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People will talk: John Massier

John Massier, Visual Arts Curator at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, is a Toronto native who has lived in Buffalo for over 10 years. Massier, 48, will have his first ever exhibit, KINGDOM: Selections from The Early 21st Century at the Birch Libralato Gallery in Toronto. We spoke about freedom of speech, Facebook, and really SEEING.

Jana Eisenberg: You frequently talk about others’ artwork, helping promote artists, Hallwalls, etc.—are you comfortable talking about yourself?
John Massier: Ask me some questions and we’ll see.

JE: You’re a curator, artist, what I might call a rabble-rouser; an unabashed opinionated fellow. You don’t seem to care what others think. Is that your philosophy?
JM: I don’t have an abiding philosophy...but I don’t think “rabble-rouser.” I’m pretty low-key. I speak my mind. I’m in a field where that is the only value. All of us who work in contemporary art/culture; those of us who work at Hallwalls, are about freedom of speech. We exist and believe in that culture.
So, I don’t think of myself as a rabble-rouser. I’m probably like most people, and see myself as far more boring and uninteresting than the description you just gave.

JE: How did your visual fixation manifest early on?
JM: In grade school, I had this weird, complex scrapbooking habit. Very much about composing a page; how things look. After 20 years as a curator—looking at things artists make—whatever predilection I had has been reinforced. There’s looking and then there is “looking,” I’m always “looking.”

JE: You frequently post images on Facebook—of yourself as a child, and of things that intrigue or entertain you.
JM: Pictures of myself as a child, I think they’re funny. My own photographs happen organically and naturally. I always carry a camera in my pocket. The images for KINGDOM are culled from The Early 21st Century series, which have been posted in low res form on Facebook for the last few years. I could have called it World Without End; I perceive this project as ongoing. In its FB iteration, the 1,200 kind of accumulate in some kind of aggregate meaning centered around “how things look” at this time, in these places. For a gallery context, I applied stricter criteria and located only a few dozen that would be worthy of printing, mounting and hanging.

JE: In recent history, many staff at Buffalo arts institutions—you, Louis Grachos, Ted Pietrzak—have been Canadian. Why?
JM: And I would add instructors at UB, too. I think it’s coincidental. We each arrived here from different avenues. Yes, Louis is Canadian, but spent most of his career in the American system. Ted came here after Hamilton; becoming a regional museum director here was the right fit, he was the right guy. I came here after several years of contemporary programming in Canada, in line with what Hallwalls would do. So it makes sense.
I don’t think in those terms until people get on me for my (supposed) accent. I live and work here; I think of myself as a Buffalonian.


The opening reception for Massier’s photography exhibit is Thursday, July 28, 5 to 8pm; show runs through August 27, 2011. For more info, birchlibralato.com


Comments, questions, suggestions? Email jeisenberg@buffalospree.com.

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