Marketing Mondays: A Curator Connects the Dots for an Exhibition

In the previous post, Mary Birmingham, Exhibition Director for the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey, talked about how artists get on her radar and offered advice to anyone looking to connect similarly with curators.

In this post, she talks specifically about how she found the artists for Material Color. Although the show is over (it ran for four months, October 2008 through January 2009), the curatorial process by which she developed the exhibition continues in her practice. I think it's worth hearing about how Birmingham made the selections she did, because her process complements the ideas that Marketing Mondays has put forth in other posts: Show, show, show your work; network with your colleagues in the art world, whether they be artists, dealers, critics or curators; and understand that networking may lead to referrals, which are a big way artists find their way into exhibitions. (Disclaimer: My work is included in this show. Indeed, it's how this dialog with Birmingham came about.)

Above: Mary Birmingham, facing camera, talks with artist Leslie Wayne at the opening of Material Color. James Lecce painting, left; my Vicolo 35
The words below are Birmingham’s, except for a couple of lines in italic by me to set the scene. I simply organized the comments into paragraphs with subheads to deliver the narrative. The work of most of the artists she mentions can be seen in my blog post about the show. .
One Artist Sparks an Idea
At the Miami art fairs in 2007, Birmingham was taken with the work of Robert Sagerman. His lush surfaces, comprised of thousands of brush strokes built up into a tangible wall of color and light, provided an Aha! moment for her.

"I saw Robert Sagerman’s work at no fewer than four places in Miami. Then I started to become more aware of other art work that shared this sense of weighty materiality and seductive surface. I saw the work of Peter Fox, Markus Linnenbrink and Omar Chacon--all works that were colorful as well as having a visceral feeling about them. By the end of my stay in Miami I had seen enough to tease my thinking about a possible future exhibition."

The material color that sparked an exhibition: a surface by Robert Sagerman (The detail here, from 7373, 2008, oil on canvas, was painted after Birmingham's Aha! moment; it's one of my photo file images)

More Looking
"My idea was reinforced when I returned to New York. In March [2008] I saw Ivana Brenner's work at Scope and Leslie Wayne’s at the Armory Show. Those six artists were enough to get me going."

Another jumpstarter: the work of Leslie Wayne. This detail, from my photo files, is from a painting at the Jack Shainman Gallery booth at Pulse Miami, 2007

Referrals by Dealers and Artists, and Serendipitous Finds
"I found Carlos Estrada Vega through Margaret Thatcher, who also pointed me to dealer Valerie McKenzie, who represents James Lecce. I like Elizabeth Harris's gallery and and was happy to find that that she represents Carolanna Parlato, whose work I had also seen in Miami through a West Coast dealer. I've known the work of Lori Kirkbride and Paul Russo for several years. Robert Sagerman introduced me to Gregg Hill.

"Alana Bograd was recommended to me by the artist Amy Wilson, who is a friend of mine. Another artist I’ve become friendly with, Molly Heron, was in the [2008] No Chromophobia show at OK Harris and invited me to see it with her. While we were there, I happened to meet Louise Sloane. This is also where I saw your work in person for the first time. I found the other artists either while wandering in Chelsea or through searching the Internet.

"By then I had sharpened my idea to explore different processes and materials, with the common denominator of color. I was especially interested in seeing how different artists found different ways to handle [the materiality of] their paint. "

Installation view of No Chromophobia at OK Harris, spring-summer, 2008, curated by Richard Witter

Birmingham found two artists there: Louise P. Sloane, on far wall above (Martha Keller, left); and me, left and center, below (Siri Berg, right)

Birmingham connected the dots into the curatorial mix that became Material Color
Above: Louise P. Sloane, Cecilia Biaggini and Gregg Hill
Below: Hill, Sagerman and Carlos Estrada Vega

A Typical Approach
"This is pretty much my process for organizing group shows. Something stimulates my thinking. Then I start collecting names, which connect to other names. Studio visits follow each round of discoveries and leads until the show develops."


Anonymous said...

So all you have to do then is get a gallery and have them disseminate your work to several different galleries at various art fairs and then cross your fingers and hope a curator takes notice. Done!

Now . . . how do I go about getting a gallery? Oh, I know: get a curator who will introduce me to various dealers.

Wait, how do I thrust myself into the circular dance again?

Joanne Mattera said...


I hate when the first post of the day is a downer. If all you're reading is "get a gallery" you're missing the whole point of this post which is, I repeat:

Show, show, show your work; network with your colleagues in the art world, whether they be artists, dealers, critics or curators; and understand that networking may lead to referrals, which are a big way artists find their way into exhibitions.

