Following a background in history at Lycée Henri-IV's Hypochartes (preparatory course for the École des Chartes, one of France's "Grandes Écoles"), Tancons completed a BA in History of Art (1998) and MA in Museum Studies (1999) at the École du Louvre in Paris, and in 2000 received an MA in History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She was a Helena Rubenstein Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program in New York City from 2000-2001.
In her early years in New York City, following the Whitney fellowship, Tancons worked as a personal assistant and curatorial research assistant for artist Coco Fusco on the exhibition Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (2003). She also became involved with Lorna Simpson, with the artist featuring Tancons in her video work 31 (2002). She subsequently did a one-year curatorial fellowship at the Walker Art Center, where she assisted with the major exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age, curated by Philippe Vergne, Douglas Fogle, and Kemi Ilesanmi.
Increasingly interested in performance art, Tancons curated the first solo exhibitions in New York City for South African artist Robin Rhode and choreographer Ralph Lemon, both of whom she met while at the Walker Art Center: Robin Rhode: The Score (Artists Space, New York City, 2004), and Ralph Lemon: (The efflorescence of) Walter (The Kitchen, New York City, 2007), co-curated with Anthony Allen and later traveling in expanded form to the Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans). During this time, Tancons also did a brief stint at Paula Cooper Gallery, where she curated the Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky) exhibition Path is Prologue (2004), based on his multimedia performance piece DJ Spooky's Rebirth of a Nation.
Carnival and Processional Performance
Tancons' work of the past decade has focused on histories and contemporary practices of carnival and processional performance – particularly among the African diaspora – as well as public ceremonial culture, civic ritual, and popular protest movements. Tancons has notably postulated an alternative genealogy of performance art that is routed in Africa, its diaspora, and the legacy of slavery rather than in the European avant-garde. Her curatorial work has gained recognition for exploring ways of curating outside traditional exhibitionary modes - namely, procession, carnival, the second line, walking, marching, parading, and other forms of public ceremony - and for popularizing the term and practice of processional performance. She has also contributed to the anti-capitalism discourse following the Occupy movement and other protest movements, incorporating protest into her curatorial approach and reclaiming, in her words, the "rebellious potential" of the carnavalesque - "as a medium of emancipation and a catalyst for civil disobedience" - in writings such as "Occupy Wall Street: Carnival Against Capital? Carnivalesque as Protest Sensibility."
During a 2004 residency at the Trinidadian contemporary arts center CCA7, which led to the exhibition Lighting the Shadow: Trinidad In and Out of Light, Tancons began to explore carnival as a contemporary art practice. The residency led to Tancons' collaborations with Trinidadian contemporary artist Marlon Griffith, as well as famed carnival artist, or mas-man, Peter Minshall and his carnival production team The Callaloo Company. A subsequent engagement with carnival and procession was the exhibition Mas': From Process to Procession? Caribbean Carnival as Art Practice, which Tancons curated in 2007 at the BRIC Rotunda Gallery, New York. The exhibition featured artists with ties to the Caribbean whose work recognized carnival as a vital contemporary art form. In 2014 she organized Up Hill Down Hall: An Indoor Carnival as part of the BMW Tate Live Series at Tate Modern. Described by Tancons as "a mass public processional performance," the project drew on carnival as a ritual of resistance. Performances by artists Marlon Griffith and Hew Locke, along with hundreds of participants, were staged in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. In 2015, the exhibition EN MAS': Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean, which Tancons initiated and curated with art historian Krista Thompson, opened at the Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans), before traveling to various locations in the Caribbean and the United States with Independent Curators International. EN MAS' had won the Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award in 2012. Tancons has also collaborated with New Orleans Airlift Artistic Director Delaney Martin to organize the performances Public Practice: An Anti-Violence Community Ceremony (2014) and Rally Under the Bridge (2014) in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Active in the field of international contemporary art biennials, Tancons is currently a curator for Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber (with Zoe Butt and Omar Kholeif) for which she is curating the "Look for Me All Around You", a platform dedicated to problematizing the politics of performance under globalizing conditions of dispossession and diasporization. She was Associate Curator for the first iteration of Prospect New Orleans, from 2007-2009. In 2008, she organized the processional performance SPRING for the 7th Gwangju Biennial, under the direction of Okwui Enwezor, which received numerous positive reviews. SPRING merged the forms of carnival parade, political demonstration, and funeral procession with performances in the streets of Gwangju by Mario Benjamin, Marlon Griffith, Jin Won Lee, Jarbas Lopes, MAP Office, Karyn Olivier, and Caecilia Tripp. Additionally, Tancons was a guest curator for CAPE 09 in 2009, a research curator for the Biennale Bénin in 2012, and a curator for the 2013 Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art.
In 2012-2013, with a group of students formed during her summer curatorial intensive courses at IUAV, Tancons conceived FAR FESTA: Nuove Festa Veneziane, a project inspired by the civic rituals of the former Venice Republic, and co-curated Corteo de Casteo I and II during the 55th Venice Biennale.
