Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From the Ground Up - Creating an International Art Exhibit

This is a transcript of a podcast appearing on our Podcast page.

Carolyn: Walking through an art exhibit is both relaxing and exhilarating. Seeing objects up close that were created an ocean away, there’s a feeling of appreciation and connection. Have you ever wondered how an international exhibit comes together? How does it go from the original inspiration all the way to shipping one of a kind pieces of art across an ocean? I had the chance to pose these questions to Dr. Evelyn Rossetti, Executive Director of the Westchester Italian Cultural Center in Tuckahoe, New York. In this program, Dr. Rossetti explains the details of how 2 art exhibits, one a collection of ceramics from Este, Italy and the other, paintings from Venice, made their way from concept to opening day in Tuckahoe, New York.

Evelyn: When you’re involved in planning an exhibition it’s all very exciting and I think people frequently think about the end result, as they should, because you need to start at the end and work backwards. But as they say, the devil’s in the details. And there are so many details that go into planning an exhibit. How many pieces and how will the pieces get here?

Carolyn: Especially when you’re dealing with overseas, original works of art. It requires so much creativity and patience and detailed planning on your part.

Evelyn: And diligence. You really need to believe in it and you really need to want to make sure it comes out correctly. So one works very hard at that and engages a variety of professionals to help with that. Making sure there’s proper insurance to protect the shipping of the artwork, and making sure the artwork does get out of customs. And on the walls, as it should .Which is what everyone wants at the end of the day. They want to see the artwork on the walls!

Carolyn: We’ll begin with Ceramica Magnifica Exhibit. Ceramica Magnifica was part of about 67 exhibitions taking place throughout Westchester County, New York under the umbrella of an initiative called All Fired Up. The Westchester Arts Council created All Fired Up in order to celebrate the ceramics tradition across a broad range of styles and countries.

Ceramica Magnifica at the Westchester Italian Cultural Center ran from Oct. 7 through Nov. 30, 2008. All of the pieces were produced in the town of Este, just outside of Venice Italy.

Walking through the exhibit at the Center was a calm, almost serene experience, with each piece lit just so to bring out its shape, color and character. But how did all of this come together?

Evelyn: I had the occasion to meet one of the curators, Dr. Judith Schwartz who’s at NYU who is the chair of the ceramics program at NYU, and Judy said, “Have I got a show for you! This is a perfect show for the Westchester Italian Cultural Center.” I learned more about it, I met with Federika Marangoni who is a renowned artist and also curated the show for us and I said yeah, it’s a perfect fit. It was a year in planning.

Carolyn: I guess that’s what you have to do to create things like this, they don’t just come together in 15 minutes.

Evelyn: Our meeting did, and knowing that we would do this did, but the shipping of it, the planning, the curating, preparation of the catalogue that took much longer.

Carolyn: I would think the shipping from Italy and you have to wait for it to come thru customs. How long did it take to get here?

Evelyn: All tolled, it probably took between 3 or 4 weeks, which, at the end of the day wasn’t terrible at all. But we were very well prepared, the show was very well planned out, the artists were very enthusiastic.

Carolyn: The town of Este, Italy has a ceramics tradition that dates back 6,000 years.

Evelyn: It’s remarkable; 6,000 years. They’re very, very proud of their ceramics tradition. However, with modern times some of the interest in ceramics production had started to wane, and so to reinvigorate an interest and to keep the tradition alive the town of Este created a juried art exhibition every 3 years, much like the Venice Biennale. They are doing the Este Triennale, all focused on ceramics, contemporary ceramics design and it brings a wealth of ideas and variety of artists to the town.

Carolyn: The Ceramica Magnifica exhibition is a survey of pieces over 3 years: 2001, 2004 and 2007. Not all of the artists in the show are Italian, but all of the pieces were produced in the town of Este in its rich tradition.

The artists participating in this exhibition are from various disciplines; fashion designers, architects and graphic designers. These artists interpreted their particular visions into ceramic pieces.

Evelyn: There are American artists in it, people like Allison Sky, Ultraviolet who was a contemporary of Andy Warhol, John Loring, Missoni, Krizia, Massimo Vignelli and Adam Tehani. The show celebrates not just ceramic artists per se, but also people who are creative and who have created these very interesting, very compelling, very provocative designs.

Some of the pieces are very useful, they can be a plate for example. And some of them are very whimsical and some of them are very provocative. It really plays with the possibilities of what ceramics can be. So it’s really a show that’s on the cutting edge but celebrating traditions, and carrying forth lots of traditions. It was also very exciting for the town of Este in fact, the gentleman whose workshop, whose factory produced all of the ceramics was here the night of the Opening and the mayor of the town of Este was here.

Carolyn: Some of the artists were also in attendance at the Opening.

Evelyn: Armando Milani was here, and he’s just a treat, Ultraviolet, Angie Churchill was here. Angie Churchill was interesting because she had been the Chair of Ceramic Arts at NYU some years ago, and she was originally from Milano, so this exhibition had a very special resonance for her as a professional artist, as a professor, as an Italian American woman.

Carolyn: After Ceramica Magnifica’s run at the Westchester Italian Cultural Center, it will be brought to different museums and galleries in the Westchester County area

Evelyn: so that this tradition and this wonderfully, beautifully curated show with some 65 artists in it will continue on.

Carolyn: The next exhibit we examined was the paintings of Roberto Merelli, which appeared at the Westchester Italian Cultural Center from February – April, 2008. Merelli is 86 years of age and lives and works in Venice. His work first came to the attention of the Center when David Pope, the President and CEO of the Generoso Pope Foundation, happened to see it while he was on vacation in Italy.

Evelyn: Some years ago David Anthony Pope was on vacation in Venice with his wife, saw Merelli’s work and fell in love with it and said one day we’re going to do an exhibition. And then, back in the summer of 2007, Patricia Calce who’s our Director of Programs, was in Italy and she met with Roberto Merelli and discussed the possibility of doing an exhibition.

Carolyn: Roberto Merelli does not exhibit often in America and as such, is not a household name. But he is well known outside of the US.

Evelyn: He’s exhibited in the Venice Biennale, he’s exhibited with Salvador Dali, but he does not exhibit often in America. In fact, there’s only one other gallery in the US that carries his work from time to time. So he’s getting older, I think the idea of having a real exhibition, a one man show in New York was very exciting to him, and so he agreed to do the exhibition.

Carolyn: Some of the challenges of transporting the paintings from Italy to the United States were similar to those of the Ceramica Magnifica exhibit. How many pieces to bring over and which ones? What is the best method of transport? Who are the correct professionals to handle the details? Is there sufficient insurance?

Evelyn: It’s always an experience and yes there were some challenges. Some of the paintings were held up in customs for a couple of days. All of the paintings were ultimately released, but the drama of the story and the excitement of the story was that we didn’t get to pick them up until the morning of the Opening.

Carolyn: That’s an aspect of directing a show like that the average person doesn’t think about.

Evelyn: That’s right.

Carolyn: Of course, this final delay meant that the pieces were picked up at customs, brought to the Center, unpacked, and hung on the same day as the Opening Reception, when hundreds of guests were expected to walk through the door. It’s not for the faint of heart!

Evelyn: I will say that was our first real major exhibition. So we were very excited to bring this Venetian painter, well known in Italy, well known amongst artists and people who are art connoisseurs, but not very well known in New York. It was incredibly well received. He captures the spirit and the light of Venice like no one else we’ve ever seen.

Carolyn: To learn about future exhibits, visit