The Guest Curator

I guess it all began circa 2004. I finally pulled the trigger on a painting I’d seen a year (a year!) earlier at a South Fork art gallery.

I’ve bought houses, a few, in what seemed like a matter of minutes, thankfully without regret. Yet the analysis, the pondering, the sheer dissection of this painting dominated my thoughts as I vacillated back and forth.

But buy it I did, and the ice was now broken, and the floodgates were, too. I began attending art openings throughout the East End. I took those little postcards, which I saved, even hung some up in picture frames found at yard sales. I’d go to the artist or gallery Web site and view more images. I began to withdraw from the safety zone of the pretty landscapes, moving into a new terrain of more introspective, thought-provoking works.

And I bought. A lot. And often. Sometimes at art fairs in New York, sometimes from other galleries, but mostly from that South Fork gallery. The director and I would engage in dialogues about art, usually via e-mail. We discussed where my collection was, the direction it was going in, the goals I had for it.

The next step was a question so subtle I barely remember the director first asking it last year: Would you consider curating an exhibit at South Fork?

History repeats itself. It took just as long to accept this most generous offer as it did to buy that first painting. The exhibition’s theme was a reflection of the state of affairs around us. Thus, “Mood Swings” was born. I looked at the artists’ works hanging in my home, and at those I’d admired but not yet owned other than as the postcards in my drawers, or works on my mind.

I Googled artists’ names, found their Web sites, and e-mailed them about my plans for this exhibit, with requests for images to analyze, to ponder, to dissect (again). I asked with all the humility I could muster if they would give me the opportunity to consider their work for inclusion in the exhibit, knowing full well that the spatial considerations were yet to be determined.

I received the most gracious replies, expressions of gratitude for my appreciation of their work, and was often told how flattered they were to be considered for the exhibit. The real truth, however, is that the one being flattered was me. I was not, and still am not, an art professional. The reality that my concept was to become a reality was extraordinary.

I fed off the energy of this endeavor, finding it both infectious and intoxicating. I took the floor plan and began curating the exhibit on paper like a jigsaw puzzle. I knew there was much tweaking to be done, but a basic blueprint was better then nothing.

It was now time for the director and me to meet — live, in person — with the artists I had selected, and with their works. I recall our first visits. We departed on an overcast April morning. There were two photographers and two painters on the agenda.

We were welcomed into their homes, their studios, which in some cases were their den or dining room table. The JPEG images came to life in front of me, and so did the artists’ intentions. The oral histories of their work, and in some cases their lives, became an integral, meaningful part of this entire process.

Old friendships were renewed, new ones begun. The artists, the director, and I were now permanently linked, and “Mood Swings” was the tie that bound us together. I was, and continue to be, moved by this very thought.

The artists began delivering their works, and the director and I began the installation eight days before the opening. Lest anyone think it was a matter of merely hammering in a few nails, they are sadly mistaken. We hung the work, and then rehung it because it should have been a quarter-inch higher, or an eighth of an inch to the right.

We then had to spackle and touch up the paint on the walls. We did not finish until the following day. The director, ever the cool professional, stood back, smiled, and pronounced our work complete.

As for my reaction, I was in awe. It was not just that I was seeing something conceptual coming to life. It was truly a labor of love before my eyes, looking back at me.

The opening was now less than a week away. Our ongoing publicity for the event was now full steam ahead. Postcard invitations, e-mail blasts, phone calls, multiple Facebook pages and invitations, and press releases to print and Internet media outlets. A live radio interview on WLIU’s “In the Morning With Bonnie Grice,” a rush all its own that went better than I ever dreamed, with friends and family near and far listening online.

With the opening now a few hours away, the director and I made some final adjustments. I went home to try to get some rest, but my adrenaline refused to allow it.

The opening. I arrived early, of course, tingling with anticipation. There was an unusually large number of competing events that night. Numerous openings in Springs, Sag Harbor, not to mention both Guild Hall and the Clinton Academy.

But people did arrive. And kept arriving. Many of the 17 artists of “Mood Swings” were there, as were their friends and family. Crowded became jammed, jammed became standing room only. The atmosphere was electric, immersed in energy. The room became a blur. I attempted to speak to all who attended, yet every conversation was abbreviated because another had to begin. I ate and drank nothing. It didn’t matter.

What did was this epiphany: I was inside a brief moment in time, experiencing live what I already knew to be a memory in my mind for now and forever.

Irwin T. Levy lives in Great Neck and has been a part-time resident of Springs since 1989. He has been an art collector for nearly 10 years.

 

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