"Art for YOUR sake" would be a way to describe the experience a small group of us had at the Montserrat301 Gallery on Cabot Street. The evening was hosted by the Marblehead Art Association as the second part of a two part series that explored various facets of becoming a collector of emerging artist works. This was hands on and the facilitators were the well credentialed, totally down-to-earth, Maggie Cavallo, Curator of Education at Montserrat College of Art, co-hosted by three incredibly poised student educators – Allana, Cameron, and Lexi (from Idaho, PA, & MA) who are part of the "Take20" student Gallery Teachers program. [Parents with children in arts school, beware – these young artists have some powerful insights to share!]
After a brief intro by Maggie – rich with ideas about the importance of storytelling [my favorite topic], we set out on an adventure. In the first part of the evening, as we exited through a back door of the gallery, we were treated to casual walk around the perimeter of the art “studios” – cubicle-like spaces inside a vast room. Each cube is clearly its own entity with the artists “rules” (my favorite was “no dying, no hospitals, no 911”) and various degrees of “work in progress,” some empty as work was out at an exhibit, so looking like storage bins. Overall, an impressive mixture of object d’art, media, writings, book art, and notions and the occasional finished product. Then each of us, paired up with another, made a purposeful journey to attempt create a “theme” and combine some works for a hypothetical show. For this we had less than 10 minutes. But the pressure yielded some exciting ideas from the group and clearly made the points that PROCESS and the EXPERIENCE can be as powerful as the end product. My personal favorites where highly sculptural, items with many dimensions and I left with an intense curiosity about what would happen to the piano skeleton – what it going to be recycled or rehabilitated! An old piano presents endless possibilities! That our visceral reaction to the works, can also spark a theme. Yes, you CAN do this for your own collections OR you can just help make it happens for someone else’s collections – as gallery owners do. After sharing our ideas, we moved back to the gallery with the finished works of “Illustration” – a senior thesis exhibit.
This segment was led by the students. We learned from the start that Illustration is used for communication with an “intentional” emphasis on media, color, figures, and composition to convey a narrative or an idea – so diametrically opposed to the free flowing process we had just seen. [The range of work in this exhibit is its own “story” by the way – I encourage you to see it for yourself]. Then we had the chance to become “students” as our first exercise [led by Cameron] was to walk around the exhibit and see if the various bodies of work told a story and if so, what was our experience? Several of us were drawn to the mini-mailbox exhibit. Here, we were invited to take out long letters on various subjects – doubt, death, illness, etc. and read long, exquisitely written passages that correlated to drawings hanging on the wall. Most impressive!
The second exercise [led by Lexi] explored the role of color. My favorite was the incredibly vibrant red of the flamenco dance “dancing with a wolf” – of course! She was uninhibited, mesmerized, and vibrant and the wolf? Well, you will have to judge for yourself. Clearly one could see how the young artists were influenced by styles and characters we know from our own past, but the works themselves were highly original and though provoking. We followed up with the group on this and several other ways of looking at the work – through the lens of our own childhood, place of birth, etc.. The lesson was very much about the context with which we view the works. Maybe we expect this to some extent, but the way the students drove the conversation into new dimensions was most impressive. The third exercise [led by Alanna] involved reviewing student sketchbooks. How very revealing and provocative. By now my brain was totally stretched – a wonderful way to stay fresh in our thinking.
My takeaways from this gem of an evening? Back to Maggie’s intro – number one, get to know the emerging artists in your own backyard. Immerse yourself in their work and thinking. Second, I think our group would agree that Gallery301 deserves some serious patronage from the Beverly & surrounding community, maybe host a few coffee hours and open studios. Third, we can all participate in “collecting” even if not for our own collections. Just understanding what’s out there and the inspiration for the next generation of artists, encouraging others to share the learning, will be a tremendous help to these emerging artists. And finally, Montserrat’s program is a jewel and Maggie Cavallo and her colleagues are passionate, approachable, engaged – fabulous resources for our art community. Let’s celebrate them and cheer on their student body to continue to educate US. Remember to keep your eye on Mingo Gallery, Zeitgeist Gallery and Porter Mills Gallery currently hosting Montserrat senior thesis exhibitions (check out our Gallery Staff member Kai at Porter Mills) These galleries regularly exhibit contemporary art in Beverly.