Academy Awards - Best Curating

By Claire Cushman (MFA 2015)

The New York art world is a big place. This can be intimidating, but it also gives artists opportunities to play different roles, such as curator. While most artists are singularly focused on their own vision, Cara De Angelis (MFA 2011), Diana Corvelle (MFA 2011), Dina Brodsky (MFA 2006) and Michelle Doll (2006) have carved out the time and energy to identify, organize and contextualize the work of their peers by curating shows. 

While working on curatorial projects (often together), these women and other artists formed a group known as Paint Anywaywhich is dedicated to reintroducing talent and sincerity into the New York art world. "Our mission is to create a platform in which great artwork is seen and discussed," says Michelle Doll. 

Curating requires research, idea development, project management, decisiveness, and even interior decorating skills. Like writing, curating forces artists to consider the wider context their works fit into, and to identify the conversations they’d like to be a part of. Below, these four NYAA alumni answer some questions about their curating experiences.

Kimberly Witham, "Still Life with Orange Glove," (Digital C-Print), from Wildlife in the Post-Natural Age, curated by Cara De Angelis

Why do you curate?

Cara: I have a desire to connect with more artists and galleries, and to create opportunity for my friends and other emerging artists, specifically women and others who may not be given as much opportunity. A majority of the opportunities I've had since being out of school have been through fellow artists, and I genuinely love participating in the community we've created and helping to expand it further. It's my fuel to keep me going.

Diana:  I can thank my lovely Paint Anyway friends for pushing me to curate. I deeply value sincerity and craft, so I want to give a platform to artists whose work is sincere and beautifully crafted. 

Linnea Paskow, "Dissolution", Magazine Fragments - from "Remnants" 

Tell me about the shows you’ve curated?

Michelle: In 2010, the incredibly talented artist and close friend of mine, Lisa Lebofsky, approached me about co-curating a show with her at Fuse Gallery, where she was the gallery director at the time. We decided on the title "Remnants", choosing artwork that focussed on serenity found in the wake of destruction, gradual disintegration, natural decay and residual experience. The show was an ambitious project that included approximately 50 artists. I learned so much from that experience, especially from Lisa's extraordinary professionalism in working with artists and various galleries.

For my next curatorial project in 2012, the wonderful gallery owner Island Weiss asked me to co-curate a Valentine's Day themed show titled "Love is in the Air", focussing on the celebration of love, passion, and desire. We collaborated with the Cell theatre group, which combined live performance art and painting.

The other two projects, "Behind the Curtain" and "Barely Imagined Beings," were inspired by my continual collaboration and friendship with the brilliant and ambitious artist, Dina Brodsky.

Dina:  My first curatorial experience was actually an accident- a friend of mine in Boston was launching a start-up tech company. He asked me if I had any artist friends who would be willing to exhibit their work at the launch party, where his potential investors might be interested in buying art. I asked for artwork from some of my Academy classmates, borrowed a friend's car, and drove it to Boston. I didn't think of that as curating, I was just putting together some paintings that looked good together. But the show looked beautiful, and my friend kept introducing me as a curator. That show later got extended to a gallery I knew in Boston, and I realized that, at least to me, that's all curating really is- finding work that looks beautiful and meaningful together. Since then, I've been curating about two shows a year - working with an expanding set of artists and galleries.

Cara: I curated my first show 3 years ago called "Wildlife in the Post Natural Age" and have done several since. The most recent show was "Hot Dry Men, Cold WetWomen," a somewhat satirical effort.

Diana: I co-curated my first show of female portrait artists, "Loved and Observed," with fellow alum Manu Saluja (MFA '13) at Hersh Fine Art, a gallery affiliated with the Long Island Academy of Art, where we both teach.  Cara and I co-curated "New Romantics" at Mark Miller Gallery, and worked with Tun Myaing (MFA '06) for a show of NYAA alumni work "Lucid Visions" at Panepinto Galleries, headed by Stefania Panepinto (MFA '15).  Most recently I curated an exhibition of locket miniatures, "Love It, Locket, Leave It" for Island Weiss Gallery.  Love It/Locket was a really special show for me because every piece was created especially for the exhibition.  It was thrilling to see the miniature scale pieces the artists created; unwrapping each locket as it was delivered felt like Christmas morning.

How do you choose works – primarily from a conceptual standpoint, or an aesthetic one, or both?