Recently, Tancons was guest curator for the 2017 Printemps de Septembre in Toulouse, France, and the Artistic Director of etcetera: un rituel civique with artist Mohamed Bourouissa and composer Christophe Chassol. She was also the Artistic Director of Tide by Side, a processional performance celebrating the opening of the Faena District (Miami Beach), in collaboration with Arto Lindsay as musical director and Gia Wolff as architectural director. The performance featured the work of Cuban artist collective Los Carpinteros, artists Carlos Betancourt, Marinella Senatore, Miralda and Carnival Arts with special guest appearance by Ernesto Neto alongside Miami-based artists and collectives.
Tancons' writings have appeared in numerous journals, including: Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, Third Text, e-flux journal, and Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism. Earlier monographic writings on artists Robin Rhode, David Hammons, and Chris Ofili appeared in Nka with texts on Rhode later published in monographs such as Robin Rhode: Catch Air (Columbus, OH: Wexner Center for the Arts, 2009) and on Hammons in the catalogue of 2004 Dak'Art Biennale and reprinted in Third Text. A text on Marlon Griffith was recently published in his first monograph,Marlon Griffith: Symbols of Endurance (Toronto: Art Gallery of York University, 2018).
Tancons' "Occupy Wall Street: Carnival Against Capital? Carnivalesque as Protest Sensibility," which first appeared in e-flux journal, has been translated and re-published many times, including in the anthology The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest: The Arab Spring and Beyond (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), while "Curating Carnival: Performance in Contemporary Caribbean Art," another oft-cited paper, was published in Curating in the Caribbean (Berlin: The Greenbox, 2012).
In 2016, Tancons co-edited EN MAS': Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean with Krista Thompson, the catalogue of the eponymous exhibition, featuring essays from Thompson and herself as well as Shannon Jackson and Kobena Mercer, and monographic texts from Annie Paul, Paul Goodwin, and Thomas Lax, among others.
She has also been featured in interviews and essays in curatorial anthologies such as Truth is Concrete: A Handbook for Artistic Strategies in Real Politics (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), The New Curator (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2016), Perform, Experience, Re-live: BMW Tate Live Program (London: Tate Publishing, 2016) and, also in 2016, and in the online glossary "In Terms of Performance," from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and University of California, Berkeley.
Tancons is active internationally as a speaker on her work as a contemporary art curator and carnival scholar for various conferences, universities, and art institutions. She was listed as one of the "20 Most Influential Young Curators in the US" by Artsy in 2016.
- Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award, Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, New Haven, CT (2012)
- Curatorial Research Fellowship, Institut Français, France (2011)
- Curatorial Research Fellowship, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York (2008)
- Travel and Research Grant, Foundation for Arts Initiatives (2008)
- Artistic Production Grant, Prince Claus Fund, The Netherlands (2008)
- Fund for Arts Research Grant, Foundation for Arts Initiatives (2007)
- "How Latitudes Become Forms: Exhibition". Walker Art Center. Retrieved 2016-09-08.
- Farrell, Laurie Ann (2004). "Robin Rhode". Art South Africa: 68.
- La Rocco, Claudia (2007-05-16). "A Choreographer Goes Video, Featuring a 99-Year-Old Star". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-09-08.
- "Paul D. Miller: Path is Prologue". Paula Cooper Gallery. Retrieved 2016-09-08.
- Jelly-Schapiro, Joshua (2015). "EN MAS': Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean". Artforum. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
- McKee, Jesse (2010-05-01). "Mythographies, Archeologies, Circuitries: Other Ways of Curating". Border Crossings. 29 (2): 60–67.
- Tancons, Claire (2011-12-01). "Occupy Wall Street: Carnival Against Capital? Carnivalesque as Protest Sensibility". e-flux journal. 30. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
- Funk, Ray (2007-10-20). "Caribbean Art in Brooklyn: Beyond Infinite Island to Mas". The Trinidad Guardian.
- Mokoena, Tshepo (2014-08-24). "Tate Modern's carnival: all the fun - with added turbine power". Retrieved 2016-09-01.
- Lebowitz, Cathy (2015-09-23). "En Mas: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean". Art in America. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
- Griffin, Tim; Enwezor, Okwui (2008-09-01). "Tim Griffin talks with curator Okwui Enwezor about the 7th Gwangju Biennale". Artforum. 46 (1).
- Tinari, Philip (2009-01-01). "The 2008 Gwangju Biennial, Singapore Biennale 2008, and 3rd Yokohama Triennale". Artforum. 47 (5).
- Schneider, Anna (2009-01-01). "Architectures of Spectacle: Facets of the exhibition boom in South Korea and China in the context of the strategy of globalism". springerin. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
- "FAR FESTA: Nuove Festa Veneziane: Corte de Casteo I". Retrieved 2016-09-09.
- "Opening Processional Performance: Tide by Side directed by Claire Tancons in collaboration with Gia Wolff and Arto Lindsay". Faena Art. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
- Tancons, Claire (2005). "An Elective Affinity: David Hammons's Hidden From View and Made in the People's Republic of Harlem". Third Text. 19 (2): 169–75.
- Claire Tancons. "News". Retrieved 2016-09-09.