Melissa Bianca Amore

Melissa at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, United States. Photographed by Chris Collie

You’d be hard pressed to find a more focused, intelligent and captivating woman than Melissa Bianca Amore. Currently based in New York, Melissa is an internationally renowned curator, art critic and independent scholar whose primary area of exploration surrounds the study of phenomenology, the limitations of perceived space and interactive spatial aesthetics.

In 2012, alongside William Stover, Melissa co-founded RE-SITED, a new cultural arts organization which examines questions around “site” and “space” via a series of ongoing chapters. In a time where the lines between creative disciplines have become increasingly blurred, Melissa’s commitment to challenging pre-conceived ideas around how we view and experience art places her in a very unique and important position. Introducing Melissa Bianca Amore.

Melissa and William at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, United States. Photographed by Chris Collie

POI: So Melissa, I thought we could start by talking a bit about your upbringing.

Melissa Bianca Amore: I’m an Australian who identifies strongly with my Italian heritage and perhaps the curiosity to live in another country emerges from this ongoing tension and complexity.

POI: Were your parents creative in any way? What did they do?

MA: Yes, my father is an engineer. He works across mechanical engineering and design. Both my brothers studied architecture so I grew up surrounded by model making, design, concepts and an extensive collection of architecture books related to space and site. My maternal grandfather was a poet and musician, so again, very curious minds. Hence, architecture, physics, sound and mathematical influences are part of my vocabulary. This formed the basis of my continual interest in examining how these disciplines function within the context of both philosophy and the visual arts.

POI: Was that while you were studying at university?

MA: Yes it was. Interestingly, my predominant focus in contemporary art as a curator, critic and independent scholar is spatial aesthetics, phenomenology and large-scale installation works. I’m interested in the “architecture of the mind.” How does an infinite space become a site or place? What is this process of becoming? And I’m always asking how structure, that being a form of architecture, alters the way a body moves in space and interrupts the memory of perceptual orientation. So, I can’t deny that architecture and the way of thinking and engaging with site and framing space has influenced my research. My brother’s and I shared a studio, so, there was always a dynamic conversation between architecture and the visual arts. And in many ways, they were both my teachers.

POI: It sounds like quite a unique space to start exploring your creative ideas, especially when you’re in the comfort of your own family and are able to share with them.

MA: They were my biggest critics, and we’re all each other’s biggest critics to this day. We think autonomously, but push each other in a myriad of ways.

POI: What are your first memories of really appreciating a work of art?

MA: That’s a tough question. The memory of experiencing a work of art takes on many forms, iterations and simulations, and often it’s the historical context and relevance of the work that becomes entangled with your own engagement over time. So, to recall one of my first memories of appreciating a work is extremely challenging. I do recall, perhaps, experiencing Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. III with Red, Blue, Yellow and Black (1929) for an extended period at eight years old during a family visit to Musée du Louvre, Paris. I was intrigued by its simplicity, and how line, form and color can demarcate and shape space. It began at a very, very early age. The second, most significant experience that altered the direction of my field of enquiry was Doug Wheeler’s infinity installation at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, as part of the Changing Perceptions: The Panza Collection exhibition, this time, at twenty-one years old. Wheeler’s ability to create a new phenomenal art medium, that raised direct questions about the effects of space and light in relation to human perception completely challenged my understanding of spatial orientation. The work was not about an object or about the act of looking (as you became blinded within the infinite chasm) rather, an embodied experience designed to challenge the particularities of what it means to perceive. And by removing the conventional frame and forming a Non-Euclidean spherical expanse, the artist introduced a new frame which placed the viewer into a different psychological and physiological space. Wheeler employs architecture as an apparatus to frame an experience and interrupts our preconceived habitual awareness of the body in space. His visual acuteness and ability to create a sense of spatial absence from space, prepares a new path for artistic practice. Ultimately, Wheeler brings us back to the basis of pure form, which is space and light.

Melissa and William at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, United States. Photographed by Chris Collie — Artwork: Mary Corse (b. 1945), Untitled (White Grid, Vertical Strokes), 1969. Glass microspheres and acrylic on canvas 108 x 108 in (274.3 x 274.3 cm). Collection of Andrea Nasher

POI: Can we quickly touch on how you got into art curation?

MA: It was a very organic path. I was introduced to one of the directors at Arc One Gallery, a contemporary art space in Melbourne, Australia, through Adrian Parr, who was then my philosophy professor. Parr, who is currently a professor in the Department of Political Science and the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati, United States, was a significant source for thinking about the connection between philosophy, critical theory and aesthetics. And today, I’m still examining the effects of philosophy in relation to the origins of aesthetics. The term aesthetics originated from the Greek definition aisthēta “perceptible things,” and aisthesthai meaning “to perceive.” So, aesthetics is primarily about how we learn to perceive the visual and immaterial world.

I was interested in the tension between critical theory and materiality, and this enquiry directed me into the art industry. I began managing Arc One’s unique stable of contemporary artists for over seven years while curating alternate exhibitions such as Bal Taschit Thou Shalt Not Destroy, at the Jewish Museum of Australia, and writing for significant publications and authoring catalogue essays for artists and institutions at twenty-two years old. I was also completing a degree in philosophy and critically engaging with teachings from philosophers such as, Immanuel Kant, Descartes, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, Heidegger, Plato and Aristotle, while assisting in the curation of exhibitions at the gallery. Hence, the dialogue between theoretical discourse, agency and objecthood began to evolve during this time. And today, the study and curating continues, now, however, in New York City. I completed a MFA in Art Criticism and Writing, at the School of Visual Arts, New York, five years ago and I’m aiming to commence a PhD in Philosophy with a focus in psychoanalysis, phenomenology and aesthetics. And, I’ve been curating a series of exhibitions in New York, since, 2014, which I discuss below.

