Justin Hammond is an independent curator, art writer and publisher. In 2007 he devised the Catlin Art Prize, an annual showcase for the most talented new artists in the UK and later went on to compile The Catlin Guide, widely recognised as the essential reference for collectors of emerging artists. In 2010 he published An Unspoken Arrangement to coincide with Alex Ball’s debut solo exhibition, and as part of The Makers' Union curated Mike Ballard's Whose Coat is that Jacket You’re Wearing?, held in a disused tailor’s shop during Frieze. He is currently putting the finishing touches to The Catlin Guide 2013, set to launch at the London Art Fair in January.
What time do you wake up?
7.30. On a good day I'll run 10k and go a few rounds on the punch bag before starting work.
(Woah/ Wtf!) What's for breakfast?
I usually skip it. Fry-up at the weekend.
Where do you work?
I've got an office at home. North London.
What's on your desk?
Exhibition catalogues, magazines, pictures of my children, general junk... and a brand new pair of Scott Nichol socks.
(What are they?) First show you curated?
It was a painting show. I don't think it had a title – it was just a collection of stuff that I liked, jammed into a tiny shop in Hackney. In my naivety, I conceived it as a revolving exhibition – new work would go up on the wall in place of sold paintings. But nobody bought anything... primarily because nobody ever came.
He he. Do you use social media?
I've never had a Facebook profile, but I follow a lot of galleries, artists, writers and art magazines on Twitter. [@ArtCasual]
Catlin Art Prize 2011, Tramshed, London; Image by Peter Hope.
What does curating mean?
I'm irritated by the word – or rather how it's been hijacked and its meaning distorted – but there's no real alternative.
Organising? Overseeing? Exhibition planning? 'Curator' still sounds pretentious to me, despite its increasing ubiquity. Everyone is a curator now aren't they; everything is curated. Last year Stewart Lee wrote something for the FT after he was asked to 'curate' a weekend of music and comedy events at the Southbank Centre, describing it as a dead word that 'sounds like someone stirring turds in a toilet bowl with a stick'. I'd tend go along with that.
(Gross!) Which curators do you think are good at the moment?
Stewart Lee? Actually there's a serious point to be made here because Lee pitched a series of scenarios that were heavily improvised and so would never be repeated, as opposed to merely presenting a set of events – gigs/films/images/etc – that were fixed and offered only a preordained conclusion. On a very basic level, that's always something to aspire to: the construction of a unique and distinct experience.
What was the worst show you've been to?
Apart from that first painting show? No, I shan't be cruel and pick just one from the rotting heap of candidates.
How did you get here?
Well I studied Art History at Manchester University in the early 90s, but I sort of bunked in to be honest, I didn't have a master plan. I had no idea what a curator did, so I certainly didn't aspire to be one. I was just eager to learn more and avoid working.
I'd already exhausted the art section at my local library, so it seemed like a great idea. Even when I graduated and moved back to London I didn't look for work in a gallery or even hang about with artists, but I did still go to a lot of exhibitions. I took a part-time job in a record shop and eventually got round to putting on my own shows. There were loads of empty spaces in East London back then.
There are definitely fewer now. How did you get artists on board?
I simply approached the artists I liked. Perhaps not being an artist myself worked to my advantage; there was no politics, no 'wrong' way of doing things. I've learnt a lot as I've gone along, but I still feel like I'm only really getting started and developing a clear idea of what I want to achieve.
What are the best and worst things about it?
The pros and cons of being self-employed are always the same things, but I'm constantly working on a project: late every night and always over the weekend. It's too easy to obsess. I'm proud of how many strong working relationships have developed with artists that I've selected for a book or show; there's always a sense of fulfillment when those artists establish a presence in the art world.
Catlin Art Prize 2010, Village Underground, London.
Where will it go in the future?
Where will curating go in the future?
The definition is now so corrupt and removed from the art arena that perhaps it needs to be yanked back. Is a rigorous set of criteria the answer? There's certainly a whole bunch of curating MAs popping up. I'm not so sure, though I'm all for encouraging deeper critique of (art) curators' work.
Do (art) curators get enough credit for their work?
Some get too much. The idea of the 'super curator' is ludicrous… yet right at the opposite end of the scale an (art) curator is invariably saddled with an incredible workload and set of responsibilities, long before the show is even installed.
It’s actually pretty practical work, isn't it?
There's a venue to find, a lease and insurance policy to negotiate, deliveries and collections to arrange, and with a limited (i.e. non-existent) budget to entice a writer, it's usually down to the (art) curator to knock up an essay and accompanying wall text.
And all for the love of it, of course.
Oh. And I was going to ask about your salary…
(Image on top: Catlin Art Prize 2012, Londonewcastle Project Space, London; Image by Peter Hope.)