May 04 2015

Curator Jane Farver dies at 68

by Hanae Ko

From left to right: Paul C. Ha, Jane Farver and Ute Meta Bauer. Image sourced from the MIT List Visual Arts Center Facebook page.

On April 29, renowned curator and museum administrator Jane Farver died from a heart attack while in Venice, where she was working with performance artist Joan Jonas on the catalogue for her presentation in the United States Pavilion of the 56th Venice Biennale, which opens next week. Farver was 68 years old. Her sudden passing was confirmed by a representative at Queens Museum in New York, where Farver was the director of exhibitions from 1992 to 1999.

Farver was best known for orchestrating “Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin 1950s–1980s,” an exhibition held at the Queens Museum in 1999, which helped bring international recognition to the New York institution. The show, which later traveled to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Miami Art Museum and the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was lauded for its daring, revisionist take on conceptual art history by including artists from South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. While at the Queens Museum, she also organized significant Asian art exhibitions such as “Across the Pacific: Contemporary Korean and Korean American Art,” “Cai Guo-Qiang, Cultural Melting Bath: Projects for the 20th Century,” and “Out of India: Contemporary Art of the South Asian Diaspora.”

From 1999 to 2011, Farver headed the MIT List Visual Arts Center, where she organized solo exhibitions of many prominent artists, including for Mel Chin, Michael Joo, Paul Pfeiffer, Runa Islam, and Tavares Strachan. “Jane had an incredible eye and an artist’s perspective,” wrote Joo in an email to ArtAsiaPacific. “She always leaned towards the more challenging works it seemed nobody else understood. To me, Jane was a true artists’ curator and ally […] Modest and soft-spoken, she was nonetheless extremely passionate about her opinions and beliefs. The Jane I remember was interested in bridging dichotomies rather than pointing out contradictions. She was my curator, mentor, champion and friend, and will be missed. Her list of groundbreaking achievements is long […] but perhaps the most important legacy to consider are the ongoing investigations she inspired in those artists that had the privilege of working with and knowing her.”

In 2003, when the List Center organized the American presentation for the 9th International Cairo Biennial, Farver served as the co-commissioner for the American representative Paul Pfeiffer. She was also the co-commissioner for the United States Pavilion at the 49th Venice Biennale (2001), where Fred Wilson represented the US. In recent years after leaving MIT, Farver organized Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale in South Korea in 2011 and had been the consulting director for the Prospect New Orleans art biennial since 2012. She was also a board member of International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York.

By May 1, many people posted on Farver’s Facebook wall, including curator Reiko Tomii who wrote: “Jane was an early supporter of mine and a frequent collaborator. I will always remember the forward-looking vision she held for non-Western contemporary art.” Charles Desmarais, president of the San Francisco Art Institute, said, “Jane Farver’s work at MIT and elsewhere was a model to us all.”

In an email to ArtAsiaPacific, artist Rina Banerjee also paid tribute to Farver, with whom she had worked closely over the years. “Jane Farver was needed here and noticed everywhere, as she raised the standard for curators and institutional conscience, and demanded an artists’ ambition be as personal as it could possibly be,” wrote Banerjee. “Jane had the iron crown of idealism [and] bathed intellectual curiosity […] She triumphed to clear the path for artists and makers so that they did not have to kneel to the mountainous terrain of bad politics, racial class and gender inequalities—she did it with a soft voice, delicate sensibilities and a triangular approach that engulfed all self-doubt and would make people resilient to trends that consumed them […] We will all miss her strength, durability, affection and passion in approaching the work that still lays before us, which we will manage with her presence always in our minds.