Katarina Wong is a NYC-based artist, curator, and the founder of MADE, a new art consulting business that makes art collecting more social.
Katarina shows her work nationally and internationally, including at El Museo del Barrio and the Bronx Museum in NYC, the Fowler Museum in LA, and the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, and has curated critically-acclaimed exhibitions.
She’s received numerous grants for her artistic work, including a Pollock-Krasner grant, a Cintas Fellowship for Cuban and Cuban-American artists, and has attended residences at Skowhegan, Ragdale Foundation, Ucross Foundation, and the Kunstlerhaus in Salzberg, Austria, among others. Her work is represented in collections throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Katarina received her MFA from the University of Maryland at College Park and also holds a Master in Theological Studies (focusing on Buddhism) from Harvard Divinity School. In addition to her work, she travels extensively and has co-authored two “Let’s Go!” guidebooks for India/Nepal and Washington, DC.
Carrie: How did you discover your interest in the arts?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in the arts. My father was a “Sunday painter” and would give me pencils, brushes and paint to play with as soon as I could hold them. I was hooked immediately.
Carrie: How would you describe your art to Artist Strong readers?
I work in whatever medium will best translate idea into form. I’ve created work that ranges from large-scale installations and sumi ink paintings to ceramic sculptures that nestle in your palm. A few ideas are consistent throughout my work, though. I’m interested in understanding our common humanness, from the chaos that lurks under the surface – stuff we try to cover up – to the desire to create respite within ourselves and connection with one another.
Carrie: What is MADE?
MADE is an art consulting business I recently launched. It’s designed to make art collecting more social. I help emerging collectors and their friends find, learn about, and acquire art in intimate, inviting environments. These events are hosted in a variety of places, including peoples’ homes, businesses and artists’ studios.
Carrie: Why did you create MADE?
Having lived in NYC for 13+ years, I’ve met so many people who would love to learn about and live with art but have no idea how to go about owning art. Traditional galleries aren’t appealing to them, and they don’t know how to meet artists. On the other hand, I know a lot of artists who have strong bodies of work and great exhibitions records but aren’t reaching collectors. I thought there was an opportunity to bridge those two audiences by creating an art collecting (and learning) experience that was different than traditional galleries.
I also see MADE as an extension of my own art practice. I mainly work alone, so it’s important to be able to connect with others who are interested in the arts – whether they make, sell, collect, or just like to look at work. For me, art should be experienced and – even better – lived with by others, not just stay in the studio.
Carrie: How do you select artists to be a part of MADE?
The art must have a specific kind of vitality and intelligence and will appeal to emerging collectors. Some of the artists I’ve followed for years. Other artists are newer to me who came recommended by curators or other artists. In any case, they have kick-ass work, strong exhibition track records, are articulate about their work, and are highly professional.
Carrie: What has been an obstacle in launching MADE? How did you overcome it?
The hardest thing was figuring out what I needed to know. Once I knew what I needed to learn, overcoming those gaps was easier – I’ve had so many amazing friends and people in my network who supported me with information and advice. I sought out business classes, mentors, and strategically paid for help when it was needed. I’ve found that even though so much was (and is!) new to me, it’s completely doable if I prioritize what needs to be done first.
I consider myself to be an artist first and foremost, but when I curate work, I often use that opportunity to explore themes I’m working on in my studio. I was a curator for a corporate collection for many years and started their gallery, both of which had very specific curatorial parameters. That experience forced me to explore new themes outside my interests at that time, which opened entirely new ways of thinking and introduced me to a new set of artists, curators, and gallerists.
Carrie: You have quite a few projects going on! How do you balance your work and life?
I worked in a large communications firm for many years where “work/life balance” was often discussed, but it always seemed oppositional (i.e., work vs. life). I couldn’t put my personal life in contrast to my studio or my job, so it was impossible for me to find balance. When I left that company I stopped thinking about work/life balance and instead started to think of everything as connected – studio work, MADE, independent curating, my friends, my family, traveling, learning, etc. Now it’s less about struggling to find “balance” and instead about creating a rhythm that integrates all aspects of my life. This approach is much more compatible with how I think and approach my life in general – I have “bigger picture” objectives but I mainly focus on what needs to be done each day to accomplish those goals.
Carrie: What is a habit or practice you have that helps your creativity?
I used to censor myself by having an idea and thinking, “that’s been done before” or “that’s going to be too difficult to figure out” or “that seems dumb” – I think it’s something many of us do unwittingly. When I finally realized this internal dialogue was self-censoring and inhibiting possibilities in my work, I focused on quieting those thoughts. So what if it’s been done before or is a dumb idea or seems hard? By letting myself freely follow my curiosity down any rabbit hole, I ended up pushing my work in unexpected directions.
Not every trail I follow leads to something concrete, of course, but art is iterative – it all builds upon itself so nothing is a failure and nothing is lost. What I put up on my own website is carefully edited to tell a story about the progression of the work. No one needs to know all of the fits and starts and dead-ends that inhabit my studio. Those pieces are solely for me, and I value them immensely because without them, I never would have gotten to the final pieces.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I find inspiration through learning. Learning means having things shaken up, challenging things I thought I knew, adding information and experiences to better understand what it means to be human.
That said, I also am reminded of Chuck Close’s famous quote “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” I’m kind of a worker bee, so it’s equally (or maybe more) important that I simply show up and work. And working in my studio usually has a familiar pattern: a question leads to action. That, in turn, may raise more questions. At some point I usually get stuck and have to figure my way out drawing on everything I’ve learned so far. Eventually, though, I’m on my way, usually on a path I never anticipated.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Curiosity + work = creativity
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How could you look for an “integrated rhythm” for your life rather than the ever elusive balance? I want to know! Tell me about it in the comments below.