Monday, February 1st, 2010

Claire Weiss (1966-2010)

Clare Weiss, who was Curator of Public Art at New York City Department of Parks and Recreation from 2005-2009, was a determined and enterprising champion of art in public places.  She passed away January 11, aged 43, after a protracted battle with breast cancer which began in 2006.

Weiss came to art relatively late in her short career, but with all the more gusto.  Her earlier career had been in the media: a ten year stint at ABC news and with women’s interest internet start-ups.  When she decided to switch to art she took the prestigious MA program at Christie’s Education, writing her dissertation on Dan Flavin.

She was a research assistant for the Brooklyn Museum’s Basquiat exhibition in 2005, and then launched Clare Weiss Presents, promoting emerging artists in residential loft spaces. Weiss briefly contributed to, researching a sensitive interview with David Brody in 2003 for which she also took the photographs of the artist.

While most of her work at the Parks Department entailed the outdoor placement of sculpture and other artworks, including a sound installation by John Morton in Central Park, and liaising with such organizations as the Public Art Fund or the Madison Square Park Conservancy, she also spearheaded an ambitious program of exhibitions in the Arsenal, the Parks Department’s fairy-tale castle headquarters just by the Central Park Zoo.

Dennis Oppenheim's Tumbling Mirages at Union Square Park, 2008, photographed by Clare Weiss.
Dennis Oppenheim's Tumbling Mirages at Union Square Park, 2008, photographed by Clare Weiss.

These critically acclaimed group exhibitions explored connections between art and an imaginative range of themes relevant to a broadly-conceived remit of a parks department. “Players” (2007), for instance, considered sport, while “Rare Specimen” (2006) brought together artists including Mark Dion, Walton Ford and Alexis Rockman who use natural history materials and the semblance of scientific techniques as a subject within their work.

Weiss refused to allow her illness to limit the scope of her ambitions.  In 2007 she masterminded a multi-site exhibition to mark the fortieth anniversary of temporary placements of art in New York’s parks that featured forty newly commissioned pieces in as many properties in the five boroughs.

Clare was a warm, radiant, witty, stylish and strikingly beautiful young woman who had truly found her vocation in civic patronage.  She was a person who combined passionate curiosity about art with a love for getting things done.

A memorial celebration for Clare Weiss will be held at 2pm, Saturday, February 13th at the Picnic House in Prospect Park.