect, why they’re passionate, what they’ve learned… it’s important for artists to hear how their work is perceived beyond their own studio.”“There’s all kinds of collectors. There’s those that in one aspect that they like the story. They like to know what the background of the artist and how that plays out in their work…”
Beyond Insta-Influencers“The influencers in technology are still shaping the perception of who is worth looking at. I came to this realization with some collectors I’m friends with who got on Instagram early…I realized [influencing with technology is] the same that it’s always been. Here is this person and influencer with a circle of collectors and critics and dealers and curators—observing. Who are they looking at? Who are they buying? Who are they passionate about?”“One of the things we need more of is this greater focus and deeper engagement with the [art] work and the ideas around it.”
Art in South Florida & Broward County“My greatest joy is working with the general public and seeing their response to the work and grasping the ideas behind it and light bulbs going on over their heads and having excitement.”“We’ve been working with the Broward Libraries doing programs at the library reaching into all different parts of Broward, as well as doing exhibitions and talks at the museum that brings in the community—these are things that are natural for the museum to be doing.”“It’s been exciting to see how Fort Lauderdale and our museum have become the center for the South Florida Art Coast.”