The Artist as Curator: Luxe, Calme et Volupté

..Review by Debra Wolf, Atlanta Journal Constitution:
"Order and beauty form the organizing principle in an engaging new exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery....Using Baudelaire and Matisse as a springboard for contemporary expression, Mattera's premise is both clever and effective. Fastidious process (order) is essential to aesthetic outcome (beauty). Mattera's selections are smart and pleasing in a show that combines control and creativity, visual and tactile harmony, and individual refrains of luxe, calme et volupte....Verdict: Intelligent and pleasurable."

I love everything about curating: conceiving a theme, making studio visits, selecting the work, challenging my left brain to write an essay about how everything fits together. And then working with the installer to make everything fit together. I'm not wild about the paperwork--and let me say right here that I have renewed appreciation for the administrative slalom a dealer needs to negotiate each month. But seeing an idea manifest on the walls of a gallery is thrilling.

This post is about my experience curating a show, Luxe, Calme et Volupté, for the Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta. The show is up June 7 through August 25th.
Installation view for the Front Gallery looking toward entry: Tim McFarlane, All That Could Be; Rainer Gross, Espinal Twins; Robert Sagerman, 11,257. On floor: Venske & Spanle, Smurf

In my next life I'm coming back as a curator. After years of saying that I want to come back as a couch potato--just to vegetate in the next incarnation after a too-demanding schedule in this one--I've changed my mind. Art wins out. I definitely need a break from making art but I don't think I can stay away from being involved in it. Curating, to my mind, is a way to be involved with art without lifting a brush. (There's a funny little wordplay here: Curare comes from the Latin "to care for"--i.e. to curate--and the poison curare stops you in your tracks. So linguistically, at least, this next incarnation will cover both aspirations.)

Installation view of the North Gallery from entry. From left: Julie Gross painting, Two One Punch; Chris Ashley installation, Jukebox 1-28; Maureen Mullarkey collages. On floor: a Venske & Spanle Smurf

North gallery looking toward Marcia's office (with Frances Barth's red/gr over desk). From left: Julie Gross, Two One Punch and Scooter; Julie Karabenick, Composition 65 and Composition 64; Chris Ashley, Jukebox 1-28 with digital presentation of 365 HTML Drawings. On Floor: Venske & Spanle Smurf

Marcia Wood, my good friend and longtime dealer in Atlanta, gave me her blessing--and her gallery --to pursue my idea, which at its core is a meditation on visual pleasure. After a decade of pornified bimbettes, video loops of window washers and the recently repickled shark (it's a big, interesting art world out there), I was craving a taste of the sublime. So I started making a list. Of course my idea of beauty is different from yours, that's the beauty of it, but I did want to refer to formal ideas of harmony—order, pattern, shape, texture and color--put together in ways that evoke feelings of pleasure, maybe feelings of the spiritual as well.

The words of my friend Stephen Rosenberg, a principal of Rosenberg + Kaufman Fine Art in New York, buzzed in my head as I considered this artist or that work: "The problem with artists who curate is that they always put too much in." He wasn't telling me this specifically, but when I heard it, it stuck. So I pared. Then added. Pared then added. Marcia's gallery is big--there are three separate gallery spaces with a total of about 2,500 square feet--so my list didn't have to be sliced to the quick, but with Stephen's words resonating, I was mindful of not overstuffing the idea.

Front Gallery looking toward Terrace Gallery. From left: Robert Sagerman, 11,257; Frances Barth, Heat Glance; Tim McFarlane, All That Could Be. In distance: paintings by Timothy McDowell and Heather Hutchison

My preference is for abstraction. In curating this show, I followed my own response to the harmony of elements, and to the transcendent nature of light—its intensity, translucence, luminosity and iridescence. I selected paintings, along with collages and sculptures, from artists whose work makes me become conscious of my own breath, which is to say that I connect with it so physically that the act of seeing, feeling and breathing are one. It’s a cliché to say "time stops," so let me just report that there does seem to be a temporal slowing down as I stand before a work that engages me fully. Or maybe it’s simply that I have stopped long enough to let the chemistry of the experience wash through me, to let it change me ever so slightly from the person I was before I experienced the particular piece of beauty.

I ended up selecting 15 artists, 13 individual artists and an artmaking duo, and what emerged was Luxe, Calme et Volupté --luxury, tranquility and pleasure, after the refrain in Baudelaire's "L'Invitation au Voyage."  For the most part these are artists with whom I have shown, or with whom there is a gallery affiliation, or simply artists who found their way onto my visual radar in one exhibition or another and whose work I’ve followed avidly since. In every instance their work resonates for me personally as well as with this theme.

The artists in the show are David Ambrose, Chris Ashley, Frances Barth, Julie Gross, Rainer Gross, Heather Hutchison, Julie Karabenick, Timothy McDowell, Tim McFarlane, Maureen Mullarkey, Rose Olson, Robert Sagerman, Donna Sharrett, and Venske & Spanle.

Terrace Gallery. From left: Rose Olson, Soft as Memory, Seven Reds, Orange Electric, Pulse, New Green, Balancing Earth and Water, and Diffusion Rising; Timothy McDowell, Nectar; Heather Hutchison, When This Dust Falls; Donna Sharrett, Ramble On, Your Song and Turn the Page

Terrace Gallery looking toward North Gallery. From left: Donna Sharrett; Heather Hutchison, Divided (warm); David Ambrose, Elevated Rose With Braided Chain and Southeastern Elevation; Rose Olson

The gallery website has an online catalog. I invite you to spend some time on the website viewing the individual works and reading my essay. If you're going to be in the South any time between June 7 and August 25, getcher self to Atlanta to see this show.
Some acknowledgments: An artist cannot curate a good gallery show without the blessing, wisdom, support and expertise of the dealer. (Thanks, Marcia.) An online catalog doesn't materialize without the expertise, patience and fabulous design sense of the gallery associate (Thanks, Errol Crane). And the artwork doesn't happen without immensely talented artists willing to trust a curator's concept and let her take their work for two and a half months. Julie Karabenick sent her newest painting, even though she's preparing for a solo show of her own in September. Rainer Gross let me put dibs on a piece that he'd just finished. Robert Sagerman and Julie Gross made paintings especially for the show. I saw a maquette and a gouache sketch, respectively, so that trust goes both ways. And I'm thrilled with the paintings they made.

You'd think that working with 15 artists would come with a squirmy bag of 15 egos, but I'm happy to say that all was more or less calme. I was prepared to drop anyone who didn't meet my deadlines for images, bios, resumes and such--a strict "tough love" policy, mostly to keep my own head on straight since I was working on two solo shows of my own (see previous posts plus this link ). But I was dealing with pros, and in several instances I was also working through their representing galleries (Bridgette Mayer in Philadelphia; Thatcher Projects and Pavel Zoubok in New York) who provided great images and welcome enthusiasm for the project as well. And I had great administrative and organizational support from Marcia and Errol.

Would I do it again? Indeed. I already have the concept. I even have a few names on my list.

Not part of the show: Looking into Marcia's office. Clockwise from left: Claire Lieberman video wall piece; Mary Engel sculpture; Rob Kennedy lamp on Marcia's desk; Frances Barth red/gr behind desk; a selection of my paintings from the Uttar andSilk Road series; Lieberman glass sculptures on table; Venske & Spanle Gumphot on floor