NYC Arts Job Profile with Juan Hinojosa
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Juan Hinojosa knows the true experience of being a working artist in this hustling industry where a dedicated work practice is required - both on and off the clock. By day, Hinojosa is installing blockbuster shows as a Preparator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It’s an often demanding job that he’s held for nearly four years while also collecting his own artistic landmarks through secured residencies, solo exhibitions, and a committed studio practice. A collector of seemingly everyday paper materials masking as often thrown-out trash, he assembles his large collages from a meticulously color coordinated dresser full of found treasures. Like a magician, he transforms the mundane (MTA subway cards, receipts, lotto tickets) and inherently appetizing (shiny, high fashion advertisements) into captivating luxurious monsters of false-symmetry, concepts he investigates in most of his work.
Hinojosa finds balance between work, maintaining residencies such as his recent stint at Materials for the Arts, while also producing work for shows at Stout Projects, the fantastically curated Roger Smith Hotel, and Brooklyn Fire Proof Gallery. All while still managing to have an active presence in the networking realm by regularly attending lectures, programs, and museum events.
Finding the perfect, manageable work and personal life balance can sometimes feel impossible when you are pursuing two goals. Somehow the minutes after punching out the clock, slip away faster. Deadlines arise forcing random and somehow continuous late nights that you must accept to pay the bills while other times after finally getting home from a long day, Netflix is just so tempting. A good workout, though worth it - is time-consuming. Not to mention all the stellar events hosted by museums, non-profits, and cultural institutions happening on any given day that present enticing opportunities to connect and experience the art and conversations that many of us are working to produce in our own respective ways. Balance is capricious and a constant goal of someone with two bottom lines. One must make a sustainable living, but in order to do that, they have to stay creatively fulfilled. I am talking about the side hustle. The artist, writer, independent curator, freelance photographer, designer, developer, instructor, manager, volunteer-er, podcast producer, - those who are making art happen by day, and working tirelessly for the joy of it, by night.
I saw exactly that in Juan immediately after meeting him, so I got in touch to find out how he manages it all; what motivates him and to capture some of his recommendations for having an authentic NYC art experience. Check out the interview below:
JD: First, what's your main position/job title?
JH: I work in the Registrar Department as a Preparator at the Museum of Modern Art. As a Preparator I install all the works of art at the museum for exhibitions, private viewings, and acquisitions. The best part of this role is the personal one-on-one time you get to spend with the art. Art is not meant to be viewed with 40 other people hovering over you while simultaneously trying to take the perfect selfie. Working at MoMA has become an unexpected education.
JD: I like that you say education. How much of what you experience while on the job translates into your practice in the studio?
JH: Subconsciously I have become much more aware of how I make my collages in terms of proper packing. When pieces leave my studio for shows or for sales, I have to make sure everything is packed perfectly. Damages are not allowed at work or in my studio. The last thing I want is an unhappy gallery or client.
JD: Do you have side projects or a second job?
JH: Before I started working at MoMA I was juggling three different freelance jobs during the week to keep my head above water. It was exhausting to say the least. MoMA has offered me stability and a sense of job security, which I have not had since my days at MTV. I can now have a healthy balance of work and time in the studio.
JD: Finding that balance is absolutely key. What kind of strategies do you use to ensure you dedicate time to your studio practice?
JH: I try and work on something every night after work. Not necessarily a finished piece but sometimes I would just sit on the floor and spend an hour or two cutting out images. Other nights I will spend hours mapping out the next two or three pieces. Playing with placements of images and objects takes time. The weekends are my studio days. I cook a big meal with lots of leftovers and I stay indoors and really get stuff done. I like to look at the first 5 days as just prep days.
JD: Cook a lot of leftovers! That is so important, cooking or eating out really can eat up an evening! Great tip. What are you specifically responsible for in your job?
JH: Aside from installing, anything from paintings to drawings to sculptures, I am also responsible for packing the artwork and assisting the registrars and curatorial teams.
JD: Favorite piece of work you’ve unpacked or handled? Can you speak about one of those ‘pinch me’ moments?
JH: About a year or two ago I was at the MoMA warehouse in Long Island City (LIC), which is walking distance from my studio, and I was asked to pull out a small Giacometti sculpture. At the moment I wasn’t exactly sure which one it was but after locating and unpacking, I realized it was the same one I stared at in books during my undergraduate years. As I was alone with the piece for a moment, it dawned on me that I, a kid from Queens, am literally holding a Giacometti sculpture in my hands.
