Diamond Stingily's exhibition, Doing the Best I Can, at the Wattis Institute in 2019. Photo by Nicholas Lea Bruno/CCA

Artistic encounters through the Wattis Library

The Wattis staff share some of their favorite videos, essays, and performances available through the free digital library.

The Wattis Library

A screenshot of the Wattis Library.

In March 2020, the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts launched the Wattis Library, a free online platform for videos, lectures, performances, and essays that have run alongside Wattis exhibitions, events, and research seasons from 2014 to the present. Produced and edited by curatorial fellows, gallery assistants, and interns, the library was created with one of the central questions that drive the Wattis Institute’s work in mind: What can we learn from artists?

The Wattis Library was designed for visitors to dig deep, discover new artists and ideas or reexamine familiar ones, and find a sense of proximity to many of the artists and scholars of our time, such as Abbas Akhavan, Vincent Fecteau, Joan Jonas, Akosua Adoma Owusu, Cinthia Marcelle, and Rosha Yaghmai.

The library is extensive, with new material added regularly, so as a jumping-off point, six members of the Wattis staff offered up the videos, essays, and performances that they keep revisiting. Settle into a comfortable chair and check them out below.

Erik Thys organ performance

A screenshot from Erik Thys organ performance for Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys at Saint Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco.

An organ performance by Erik Thys for Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco

Fran Bombeke, Social Media Manager

“As a Belgian, I’m very familiar with the work of Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter, who exhibited at the Wattis in 2015. In this video from the library, Erik Thys, author, composer, artist, and mostly known as a psychiatrist, performs a piece for organ he composed in the framework of the show at the impressive Saint Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.”

Fred Moten on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

Fred Moten on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. A screenshot from the Wattis Library.

Fred Moten on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

Jeanne Gerrity, Deputy Director and Head of Publications

“Moten speaks intimately to the audience, as though we’re all friends sitting in a living room, but his short talk is as profound as any formal lecture, and his poetic manner of speaking is captivating. He seamlessly incorporates David Hammons’ work, music compositions, and Invisible Man.

Vincent Fecteau and Kathy Butterly

Vincent Fecteau and Kathy Butterly.

Vincent Fecteau and Kathy Butterly in conversation

Anthony Huberman, Director and Chief Curator

“Vincent Fecteau and Kathy Butterly both speak very eloquently about their own work, as well as about what they see in each other’s work. An extra bonus highlight, for me, was the video of an artist talk by Don Potts that Fecteau shared with the audience, where Potts talks about how making an artwork is a lot like making a trap. It’s a simple, poetic, and kind of miraculous way of putting into words something that doesn’t seem like it can be put into words.”


A screenshot from the Wattis Library essay On contemptorary: Deep-Time Construction by Nasrin Himada, Gelare Khoshgozaran, and Eunsong Kim.

On contemptorary: Deep-Time Construction by Nasrin Himada, Gelare Khoshgozaran, and Eunsong Kim

Kim Nguyen, Curator

“As many of us are spending our days preoccupied with the notion of time, it feels appropriate to return to this text by contemptorary, which considers the numerous times we exist within: labor time, earth-time, space-time, settled time, and our continuum of crisis. I’ll let the text speak for itself: ‘Instead we witness and experience these ecologies, these forms, these other worlds, as they amplify the force of a language, a movement, a landscape, a ruin, a life felt without this time, not a time that we know but a time that we get to know, that we get to feel, that we get to live in, if just for a second.’ This selection is also a bit of a conceit, as I would have liked to highlight Jennif(f)er Tamayo’s exceptional live reading as part of this project, but that special performance only lives on as text and in our memories.”

Apricota Issue 2 launch.

A screenshot from the launch event for Apricota Issue #2.

“On Cults, Communes, and Collectives," launch of Apricota Issue #2 with Joanna Fiduccia, Jennifer Nelson, and Carmen Winant

Christopher Squier, Operations Coordinator

“For the launch of the relatively new journal Apricota, Jennifer Nelson and Carmen Winant delve into art historical subjects ranging from 16th-century Dutch portraits to photographic archives from the 1970s. The launch event pins these two seemingly unrelated moments in the history of representation together with a series of political connections that feel relevant today. How have alternate forms of collectivity emerged and thrived throughout history? How might withdrawing from the mainstream provide the necessary seclusion to foster utopian movements and political resistance? The event ends in a roulette-style slideshow Q+A with Apricota’s co-editor, Joanna Fiduccia.”

Jack Halberstam lecture

A screenshot from Jack Halberstam’s lecture on “Nothing.”

Lecture on “Nothing” by Jack Halberstam

Diego Villalobos, Exhibitions Manager

“In this talk, Halberstam presents a manifesto on ‘Nothing’ that argues in favor of withdrawal as a strategy for undoing systems of structural oppression. Offering various historical and cultural examples on this––from Joan Jett Blakk in the early 1990s running for president to Gordon Matta-Clark’s architectural interventions from the 1970s––Halberstam’s advocating for ‘nothing’ isn’t apathetic, but rather an argument that recognizes marginalized communities and presents a path for a better world by abolishing the one we’re currently in.”