Danielle O'Steen: Curator on the Move

Danielle O’Steen is a Ph.D. Candidate, focusing on contemporary art. She is currently writing her dissertation on a history of plastics in American sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s. This year, she will begin a University of Maryland Museum Fellowship at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. In addition to her work at Maryland, O’Steen has curated exhibitions in the Washington area, at the Arlington Arts Center, the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, and Flashpoint Gallery, among other venues.

What are you up to?

In addition to writing my dissertation, I recently curated the 2016 Arts in Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Biennial, which is on view in Washington through October 22. Entitled Turf and Terrain, the exhibition includes artworks by 14 artists, installed on front yards and in gardens throughout Historic Foggy Bottom. The show expands the landscape of this intimate neighborhood, which most people in Washington do not know anything about. There is a very rich history there, which includes an industrial presence from breweries and gas works, as well as the first Naval Observatory built in the 19th century. Many of the homes in the area are original and carry some of those legacies. In planning the show, I asked the artists to engage these hidden histories that may have been forgotten or overlooked.

It was also important to me to expand our expectations of what outdoor sculpture should entail, so visitors will find interactive, new media, and performative works, alongside sculptures that represent a wide range of materials—marble, concrete, ceramic, plastic, and steel, among others. I also had the opportunity to work with several UMD-affiliated artists in the show: Krista Caballero, Rob Hackett, Jonathan Monaghan, and Dane Winkler.

The exhibition is really unique to the Washington area, as the works live outdoors in Foggy Bottom for six months and are open to the public 24/7. We provide brochures with a self-guided walking tour of the show at each site. We also host free public events, including a tour led by myself on Friday, September 16 at 7PM. There is a Micro-Ecosystems and Wild Fermentation Workshop by artist Benjamin Andrew on Saturday, September 17 and a durational performance by artist Eames Armstrong on Saturday, October 22. All events start in front of 842 New Hampshire Avenue (look for the yellow house), a few blocks from the Foggy Bottom metro stop. See our website for more information: http://artsinfoggybottom.com.

It’s been very exciting to work on this project. Turf and Terrain relates to other curatorial work I’ve done, which often taps into lost histories, forgotten spaces, and expanded definitions of sculpture. For instance, Choice Encounters at the Arlington Arts Center in 2015 focused on artists whose art is built from community collaboration, while Brink and Boundary at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in 2014 inhabited areas of the museum that are often overlooked.

What is your fascination with plastics?

I have always been intrigued by the histories of nontraditional artist materials, such as plastics, and the intersections between technology and fine art. Plastics, in particular, have fascinating roots that we often forget. There’s a rich military foundation to the development of synthetics, fueled by the war effort in World War II, and a complex trajectory that brings plastics into the hands of artists starting in the 1960s. In my dissertation, I’m considering why American artists take to plastics in great numbers at this point, and what we can learn from the sculptures they produced. While my dissertation is separate from my curatorial work, both build from my interest in material histories in contemporary art. 

What are your future plans?

This year, I will be working at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on a University of Maryland Museum Fellowship, assisting with the upcoming Mark Bradford exhibition. I also have a few curatorial projects that are still in the planning stage, one of which focuses on interactive technologies.