JD: What would fall apart at work if you weren't there?
JH: I would love to say ‘everything’ but to be honest; MoMA runs a smooth and very well oiled machine. My department works extremely hard each and every day. Largely due to the fact that we are all artist or musicians trying to survive in New York like everyone else. I think in a way we are all hustling to keep our lives balanced between two worlds which sometimes means you have to work hard on something else to get to do what you love.
JD: That is definitely a mentality that runs rampant in the art industry. Is there a common camaraderie within your professional job that helps motivate you or informs your practice? And how closely does your day job affect the artwork you make? Do you ever find relationships developing between the two?
JH: There is a definite artist/co-worker camaraderie among the team. Whenever one of us has a show we place the postcard or info on the door and those who can, do show up. It's great to see my co-workers in their light.
As a Preparator, I get to spend a lot of time with the art on display but I also get to see the works that are in storage and have not been shown in years. This sometimes gives me the opportunity to discover a piece by Eduardo Paolozzi or Matisse who also make fantastic collages. I get to have some one-on-one time with the works and dissect how the pieces were made. Getting to see the works in a series, can be a whole different experience than just looking at a single piece on display.
JD: What gives you the biggest headache at the moment?
JH: Nothing. I am a glass-half-full kind of guy.
JD: What keeps you up at night?
JH: I have been blessed with the ability to sleep like a baby anywhere. I’m one of those people who can fall asleep on the train and wake up in Canarsie when I wanted to get off somewhere in Bushwick.
JD: What's the best experience with art you've had in the last seven days?
JH: I would have to say the current exhibition at Materials for the Arts (MFTA) with their fall Artist in Residence, Michael Kelly Williams. I had not heard much about Michael before the show but I was lucky enough to see a preview of his work during a studio visit a few months ago. Seeing the show as a whole blew my mind. As someone who went through the MFTA Artist-in-Residence program in fall of 2015 I know how wonderful the program is. Personally, it was an artistic game changer and seeing Michael’s work, with the materials he used was extremely interesting to me as an artist and a music lover.
JD: If you could change one thing about the art world, what would it be?
JH: I would like to see other people than the usual suspects have solo shows in Chelsea. With so many artists in this city you would think there would be something/someone else to show. Chelsea is starting to look like a Merry-Go-Round at a state fair.
JD: Agreed. I have found the most exciting and interesting shows now tend to draw me to neighborhoods other than Chelsea. What neighborhood do you typically go to see new, exciting work?
JH: There are a number of great spaces in LIC and Greenpoint. They offer more of what’s going on in the art world now than the re-runs in Chelsea. Plus, there are so many fun bars and restaurants in those neighborhoods to explore too.
JD: Which art resource do you use or art publication do you read daily/weekly?
JH: Aside from NYFA, Hyperallergic and ART F CITY are my favorites! Paddy Johnson does a fantastic job and their social media posts keep me constantly informed.
JD: What's your favorite non-major art venue in NYC or internationally?
JH: I love love love food. My favorite non-major art venue has to be Venturo’s in Sunnyside. I can sit there for hours and eat my face off. The food is amazing and it has this chill vibe that’s just hard to explain. Everyone needs to check it out.
JD: One tip for an arts professional starting out now?
JH: To be nice to every single person you meet. Someone may be an intern today but tomorrow they can be your boss. The art world is extremely small and New York, for all its insanity and people is just a very…very small island.
JD: If you could do it all again, what would you change?
JH: There isn’t much I would do over differently. If I had to pick something I might have wished I had picked up a third language along the way. It’s the one thing I struggle with today when traveling internationally or meeting people who are visiting the city.
Juan Hinojosa is a New York based artist with a studio in Long Island City. His work will be included in the upcoming group exhibition, Recycle 2017 at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists' Coalition running from May 13th – June 18, 2017. The opening celebration will be on May 13 from 1-6pm. You can view more of his work on his artist website, www.juanhinojosa.com and follow him on instagram, at @juan_hinojosa_ to keep up with his daily art-inspired adventures and his most recent works.
NYC Arts Job Profiles is an ongoing series, presented by Young Professionals in the Arts.