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About this blog: John Barry is the creator of trAction Painting, a process/performance genre in which he applies paint to large surfaces with bicycles, roller skates, and other wheeled conveyances. With Bill Carmel and other associates, he has bro...  (More)

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Learning the Ropes: Curating 101

Uploaded: Jun 2, 2014

Recently my husband and I were driving through a small town on our way home from Mendocino. It exuded charm and quaintness, good food, good wine. . .all the expected treasures one might count on from a small northern California town. It wasn't until I saw a brilliant lime green sculpture, a robust abstract figure displayed on a vertical pole in the middle of town, that I thought I wanted to explore this place. It reminded me of a Jeff Koons balloon sculpture. It was out of place, interesting, unexpected?and didn't make a bit of sense.

Because I'm an artist, I find such combinations intriguing and stimulating and equate the experience to seeing a memorable art exhibit. I want to leave a museum or a gallery with a churning of thought and ideas, having seen the juxtaposition of medium and randomness, water and fire, up with down. I want to feel something other than comfort and certainty; a yearning to run as fast as I can to my work space.

A successfully curated show, in my opinion, will have all of these elements working harmoniously together. I can imagine having one piece that may be the cornerstone with other art that branches from it. . .similar to a bicycle with spokes that spiral from a central point. How do you build a show like that?

To find out, about a year ago I applied for a position with The Town of Danville's Village Theatre Art Gallery curatorial committee. As a new member, I have attended quarterly meetings, openings, and as many of the art chats that my time allows. Here are some specific things I have learned and general conclusions I have reached to date:

1. Some successful artists are generous with their time and are approachable and willing to consider exhibiting in a small gallery in Danville, CA. Just ask. The worst they can do is turn you down.
2. There are some really good artists out there and some really mediocre ones (yes, I know, it's subjective), and both know how to write a decent proposal.
3. Overt nudity and political or religious statements are verboten in Danville.
4. Women artists bond. They get together, create, and organize to get their work into public places.
5. Keep eyes and ears open. Listen to the new ideas floating around out there and not just in art circles. Look for lime green blobs floating in strange places.
6. There is cultural opportunity for the public to see and hear artists, but the attendance, at times, can be disappointing. Put the Village Theatre Art Chats on your calendar. You may be pleasantly surprised.
7. Children's art exhibits are well attended in this area. That's good, but it would be outstanding if the same enthusiasm were evinced for some of the other exhibitions.
8. Exhibits are planned at least two years in advance. One of the perks of being on the curatorial committee is to take field trips to shows at other museums or galleries and to visit artists' studios. It's a great way to research ideas for upcoming events.
9. Most shows are group exhibits. A solo show is the exception.
Above all I have learned that curating is an art form in itself. It takes vision and dedication.

Note: The views here are my own. They may not reflect those of other curatorial committee members or other Village Theatre Art Gallery staff.

Guest columnist Kathryn Wills is a struggling painter, grows tomatoes and basil in her garden (is a disaster at roses). and enjoys a glass of wine every evening while burning dinner and doing the crossword. Contact her at www.kwillspaint.com. and [email protected]
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