Shirley Mathew’s recent series of paintings ‚Linear Perspective‘ is in response to the changing landscape of Bangalore. Watching the rapid pace of urbanization and the receding green cover, she wonders about the collateral damage which is happening at the cost of development.
I had the chance to meet the curator and art consultant Renée Riccardo in 2017 while I was an artist resident at the ESKFF at MANA Contemporary. When Renée offered to include my work in one of the spaces that she curates, ARENA at Suite 806 in New York, I was beyond excited to be noticed and supported by someone who curates Museum shows and has shown artists such as Rachel Harrison, Marilyn Minter, Vik Muniz, Wangechi Mutu and Kehinde Wiley (among many others) before they became art stars. When I got to know her more, I was grateful I had the chance to meet such a talented and nice person, so knowledgeable about the art world, generous with her time and who genuinely supports the artists she represents.
Renée began her career as an independent curator, in the ’80s in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and was an Adjunct Curator for Photography at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (now MoMA PS1) before founding her own gallery in SoHo in 1991: ARENA.
After a few years, running her gallery ARENA in Soho, she innovated and began to present art outside the traditional white cube space because she believes that “it is vital for art to be presented in new ways and forms”. ARENA moved to Brooklyn to function as a salon-style gallery space and in 1996 and 1997, she co-organized with John Good, The Art Exchange Show, a contemporary art fair utilizing nine floors of abandoned office space in Lower Manhattan that combined art galleries with live performances.
This led her to be featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine for the article “Neo-Dealers” and on City Arts, a PBS cultural magazine on television.
Over the past few years I have been presenting my gallery ARENA in two public spaces, one that I call ARENA at Suite 806, a gallery within my own therapist’s office on Fifth Avenue, NYC and another entitled, ARENA at The Brooklyn Specialists at 440 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn. Curating exhibitions at two doctor’s offices came about through conversations that I had with them about my desire to present incredible new artists work in a unique setting other than the traditional white cube. I had curated exhibitions in museums and my own white cube space, ARENA in Soho years before but over the years I have been increasingly attracted to adapting unique spaces, such as the huge Art Exchange Show that I co-curated with John Good in the 90’s on 9 floors of an abandoned office tower, a gallery within my home in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, a loft that I shared with another space, ARENA at Feed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and finally a space that ARENA shared in Chelsea with Elga Wimmer where we alternated shows that we each curated individually as two separate galleries.
I’ve always liked the idea of presenting artists very early in their careers because it was a challenge for me creatively to find artists that the public didn’t have a context for.
I’ve been very fortunate to discover and exhibit artists who have gone on to great notoriety, presenting some of the first public gallery exhibitions of the early works of Joanne Greenbaum, Rachel Harrison, Jason Middlebrook, Marilyn Minter, Vik Muniz, Wangechi Mutu, Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley.
An exhibition that I currently have on view, Wrap Around 18, is the 18th in a series of exhibitions that I’ve curated at ARENA at Suite 806, my gallery within the office of my therapist, Lee Shapiro, Psyd. that features shaped paintings on paper by Dominick Leuci, ceramics and paintings by Linda Nagaoka and sculptural wall works by Angélica Maria Millán Lozano. (more info below).
As a curator, you’ve have supported many artists early in their career. What’s the best reward?
The best reward for me is to challenge myself to create the highest quality exhibition, no matter how intimate or huge the space. I’ve also taken great pride in presenting incredible artists that I discover very early in their careers that are being presented decades later in major exhibitions in museums worldwide.
For example, I gave Rachel Harrison her first solo exhibition in 1996 for an installation titled “Should home windows or shutters be required to withstand a direct hit from an eight-foot-long two-by-four shot from a cannon at 34 miles an hour, without creating a hole big enough to let through a three-inch sphere?”. A fun memory about this show was having Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz sitting around my kitchen table listening to the music that I played and discussing Rachel Harrison’s installation during one of the Sunday afternoon openings at ARENA. No one at the time knew what to make of Harrison’s unusual work but many major critics including Roberta Smith of the New York Times felt compelled to write about. Elements of the installation will be featured in her upcoming survey show, entitled, Life Hack opening October 25th at The Whitney Museum of Art.
As an art dealer, you’ve been an innovator in the art market. How do you see the evolution of the role of art dealers?
Yes, I created ARENAgal by Renée Riccardo one-of-a-kind pendant necklaces 8 years ago. This was during a time that I was recovering from cancer in Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn and I met a fantastic artist, Wilhelmina visiting the hospital from The Creative Center, anorganization on the Bowery dedicated to bringing the creative arts to people with cancer. She came one day to the Oncology Clinic at Woodhull with donated beads and leather and I started making necklaces obsessively to take my mind off of my illness. I also met Lee Shapiro, Psyd. there who became my therapist to get me through cancer and later became the therapist who’s office that I curate at ARENA at Suite 806. I decided to turn this difficulty into a new form of expression. I started wearing my ARENAgal necklaces to openings and was asked by artists and museum directors what I was wearing. That turned into selling my necklaces at the Whitney Museum of Art and the Jewish Museum shops in NY. I’ve also created custom necklaces for artists that have purchased them from me or we’ve traded necklaces for art.
