Rob Garrett, BFA (Elam, Auckland) and MA (Otago) is an independent curator, currently based in Gdynia (PL) and originally from Auckland (NZ), with more than 35 years’ in the contemporary art sector including curatorial experience in New Zealand, Poland, Italy, Sweden, France, Turkey, Germany and India.
He was founding curator of an international programme for emergent artists at the independent project space Corner Window Gallery (2012-2018) in Auckland, New Zealand. Open continuously for 80 months, Garrett's program supported 50 artists from 17 countries presenting 45 contemporary art projects. Very often the artists were able to experiment with new ideas and projects, and sometimes their Corner project was their first public showing outside the art academy and for most of the international artists, their first exhibition in New Zealand.
Recent projects include curating the 12th edition of inSPIRACJE International Visual Art Festival: "Breathtaking" in Szczecin, Poland (2017); the 11th edition of the Artists' Competition as part of inSPIRACJE International Visual Arts Festival "Immersions" in Szczecin, Poland (2016), produced in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art, National Museum in Szczecin; curating the 8th edition of SCAPE Public Art Christchurch Biennial: “New Intimacies” in New Zealand, include selecting the New Zealand content of "Entre Islas / Between Islands" International VideoArt Festival (2016); curating the 7th through 10th editions of the NZ Sculpture OnShore biennial exhibition (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014); curating "Unearthing Delights" the 5th edition of Narracje public art festival in Gdańsk, Poland (2013); commissioning and curating a public art project by Australian artist Daniel von Sturmer titled "Production Stills" in Wellington, New Zealand (2013-2014); curating "Don't hold your breath" the New Zealand-Australian programme for the AIVA public art video festival in Ängelholm, Sweden (2012); and devising the international group exhibition "Lost in a dream" for the artist-run gallery Snake Pit in Auckland, New Zealand (2012); Francis Upritchard's public artwork for Auckland Council, "Loafers" (2012), Auckland, NZ; and Neil Miller's public artwork for Hamilton City Council, “Te tiaho o Matariki / the brightness of the Pleiades" (2011), Garden Place, Hamilton, NZ.
His numerous public art advisory projects have included developing a city-wide public art policy for Auckland (2013); and a 10-year public art plan for Hamilton, New Zealand (2010).
Prior to becoming an independent curator in 2006 his former roles included Government-appointed Council Member and then senior manager with Creative New Zealand, New Zealand’s arts council; leader of New Zealand’s pavilion project for the 2005 Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art; Head of the School of Art in Dunedin, New Zealand; and Founding Chair of Arts Festival Dunedin, Dunedin, New Zealand.
In January 2016 he was guest speaker at the LUX Helsinki 2016 Symposium in Helsinki, Finland; in November 2015 he was guest panellist at the “Curating Under Pressure”, a symposium on the ethics of curating organised by the Goethe-Institut in Christchurch, NZ; and in October 2015 he was guest presenter at the “Lichtungen-HUB” symposium at the Lichtungenfest in Hildesheim, Germany. In May 2014, Rob Garrett was guest curatorial resident at Villa Arson, Nice (FR). He has also held guest lectureships at AUT University of Auckland (NZ), Art Academy of Gdańsk (PL), Dunedin School of Art (NZ), La Trobe University, Melbourne (AU), Whitecliffe College of Art and Design, Auckland (NZ), Browne School of Art, Auckland (NZ) and La Station contemporary artspace, Nice (FR).
As a curator and writer (and recently, again as an art teacher), many of Rob Garrett's values and intuitive approaches have their roots in his early art education and previous art practice.
Under the tutelage of Jim Allen, New Zealand performance and conceptual art pioneer, at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, Garrett experienced teaching that was non-directive and focused on open-ended discussions about work-in-progress and ideas that would lead to new combinations of thought and new collaborations between the participants (artists, students, lecturers). He learned the value of creating complex situations - both pedagogic and artistic - that could empower people to imagine freely, make their own creative connections and engage in their own critical thinking.
From Elam's photography professors, Tom Hutchins (1921-2007) and John B. Turner (co-founders of PhotoForum Magazine), Garrett learned the value of an art practice that engages authentically with the everyday and the lived realities of the people around you. It was a position reinforced by his later study of Michel Foucault who claimed theory started at the point you walked out your own door into the street.
Garrett's graduation project at Auckland's then only art academy was a major photo and text essay on the work of medical staff at the Accident & Emergency Department of Auckland's largest public hospital. The project was achieved during a self-organised 3-month artist residency in the hospital's A&E Department; and was realised in the form of a limited edition hand-made photographic artist's book.
During the 1980s and early 90s, Garrett's art practice largely entailed performances and ephemeral sculptural assemblages, burials and site markings in both urban public space and wilderness areas throughout New Zealand. He also made artist books and realised two public museum projects, at Manawatu Art Gallery in Palmerston North and City Gallery in Wellington. His art projects typically explored ecological and astronomical themes; findings from cultural and historical site research; responses to immediate social situations; and body rituals, costumes and masks influeced by shamanic and folk traditions.
Previous roles include: