Curator Crush: Aimee Friberg


As the head of San Francisco’s CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions, Aimee Friberg encourages artists — particularly those from underrepresented groups — to take risks with their work. Originally conceived as a commercial gallery, CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions now also features unorthodox performances, critical dialogues between artists, curators, and critics, and intimate dinners. Starting in January, Friberg also began overseeing curatorial programming at Yves Behar’s fused space. Her first show, Record of Succession, brings together five artists working in multiple media. Each artist examines how heritage and ancestry informs design and craft, tracing how knowledge and ideas from previous generations permeate “the contemporary.” Learn more in our Q+A below.

How did you get your start in the art world?

In my early twenties I was an artist working at a research center connected to the University of Washington in Seattle writing grants to make weird robotic performances, immersive light installations and short films. That led, strangely and fortuitously, to my first curatorial/producer position (performance art and film) at SFMOMA in the education department. Through that amazing (and draining) experience I realized I was much better suited to independent ventures, rather than a full-time gig with a big institution. After a few years of running a project space in an unused part of my ex-boyfriend’s HQ’s, and helping another gallery get established in SF, I conceived and launched CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions in 2013. The genesis story is a good one that includes a road trip with the artist Terri Loewenthal and a couple other close lady friends, a bunch of tarot-cards, and a decision (that felt made for me) to take over my dear friend Julio Cesar Morales’ lease of Queen’s Nails–a spot that had a particular allure to me–as I had performed there and it was also the first gallery I visited when I relocated from Seattle in 2004. Nearly 7 years later, and after having moved CULT to the NOPA neighborhood, we are thriving by continuing to evolve and innovate on what it means to be a contemporary commercial gallery.

Tell us about Record of Succession and the role of design in the artists’ works. 

For my first exhibition at fused space, I wanted to evoke the particular connection between design and contemporary art that feels really palpable right now. With the rise of tech in our day-to-day lives, many of us have a distinct reaction against the automated or impersonal, and we’re fostering a desire and appreciation for the handmade. Also, on the other side of that coin, the ubiquity of social media allows makers to reach greater audiences and contributes to breaking the divide between ‘high’ and ‘low’ arts. Also, the boundary seems to be blurring between conceptual fine art and those utilizing crafts and or design in their work to engage social concepts. Much like how ‘outsider’ artists have been excluded from the contemporary art world, artists working in craft have also been marginalized, historically. Luckily this is changing—designers and artisans have been contextualizing their work in relation to the present moment, whether overtly politically, or subtly through their use of  materials.  

With Record of Succession, I am bringing artists together who utilize traditions of design and craft to explore conversations of identity, ritual and ancestry. With this group of artists, which includes Patricia Fernandez, Masako Miki, Rashaad Newsome, Eamon Ore-Giron and Curtis Talwst Santiago, each references and extends a thread of their own cultural mythology. For example, Masako Miki is giving form through the tradition of felted wool, to the ancient Yokai (or Shapeshifters) of her Shinto lineage. She references mid-century modernist furniture by giving the Yokai figures tripod legs made from the woods characteristic of this 1950-70s furniture design such as walnut, wenge and teak which is shaped to resemble danish modern chair or console legs. Another great example are the stools by Rashaad Newsome. These stools are included in the exhibition because of their functional intention; Newsome is inviting the audience to situate themselves within the frame and consider our vantage point as we observe the other works. With titles such as Adinkra (a symbol found in the pottery and fabrics of the Ashanti people) and Brolic (slang for buff or chiseled), Newsome is giving clues in the artwork’s to contextualize the stool that is holding the sitter up.

Amy Nathan at CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions.
Terri Loewenthal at CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions.

Who are some of your biggest professional influences and why?

I’ve been consistently impressed and inspired by SFMOMA’s Janet Bishop, watching her first as a younger colleague when I was at SFMOMA, to this day—her professionalism, approachability and true regard and commitment to the artists she works with has stuck with me as a great example, worth emulating. There’s so many incredible gallerists and dealers in the field who are valiant and committed—it’s hard to name just a few! I also admire women like Melinda Gates and Oprah Winfrey for their unapologetic attitude to their own success and their commitment to helping create a better world with the power and resources they have. 

How do you feel San Francisco and/or California as a whole informs your artistic preferences and choices as a curator?

I’m very grateful to live in a state where our Governor and local government are standing up for human rights including immigrants and LGTBQ folks, and fighting against deregulation, that climate change is taken seriously. Our neighbors in Mexico are an influence and an inspiration to me, always—, and certainly the optimism and activism of the west coast informs my world view… It’s also impossible for me not to be affected by the poverty and mental illness I see on our streets here in the Bay Area, and wonder how I, how We, can do more.

Masako Miki at CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions.
Female trouble group show at CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions.

If you could trade careers with anyone on the planet for a day, who would it be and why?

I could imagine myself in another life as a horse trainer living on an expansive plot of wild land in Montana–waking up with the sun and being quite physical in my labor…I can imagine the type of satisfaction from being in tune with the land and a small group of powerful horses; conversely I could imagine being content with a small boat in Cala Goloritze.

Describe your ideal Sunday.

I appreciate when I get a lazy morning in bed, then love to walk over to the Claremont farmer’s market and pick up some treats for a hike with friends and pups and watching the sunset trailside with a bottle of natty wine —the day would end just right with a dinner party with my besties, or seeing a movie at Grand Lake.

“Record of Succession” at fused space.
“Record of Succession” at fused space.
“Record of Succession” at fused space.
“Record of Succession” at fused space.

Lightning round!

First concert?

Does Reggae on the River count? LOL.

Current celebrity crush?

Michael B. Jordan —- driven, committed to giving back and that smile —deep swoon. 

Last book you read and loved?

I keep coming back to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements — so much wisdom in there. 

Favorite ice cream flavor?

I can never choose just one! Black sesame, honey lavender, chocolate — from BiRite of course.

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