Christina Vassallo

Christina Vassallo | Courtesy of Reena Rose Sibayan, of Jersey Journal

Christina Vassallo is a New York City curator dedicated to making art, and the appreciation of art, accessible to the public. What I find most appealing in Christina’s projects is her devotion to showcasing contemporary art to a public that may not have access or opportunity to encounter art in traditional venues such as museums and galleries.

Right now, Christina is organizing The Golden Door Mini Golf Course at Hamilton Square in Downtown Jersey City. The Golden Door is an artist designed miniature golf course that doubles as a benefit for Jersey City Museum. This fully functional miniature golf course will be open to the public in a temporary park at the corners of Erie Street and Pavonia Ave, courtesy of SILVERMAN, the developers of Hamilton  Square in downtown Jersey City. All are welcome to play on a first-come, first-served basis. The course opened to the public this week and will remain open until Sept. 6, from 10 a.m. to dusk, daily.

Christina made her curatorial debut in 2003 with a series of weekend-long exhibitions in a Queens apartment. Since then she has organized projects for a variety of non-profit and for-profit venues. Christina has served as Associate Director of Kinz, Tillou + Feigen gallery and ART&IDEA gallery, as well as Assistant Curator at American Federation of Arts. Vassallo holds a B.A. in art history from New York University and an M.A. in visual arts management from NYU.

Christina grew up in Hackensack, and lived in Hoboken for 5 years. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn.

Hi. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m an independent curator and I organize a combination of self-initiated and invitational exhibitions for different venues. I curate contemporary art exclusively and often try to create opportunities for artists to make new work.

What’s the story with the Golden Door? What is it, and why is it important?

The Golden Door is an artist designed miniature golf course that doubles as a benefit for Jersey City Museum. Arts organizations across America are suffering right now and using something that is completely approachable–like miniature golf–will hopefully be an effective strategy to get the local community more engaged with an important cultural resource that is in their backyard.

Golden Door | Courtesy of Hyperallergic

Why invite artists to design a miniature golf course inside a public park in a city?

First, I should say that Hamilton Square is not a public park. It is privately owned by SILVERMAN, and as such, we are able to accomplish things that might not otherwise be possible on city owned property. I’ve been to some fantastic mini-golf courses and they always have the same democratic goal: to embarrass each player, equally. Why should the shore towns have all the fun? Jersey City is home to a very active art scene, and that artists were able to design their own golf holes makes the project even more appealing.

What are the differences and similarities between an artist-designed mini-golf course and a standard mini-course?

There is an art to mini-golf course design, whether designers consider themselves to be artists or not. It offers so many opportunities for expressing a narrative and creating a roller coaster ride of emotions through sport. With this project, we wanted to give artists a chance to make something that would address a cohesive exhibition theme, work as a miniature golf hole and interactive art piece, and also look like something they would normally make in their studio.

Victoria Calabro | Courtesy of New York Times

What type of experiences do you hope the public takes away from the Golden Door and contemporary art in general?

I hope this exhibition blows kids’ minds. I want students to walk away thinking that they can be artists and maybe create something that is exciting and socially engaging. I want players to recognize the golf holes as artworks and think twice about whether they should call them “sculptures” or “golf holes.” And of course, I want the entire project to increase awareness of JCM.

Everyone knows miniature golf can bring out the best and the worst in human behavior. How will the public handle the challenges posed by the course? Do you expect the public will overcome the obstacles or will they succumb to defeat and despair?

Mini-golf is a humbling experience. I hope players will think about the deliberate choices that the artists made in their golf green designs, and in the end, their score won’t matter. Sore losers are no fun, please don’t take it out on the artwork.

Who is more adept at playing miniature golf–artists, curators, sportsmen, the general public, or people from the shore–and why?

Mini-golf is the lifeblood of New Jersey in the summertime, so my money is on anyone from the shore.

Asha Ganpat "Arrival" | Courtesy of Random Number

Everyone also knows miniature golf is a great first date idea. Do you expect the course will inspire many love connections?

It’s true that mini-golf can be a romantic gesture, but the exhibition concept for “The Golden Door” is pretty serious, so I hope that people can divide their attention at least a little bit in between all the flirtation.

Does the Golden Door relate to your other projects? If so, how?

I have a tendency to select artwork that is generous toward the viewer. By that, I mean art that somehow gives back to the audience, rather than demands attention and energy without offering much in return. My last project was “Science Fair” at Flux Factory, where the focus was on the similarities between the scientific and artistic processes. We invited artists to make science-inspired experiments and set them up in booths, much like a grade school science fair. Visitors got to participate in different experiments, like making slides from plant matter or testing the electromagnetic fields throughout the gallery.

Last year I curated a 40 person group show that took place in an abandoned convent. I asked all of the artists to create work specifically for the space, taking into consideration the unique aspects of the building. Those parameters became the starting point for a lot of creative activity. It’s the same with this golf course–the artists had to consider different guidelines, in this case, the exhibition theme, the choreography of the game, and the feelings associated with a competition.

Risa Puno "Leap of Faith" | Courtesy of Random Number

You are a curator based in New York City. You have also worked in Prague, Mexico City, Toronto and Bergen, Norway. What are your impressions of Jersey City–of its artists, its cultural institutions, and its ice cream?

I grew up in Hackensack, and lived in Hoboken for 5 years. To me, New Jersey is home. I just read an interview with a famous video director who was in the grade below me in my high school. She claimed that she was a NYC-native and it made me think to myself, “everybody pretends they are from NYC … let the world know you’re successful and from NJ, and you’re already infinitely more interesting!”

What is your song for the summer?

Am I supposed to have a stock answer that somehow relates to mini-golf? Sorry.

No. I do not expect a “stock” answer. I expect a sincere answer spoken with the language of the heart. If it helps, my song for the summer is “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan or “Behind the Crooked Cross” by Slayer. So … What is your song for the summer?

“Livin’ on a Prayer.”

What is your favorite place to get a coffee or a beer in Jersey City?

Basic has been keeping me and “The Golden Door” artists alive these past few weeks.

The original post may be found here.

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