Meet 500 Capp Street’s Director of Curatorial Affairs

As we get closer to reopening David Ireland’s house at 500 Capp Street, we begin to think about how to effectively implement a lively and dynamic curatorial program. Because the 500 Capp Street Foundation manages nearly 3,000 objects of David’s work, it was important to add a dedicated staff member to not only manage the collection, but also shape the curatorial vision. In February, the 500 Capp Street Foundation hired Leila Grothe as the new Director of Curatorial Affairs. As an introduction, we’ve decided to ask her a few questions:


Can you tell us about your background and interests?

I was born in Pleasanton, CA, but was mostly raised throughout Texas. I was a bit of an undergrad flâneur when making my way through universities and majors. I dabbled in writing, painting and drawing, and sculpture before being swept off my feet by art history. I realized that I cared far more about what other people were making than what I could shabbily accomplish in the studio. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2009 from Southern Methodist University (SMU), where the faculty was incredibly supportive, influential, and challenging. It was through this program that I developed a special interest in socially and politically motivated artists, with a focus on art and trauma. After graduating, I worked with SMU on a year-long residency in Dallas with Creative Time, which was hugely important for me. In 2014, I received my master’s degree in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts (CCA). My recent projects and interests are often community-based or provoked by politics and social engagement in some form or fashion. Upon graduating, I was appointed as the CCA Wattis Institute Curatorial Fellow, so I split my time between the Wattis and the 500 Capp Street Foundation. It’s quite a treat to be able to focus on two incredible institutions at once!


What drew you to curating?

The everyday hands-on experience of art is so important to me. The academic rigor of art history is an enriching tonic, but, with no intention to imply some sort of serene tranquility in academic life, the excitement of working with artists and objects is such a thrill. Curating affords a connection with an audience, a commitment to a physical space, and a responsibility to provide an entry point for engagement.


What is the role of the curator in your mind?

Curators have to manage a blend of interpretation, intuition, and planning. They also have to be able to articulate why certain things are being presented, why we should care. My favorite curators are the ones who don’t overstate things and who don’t try to steal the show.


What attracted you to the work of David Ireland and 500 Capp Street?

I first learned about David Ireland through a dear friend and colleague, Lauren O’Connell (Curatorial Associate, BAM/PFA), who wrote her graduate thesis on 500 Capp Street. I was attracted to Ireland’s work and the project as a whole from the start. But what really appeals to me is our opportunity at 500 Capp Street not only to elevate the work and collection of Ireland, but also the opportunity to connect with the arts community in its current moment. We talk here about the house being alive, and it’s so true. We are responsible to keep it this way, to appeal to artists and non-artists alike with Ireland’s distinct sense of wit, form, vivacity, and his unprocessed approach to both art and life.


How would you describe your approach to curating?

That first pip which serves as the origin of an idea can come from anywhere, so it’s really a matter of staying open and keeping your receptors out all the time. Once I have a starting point, I like to start my projects with a series of questions. They help me stay on track and refine the concept.


What are some of challenges you face working within 500 Capp Street, and how do you overcome them? 

Our biggest challenge is so obvious it feels ridiculous to even mention, but David Ireland is no longer living. We are left to decode, elucidate, and display his work and home, and sometimes we really just wish we could talk to him about it. As my colleague Jessica Roux has said, we do everything in Ireland’s name, and sometimes there are risks involved with this.


What are some of your favorite pieces so far within the collection? 

Although this seems to change by the hour, I think my favorites are the ones where Ireland’s sense of humor is completely tangible. For example, La Plume (n.d.) where Ireland mounted an upright paint roller to a glossy board as a trophy to this humble instrument. Or his hilarious experiments with footwear, be they the roller skates with fur-covered wheels, Untitled (n.d.); or the 40” long wood crates with shoe forms and buckles inside, looking like DIY snowshoes made by a rifle salesman Untitled (n.d.). Or his many lamps made with copper tubing, cement, and outdoor flood light fixtures and light switches. They’re staggeringly lacking in pretention and they delight me to no end.


What can we expect from the opening installation at 500 Capp Street?

The opening installation of 500 Capp Street will focus primarily on the house itself. We have lots of time to think about the various objects within the collection, so we don’t feel rushed to show everything at once. The public reopening is an opportunity to highlight the home as an artwork, where we can show off the restoration of Ireland’s maintenance action. A few key works and installations will be on view throughout the house, but we anticipate that 500 Capp Street will shine.