Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to serve as curator at Bridgeport Art Center (BAC), a position that has brought me great satisfaction and pleasure. Bridgeport Art Center is housed in an amazing 500,000 square foot building that was for many decades a warehouse for the Spiegel mail order company. The 100-year-old building is being rapidly transformed, thanks to the vision of its owners, into a major art center on Chicago’s South Side, and I am delighted to be able to participate in this great venture.
The Bridgeport Art Center’s fourth floor gallery is approximately 3,000 square feet in size, with timber columns supporting a 12-ft. ceiling. Although it is a very spacious exhibition area, the gallery had lacked walls for two-dimensional work, so one of the first changes made was the installation of 20 hanging wall panels in various configurations. This was accompanied by newly sanded floors, freshly painted walls, and installation of the best gallery lights. Today it is a beautiful bright gallery with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Since November 2012, the gallery has presented 15 exhibitions of work by artists from the Chicago region, giving an opportunity to over 270 artists to exhibit. From the beginning of the exhibition program there has been a lively interest among artists in a chance to exhibit at the Bridgeport Art Center. There really are not enough exhibition venues for the large number of artists working in the Chicago region.
As BAC curator, I would like in this introductory piece to describe my own curatorial philosophy and the criteria used to select work for exhibitions. Growing up in an immigrant artist’s family, then earning two fine arts degrees from the University of Chicago, as well as a Ph.D. in art education from the University of Minnesota, I have spent my life making art, studying, teaching and discussing art, promoting other artists’ work, and, of course, enjoying the great art found in museums and galleries, the art of non-Western cultures, and the contemporary work of artist friends and acquaintances. This is the background that I bring to serving as curator at Bridgeport Art Center.
Unlike some curators, I do not promote a particular aesthetic viewpoint, but regard each exhibition as in part an educational opportunity – to inform and engage viewers about some aspect of contemporary art. My first curatorial effort at BAC for example, “Anxious Object”, presented large-scale works created from found or re-cycled materials, exploring the relationship of art materials to the message or content of the work. A show of work by members of noted photographer Jane Fulton Alt’s critique group demonstrated why photography has become a major medium in contemporary art. Artemisia Gallery’s 40th anniversary exhibit celebrated this ground-breaking feminist gallery founded in the 1970’s, with current work by some of the women whose careers were launched through Artemisia at a time when women artists were largely excluded from the mainstream art world.
Not surprisingly, BAC receives numerous requests to exhibit. I use three criteria in evaluating whether an artist or group of artists is invited to show:
- Does the work display seriousness of purpose and a high level of professionalism?
- Is the work compatible with the specific size and configuration of the BAC gallery?
- Is the work of potential interest to a large and diverse audience?
Let me add that I do not need to like every art work selected to show in the gallery, but am interested in presenting high quality work in a variety of media, styles, and methods of working and thinking about art, reflecting the amazing variety that the viewer can find in the contemporary art scene today. And because BAC is not a commercial gallery, there is no particular pressure to sell art work. This is not to say that we don’t sell any art or don’t wish to sell art, but that this is a side-effect of exhibiting work, not the reason for the exhibition.
In addition to the 4th floor gallery, Bridgeport Art Center has developed the Corridor Gallery, representing only work by artists who rent studios in the building. By improving the corridors with fresh paint and gallery lights, an attractive additional exhibit space has been developed that gives resident artists an opportunity to have some of their work professionally displayed to building visitors at all times. New exhibitions are installed three times annually.
I look forward in the future to presenting information about current BAC exhibitions and to raising what I believe are issues of importance to artists and art lovers.