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by LINDA MITCHELL
NO SECRET THAT I CONSIDER THE NORTH Coast to be a very special
place in terms of the arts, but then I live here, so I'm probably
biased. That's why I always find it interesting to hear the more
objective opinions of those outside "art experts" who
are brought to town by local organizations like the Redwood Art
Association (RAA) or the Humboldt Arts Council (HAC) to judge
and/or jury* our art competitions. I always hope I'll gain new
insight into our community of artists via an outsider's eyes.
Unfortunately, however, many
of these experts breeze into town, quickly pass judgment, and
then just as rapidly disappear, leaving us scratching our heads
over their choices or licking the wounds of our battered individual
or communal egos. The experts generally don't stay around long
enough to get more than a taste of the region and rarely make
themselves available to discuss their aesthetic choices. If we're
lucky, they may provide a vague statement to tack on the wall
before they hightail it out of town, but most artists don't actually
get the opportunity to meet or talk to them.
A refreshing exception to this
(admittedly stereotypical) pattern was Shelley Hagen, the most
recent art expert to visit our area. Hagen juried HAC's Annual
Member Exhibition (in the Anderson and Knight Galleries at the
Graves) last week while she was in town helping HAC's exhibition
coordinator Cory Gundlach curate the A.G. Edwards Corporate Art
Collection in the Thonson Gallery. (She works as A.G. Edwards'
Not only did Hagen stick around
town for awhile (she was here for several days), but she was
also widely accessible, giving many local artists and art enthusiasts
the opportunity to meet her. She was available for questions
when people picked up their entries that weren't included in
the member show, she attended the Arts Alive! opening receptions
for both exhibits at the Graves, and she gave a lecture on Sunday.
During breaks from her work at the museum, she tromped around
town, looking at art.
I first met Hagen on Saturday
night at the Graves and, frankly, she wasn't at all what I expected.
In spite of her dauntingly impressive credentials (including
a Ph.D. in art history from Yale), she proved to be forthright
and down to earth, with a quick sense of humor. "My nickname
around [A.G. Edwards] corporate headquarters is `The Curatrix,'"
she told me during our first conversation. Corporate interests
don't always align with her artistic sensibilities, she said.
"I have to put my foot down a lot."
Hagen has a sincere passion
for art and strong opinions about art in corporate as well as
museum settings, opinions she shared openly during a series of
conversations we had, as well as at her lecture at the Graves
on Sunday, an event she described as her "dog and pony show".
At the lecture Hagen jokingly
described her position as the curator of the A.G. Edwards collection
as a "glorified interior decorator" responsible for
roughly 4,500 pieces of art. "The A.G. Edwards mission statement
is to have 95 percent of the collection on display at all times
for the enjoyment of the employees," Hagen said, explaining
that this is the opposite of most museums, where perhaps 5 percent
of a collection is typically on display at any given time.
According to Hagen, this noble
policy of living with the collection presents unique challenges
for a curator. She showed slides of brooms or chairs propped
up against the art as well as spills which have seeped under
frames and mats. She noted the inherent problems with exposing
a collection composed primarily of works on paper to the elements
for lengthy periods of time, and talked about complaints from
employees regarding the subject matter (or lack thereof) of the
art hanging in offices and hallways.
Hagen also showed slides of
some of the exhibitions she's put together at her corporate headquarters
in St. Louis, and it was apparent that she's comfortable working
in large spaces and has a strong and confident aesthetic vision.
This vision was evident in the Graves exhibits as well.
The images included in A.G.
Edwards exhibit reflect careful consideration and planning in
terms of content as well as visual imagery. A nice range of prints
by such "big names" as Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell,
Jean-Claude Christo, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen
Frankenthaler and Sol LeWitt are included in the exhibit, and
well-researched, informative text is included with each image.
I was particularly taken by
the images by Darren Waterston (an artist I wasn't familiar with),
which include two monotypes from his Shangri-la series and a
color etching. I was also happy to see atypical examples of both
Warhol's and Motherwell's work. Kudos to both Gundlach and Hagen
for the selections and presentation of the images in this important
Hagen's choices for the HAC
Member show were equally well considered and she notes that she
was extremely impressed by the local art she saw while she was
on the North Coast. She also added that she was sorry A.G. Edwards
had put a stay on purchasing art for their collection three years
"I like to think when we
do start buying again, I'm going to be a real bitch about it,"
Hagen told us during her lecture in the Thonson Gallery. "I
want to support new artists. Look at the member show here, for
example -- wow. I want to take you back home with me and share
you with the thousands of people who come through our offices."
She gestured around the room at the Warhols and the Motherwells.
"This is all great," she said. "But corporate
collections should also be about supporting today's artists."
* According to Libby Maynard
of The Ink People, a show is "judged" for
prizes, and "juried" for exhibition, even if only one
judge is making the decision.
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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