POI: How did you end up in New York?

MA: As I briefly mentioned, I was accepted into a prominent MFA program, so I moved to NYC. The course was both challenging and critically engaging, and in many ways provided a strong foundation on how to survive in New York City.

POI: So have you developed a strong community in New York? Who are the types of people you like to surround yourself with?

MA: Yes, I have an extensive network with artists, writers, professors, curators and gallery directors. You really never sleep in this city, you’re always moving, either to exhibition openings, previews, symposiums, lectures, meetings and so on. The stimulus is indulgent. For example, I attended the Mary Corse exhibition preview at the Whitney Museum, a Larry Bell panel discussion at the Judd Foundation, a studio visit with a prominent artist and a Quantum Physics conference at Yale University all within a week, so, it’s truly remarkable. “Ideas” follow you; you don’t need to search for them in this city.

POI: How long have you been in New York now?

MA: It’s coming up to six and a half years. Living in New York City is like having an intense relationship with a lover. It’s complex. You love it, you hate it and there’s constant push and pull. Every day is so challenging but you move through. Ultimately, it’s the high level of critical discourse and cross-cultural ideas, alongside the museums and institutions that remind you why you’re here. I co-founded, alongside William Stover, a non-profit arts organization titled Re-Sited, which is also the impetus for my continual stay. The foundation has also garnered a strong support network with an advisory board that includes significant curators, gallery directors, critics and professors who have contributed to the making our cultural history, so, we are extremely thrilled to be engaging with such minds.

Melissa and William at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, United States. Photographed by Chris Collie

POI: So did you and William meet during your Masters?

MA: We met through a mutual friend and the working relationship evolved rather organically. I initially engaged Stover to co-curate an exhibition in a hotel, and the questions relating to site and space emerged from examining the complexities of curating a site-specific installation within this space. Stover also visited an exhibition I curated on Australian installation artist Natasha Johns-Messenger in New York, so, a new dialogue about how distinct cultures understand space also unveiled at this time. We are currently researching ideas around “cultural mobility” and “memory” in relation to site. I’m interested in the sixteenth century concept of the memory theatre, largely attributed to Giulio Camillo (1480 – 1544). Essentially, it’s about the art of memory – how we retrieve and order information into an architecture of sorts, as a theatre of memory.

POI: Can you explain the Re—Sited project for those who may not be familiar with it?

MA: Simplistically, the organization is dedicated to presenting a series of researched focused exhibitions that ask fundamental questions about the architecture of site and space. We examine how we “think” space and travel between spaces. And how does space become a site. It’s about re-siting everything that we have understood to be true, “true” being the operative word. And how do we disrupt what is already preconceived, preprogrammed and preconditioned? What are the epistemological foundations of knowledge? How do we know what we know? We explore how architecture and site frames a work of art and how site challenges the reading of a work. We are also re-examining the origins of terms such as, “site-specificity,” “inter-disciplinary aesthetics,” and “multi-disciplinary,” in relation to the production and reception of the work. Most recently we curated Sites of Knowledge at Jane Lombard Gallery in Chelsea, New York. The exhibition, which featured works by Richard Artschwager, Henri Chopin, Simone Douglas, Guy Laramée, Jen Mazza, Kristin McIver, Enrico Isamu Ōyama, Michael Rakowitz, Karen Schiff and Sophie Tottie, examined the ideologies and techniques once employed by the concrete poets, that is, using linguistic fragments or elements as a structural spatial form and as a topographical aesthetic. So, the structure of language as a spatial apparatus and site of knowledge is also part of the Re-Sited vocabulary.

We are researching artists including, Larry Bell, Sarah Oppenheimer and Doug Wheeler for our forthcoming exhibition Post-Disciplinary Aesthetics. Each site-installation will be curated across five distinct locations in New York. These sites, selected to generate a distinct dialogue between the work of art, the viewer and the environment, aims to actively question the role and function of site. We will ask five artists to create three identical works of art, and each iteration will be curated in a different location, including a museum, hotel, church, gallery and a park. It’s a timely investigation as we are seeing more artists even those working predominantly within the medium of painting or photography address the site and environment as an extension of their work. And this shift has also affected the role of the curator in many ways.

Melissa and William at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, United States. Photographed by Chris Collie

POI: It sounds amazing. So what prompted you to connect with Project of Imagination on this project?

MA: POI shares similar ideologies and design aesthetic to Re-Sited. Interestingly, what you create is an engagement with text, aesthetics and design across distinct modalities or rather, distinct sites such as, interiors, graphic topography and architecture. It is very much an architecture of language, in the sense, that it has a physicality to it. And that is what I’m interested in.

POI: So what do you envision the future looking like for Re—Sited?

MA: At the moment Re—Sited is also looking at an old ice factory, in Athens, New York, near the Hudson River to possibly curate a series of site interventions, so, we are visiting new locations.

POI: What do you hope people remember you for?

MA: Now, that’s a difficult question. Perhaps, the idea of whether it is possible to perceive something – whether an object or a concept without thinking it? The question being: In order to perceive an object must we already “know it”? Does that make sense?

POI: It does.

MA: So basically, I want to be remembered for my curiosity. I think curiosity is truly magical. It confronts our inherent search to see something beyond ourselves, beyond acute observation. And, I think the search begins by observing observation. Though, if we do exist inside Plato’s allegory of the cave, perhaps, the question would be more adequately understood as whether we can objectively distinguish the shadow from the pure form. So, whatever you are looking at, it’s also important to ask what is making you see.

Photography by Chris Collie
Special thanks to the Whitney Museum of American Art