Cara: I take both concept and beauty into account when choosing works. Another important factor is a given work's context within the show, and the other pieces in it. Putting a show together with many different artists is sometimes like a puzzle and you have no idea what it will look like at the end. Sometimes works have to be left out if they don't "fit" in the larger picture.

Installation shot from "Hot Dry Men, Cold Wet Women"

Diana: For me personally, aesthetic comes before concept.  My first concerns are always that the work be beautifully crafted and fit beautifully together. It sounds silly, but oftentimes curating feels like compiling a shopping wish list of things I would love to hang in my own apartment!  In fact, I do own a good number of works from the artists who have participated in shows I curated. 

Installation shot from Love it, Lock it, Leave it

Michelle: I typically begin with a concept for a show that I feel is compelling and relevant. I'm constantly researching artists and collecting images. Over time, certain works reveal relationships and themes that spark ideas for shows. 
Dina: Ideally, both, but for me personally aesthetic tends to trump concept. I start with a loose concept, and then find artists whose work I admire and find aesthetically exciting and try to see if they have any work that fits into the theme of the show. I feel like most of the shows I have curated have been talked into existence organically through conversations with close artist friends, a lot of whom curate as well.  Someone will say "wouldn't these 3-4 artist's work fit well together thematically", or "wouldn't this be a great idea for a show". Some of these conversations remain in my mind, and I start looking for other artists whose work would fit with the first few that were discussed.  Usually I work with other curators, and we each bring in our own ideas/artists, until we feel like the show needs to happen, and we start looking for a space.
Installation shot from "Hot Dry Men, Cold Wet Women"
What have you learned through curating shows?

Diana: Honestly it has made me a more conscientious artist!  I've learned how it feels to be on the other side of putting together a show, so now I try much harder to be on time with submissions, meet guidelines as closely as possible and not let correspondences lapse.  I joke that curating is like herding cats ... Except in this case the cats are actually wildly talented, sporadically responsible adults.  
Cara: You can never, ever be too organized. Also, persistence is a virtue. A couple of my shows took over a year of me trying to contact and work with spaces before they found a home. You just have to keep trying. Another thing I've learned is to be chill and not freak out when things go wrong, because it's inevitable that they will.

Dina: I found, learned about, and met a lot of incredibly amazing artists through curating shows. I learned that there is no magic to it, - if you really want a show to happen, you can bring it into existence, but it takes discipline and work. Also, I learned that very few things happen entirely organically. I learned how to approach galleries with ideas for shows, how to do the PR for my shows, and how to pack and handle artwork. The one thing that does seem to occur organically is the artwork- I have been incredibly lucky to work with a group of talented, hard-working artists, and there is never a lack of incredible work to display.

Michelle: The experience of curating has been so valuable.. I've become more fearless when connecting with artists, galleries, critics and writers. I'm more comfortable with writing proposals, interviews and essays. The entire experience has pushed me outside of my comfort zone. There's so much work and collaboration that goes into curating a show... above all, I've learned how to be a better professional artist. 

How do you pick spaces?
Diana: It depends on the show.  For "Love It, Locket, Leave It", my first choice was Island Weiss Gallery.  That space feels like a jewel box to me, and it worked out that Island was really open to the idea of a show of lockets.  
Dina: I try to get the core group of artists for the show together first, ask them to send me work that fits a certain theme, and write a curatorial statement. Once I have that I start approaching galleries with a show that is basically ready to go. Eventually, I find a space that is available- once a gallery agrees to host a show, depending on the size of the space, and their exhibition aesthetic, I will ask a few more artists if they are willing to participate.

Michelle: The space is important when deciding on a show, particularly when choosing the amount of artists and sizes of work. Ideally, I prefer working with a gallery who's supports the curator's decisions and who will actively promote the show.

Michelle Doll in her stu
What are some of your favorite shows you’ve seen lately?

Cara: An exhibit of Baroque paintings and still lifes from the Hohenbuchau collection that was on display at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich CT. The works were lush, ornate, dripping with color, detail, and velvety backgrounds. It was an almost guilty experience. Also, I was really enamored with the Balthus show at the Met, "Cats and Girls," a little over a year ago. It was one of the best shows I'd seen in a while. Another show that makes you feel almost guilty – I hope that's not a pattern forming!

Dina: By far my favorite group show this year was "Beautiful Beast", curated by Peter Drake -every piece in it was exquisite on it's own, while working together to make a coherent whole. It inspired me, both as an artist and a curator.


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