Did you even read last Monday's post, in which the curators talk about ALL THE WAYS people get on their radar?

Sometimes it's just easier to be cynical that to do the research and the networking, eh?

Matthew Beall said...

Seeing or should I say reading the process I think help to clear the fog of mystery for some of us.

Joanne - Some of this has been touched on before, but it would great to have greater detail. How about talking about types of venues to show in. For example, entering juried vs. non-juried exhibition competitions, non- traditional settings, online shows (kosher or not?), flat-files,etc.? And, should you pay to have work reviewed...?

anne mcgovern said...

Bravo Joanne, it was an excellent post that most people would appreciate.

Philip Koch said...

Some time ago I was talking with an artist friend at MICA and she said something that really struck me-
"The most important thing for me is not to let myself become bitter. Then I know I've lost." I sort of did a double take hearing this as at the time her art career was moving along very nicely and was the envy of most of us.

Reflecting on this now, I think I'm most attracted to artists who acknowledge that staying active in the art world is a challenge, but who somehow find a way to stay real and pursue the genuine opportunities that are out there. Maybe the trick is to get your art work so insightful and so rich that you come to truly value it. Then the networking and showing, showing, showing becomes easier.

Joanne Mattera said...

Excellent suggestion for a look at various exhibition options. I'll put it on the list.

Bitterness can be a big issue. It's hard to keep putting onself out there only to be met with rejection. Your suggestion to make the best possible work is good advice. I'd add that if one keeps getting rejected, the thing to do is look at the who, how and what of the situations, and then figure out a different approach. This also relates to Matthew's thought about looking at different exhibition options.

I'd add that there's nothing more offputting than bitterness. It's hard out there for all of us; someone always has more/better/bigger/richer. I do think that most people respond more to positive energy, to entrepreneurial ambition, to good humor.

(BTW, The antidote for my bad days: chocolate ice cream with chili chocolate chunks, which I add by hand. The act of chopping gets out the aggression and then the chocolate floods the brain with endorphins.)

Anonymous said...

This may be irrelevant but I read it last night on wikipedia and was amused that McLean was rejected 34 times before finding a label for his first album.
"McLean recorded his first album, Tapestry, in 1969 in Berkeley, California during the student riots. After being rejected by 34 labels, the album was released by Mediarts and attracted good reviews but little notice outside the folk community.
McLean's major break came when Mediarts was taken over by United Artists Records thus securing for his second album, American Pie, the promotion of a major label. The album spawned two No. 1 hits in the title song and "Vincent." American Pie's success made McLean an international star and renewed interest in his first album, which charted more than two years after its initial release."

Claudia Waters said...

Thank you for sharing the process of putting together a group exhibition. As an artist I think it's interesting to understand the inspiration and inner workings involved in what is in itself a creative endeavor. The show looks beautiful -- I love the color.

Darle Dickens said...

I'd have to agree that this is a great post and something that all of us artists need to be reminded of. Bitterness is something that I run into a lot when working with artists.

Carla Hernandez said...

Jackie Battenfield's book, The Artist's Guide, has a wonderful chapter about getting yourself and your work out there. She encourages talking to interns and gallery receptionists in addition to other artists, dealers, etc. - they may one day become the gallerists and dealers that will remember you and your work. Face-to-face contact is priceless, although it's not easy for shy artists. I can imagine few things as intimidating than trying to strike up a conversation at an opening, but hopefully it's a skill that becomes easier with practice.

Mink said...

Joanne, your dedication to helping us Artists is amazing, Thank You.

Whenever I get frustrated with my career, have a bad day, I look at one of my daughters monster drawings, totally helps and of course their faces.

chunky ice cream has been uplifting as well.

Jazz Green said...

Very interesting to have stumbled upon your blog, and your commitment to raising awareness of the contemporary art market for emerging artists is formidable.

In the UK though, some curators eschew the art fairs (which are of course only in major cities - a detriment to rural artists) as they have become vacuous art supermarkets - critical review is seen as a more valid route in establishing oneself.

It is so true to just get your work 'out there', preferably through respected or established venues, and in the company of like-minded serious artists. If the collector, dealer or curator doesn't find you there, then they may well do through curated group shows or juried exhibitions. I think too that having a clear ideology behind the work spurs on new ideas in curators for future themed shows.

Britain culturally is perhaps less brave in seeking out contemporary art (out of the municipal or city galleries), and the collectors/curators too rarely operate out of the cities.

However, the advice given is spot-on, and vital to anyone committed to their art practice - we as artists do need constant reminding of this - so thank you.