Confessions of a First-Time Curator

If you’ve visited — or even walked past — the Stamp Gallery since last Thursday, you’ve probably noticed the immense amount of sparkle and color in the space.

On Thursday evening from 5-8pm, we hosted the Opening Reception for our annual student-curated exhibition. Magnified features the artwork of three Baltimore artists: Alzaruba, Chip Irvine, and Michael Sylvan Robinson. The work is diverse in the media used, resulting in a variety of texture and dimensions. And yet, these variances interact harmoniously in the shared space. Chip’s photography spans the entire back wall while Alzaruba’s paintings-in-relief occupy an intimate cove just beyond the Gallery’s entrance. Michael’s work resides closest to the gallery’s numerous windows, allowing passerby to gain an unobstructed view of his meticulously sewn fabric pieces. Throughout the night, I watched visitors drift steadily from one corner of the gallery to the next, never pausing for too long or too short a time at any one artist’s work, but rather taking in the exhibition as a whole, as it was meant to be.
A close-up of The Melissa by Michael Sylvan Robinson, one of my favorite pieces from the exhibition. It's even more stunning up close and in person.

A close-up of The Melissa by Michael Sylvan Robinson, one of my favorite pieces from the exhibition. It’s even more stunning up close and in person.

As one of the student curators, it was pretty awesome to see Magnified come together so beautifully. Over the last four months, my co-curators (Martine Gaetan and Carmen Dodl) and I have effectively been working part-time jobs on top of our part-time jobs. Our curatorial process, while relatively simple, required many steps with sometimes unpredictable time frames. To break it down, our process in interacting with the artists was essentially the following:
1. Identifying
2. Screening
3. Corresponding
4. Visiting
5. Coordinating
For me, the most difficult part of the process was the Screening — basically getting all three of us to agree on the artists whose work we wanted to display. Identifying was easy. Consider it the window-shopping period of curating. You scour the internet (thank you, Baker Artists Awards website) and put all of the artists whose work attracts you into your shopping cart. (For me, that was about 15 artists, which is a ton when you compare it to the only three that we needed to select. I like a lot of things.) Once your shopping carts are full, you regroup and get to the harder part: deciding what you actually want to buy (metaphorically).
So there we stood, at our initial meeting, with our shopping carts. Each of us, in turn, would lay out the contents of our respective carts while the other two effectively gave either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. This process was surprisingly laborious, as we would often find that the final recipients of the upward-facing thumbs did not bode well together. In the end, we had to repeat the process a few times to finally get the combination just right — and lo and behold! The first inkling of Magnified was born. Scraping up our findings, we hastily made our way to checkout to secure our purchases.
It was only after we had chosen our artists that we began to write the curatorial statement.This succession of events is probably unconventional, since it doesn’t make very much sense. But in our case, it yielded a more organically constructed exhibition, instead of settling on a theme first and narrowly considering artists that fit inside of that theme.
Here is what we came up with:
“Our world is made up of intricacies that we cannot possibly comprehend at first glance. Within every form exists a series of smaller, more complex forms. These forms may be tangible — such as beads or a drop of water, or something more abstract — such as a memory or experience. An overarching visual is achieved, which brings significance by the merging of these forms. The work in this exhibition explores the minutia that expands outwards as part of a larger picture. Magnified’s goal is to challenge the viewer to constantly fluctuate between close examination and holistic perception.”
And that was our journey — the first couple parts of it, anyway. By good fortune and a little elbow grease, Magnified came together in all of its sparkling, colorful glory. I’d like to thank everyone who made the show a success… that includes the artists, my co-curators, visitors, and of course, you! Thank you kindly for joining us on this exhibition.
-Geena Gao
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