Do you have an anecdote that you’d like to share, a memorable encounter?
There are so many because I’ve been a gallerist, curator, and art consultant for decades. An early memory is riding in a car with the actress/comedian Sandra Bernhard and her artist/director friend, John Boskovich who Paul Laster & I exhibited after one of the marathon openings at P.S. 1 where Paul & I were Adjunct Curators for Photography. I remember how funny it was to be in a car with a person that I’d seen in films and her director and laughing about their keen observations of the art world.
Another strong memory is a seeing a line around the block for the opening of the Art Exchange Show, an exhibition that I co-curated with John Good for two years in the Wall Street area with 9 floors of new artists and galleries and musicians including D.J. Spooky.
And of course the strangest moment was when I was featured in the cover article, The Neo Dealers in the New York Times Magazine. I remember Joe Amrhein, myself, Gina Fiore and Kenny Schacter posing for the cover photograph by the reknowned photographer, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders at his studio thinking that the art world had finally embraced an alternative art scene that all of us were trying to present at the time. The photograph is based on the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover. I knew that it would be iconic and a turning point for all of us. I’m still a Neo Dealer at heart, trying to invent new ways of presenting contemporary art.
What is your dream project?
To be the curator for a major collection with new artists and artists that I’ve nurtured early in their careers and continue to have relationships with.
What are your projects for the coming months?
I am curating a new exhibition, Surface 9, the 9th in a series of exhibitions at ARENA at The Brooklyn Specialists (formerly Brooklyn Dermatology) and Wrap Around 19 at ARENA at Suite 806, both in the Fall. I am always looking for new spaces and partners to collaborate with.
Wrap Around 18 at ARENA at Suite 806, Flatiron District, NYC – Visit by appointment
In Dominick Leuci’sDream Hive series abstract color field works on synthetic paper reveal fluttering light through swooshing fluid acrylic paint. Working under a concentrated trance, both acrylic and paper are exchanged for a type of alchemy in which the artist tries to achieve a sublime moment of ‘lift’ by allowing materials to have an expression of their own. Paper and paint reveal a dynamic exposure within the process almost imbedding the works with light and translucency.
Linda Nagaoka, an artist working in many mediums including ceramics and painting has this to say regarding her practice, “Whether working with clay or paint, I try to make some spirited stories. The East and the West, the functional and the decorative, and places observed or sometimes imagined, are all being gleaned for this purpose.”
Angélica Maria Millán Lozano is an artist from Bogotá, Colombia currently based in Brooklyn, New York. She creates abstract and figurative compositions on distressed fabrics that question the social injustices that affect Latinas in the home. All of these artists are people that I’ve exhibited for the first time. Wrap Around 18 runs through November 2019 and is open by appointment.
Sharing Memories, Hopes and Fears at Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Visitors leave hand-written notes after viewing the exhibition, Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975. Photo by Libby Weiler.
Melissa Hendrickson is an Interpretation and Audience Research Specialist at SAAM.
More than forty years after its conclusion, the Vietnam War remains an emotional and affecting topic. Whether you lived through the conflict or were born long after its end, you likely have strong feelings about this divisive period in American history. Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975, on view through August 18, 2019 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, explores the era through the lens of its artwork.
During the war, artists, like many ordinary Americans, felt compelled to respond to their political, social, and cultural moment. The artworks they created are powerful and provocative, reflecting the turmoil and passion of the decade. Recognizing the strong emotions inherent to the topic and works, SAAM’s interpretation team worked closely with curator Melissa Ho to create space in the exhibition for visitors to rest, reflect, and respond.
Our process began by engaging with SAAM visitors. Through surveys, interviews, and in-depth focus groups, we explored visitors’ associations with the Vietnam War, their questions about the exhibition’s content, and how the museum could best support their experience.
One result of that feedback was the creation of a dedicated interpretive gallery. This discrete space includes an in-depth timeline, which puts exhibition artworks into context with major political and social events of the period, as well as a communal table, where visitors are invited to pause, reflect, and connect with friends or strangers.
A major element of the interpretive gallery is an extensive response wall, which encourages visitors to share written feedback through two prompts: “The art in this exhibition makes me think…” and “The art in this exhibition makes me feel…”
Visitors examine the timeline in the exhibition, Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975. Photo: SAAM staff.
To date, nearly four thousand people have shared their reactions. Their responses reflect a range of emotions: pride, shame, regret, awe, confusion, optimism, fear. Some share their memories of the Vietnam War era and their own experience as a soldier or activist. Others express frustration at their lack of knowledge about the period and their desire to learn more about its overlooked histories. Some recognize soldiers of color, who were drafted in disproportionately high numbers. Others honor family members who came to the United States as refugees from Southeast Asia. Many draw parallels to the contemporary moment and reflect on lessons learned, or ignored.
The handful of cards below represent a range of distinct voices, thoughts, and personal responses. If you’d like to visit and add your thoughts to the interpretive gallery, the exhibition remains on view through August 18, 2019. Following the presentation at SAAM, the exhibition will travel to the Minneapolis Institute of Art where it will be on display from Sept. 29 through Jan. 5, 2020.
Translation: We will need a few more generations to ease the pain of the Vietnam War