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Art Brut

Kara Mercer Interviews Aden Weisel, Director at Galerie Myrtis

Aden Weisel is the gallery director and curator for Galerie Myrtis, located in Baltimore. She is a MICA graduate with a degree in Art History and a concentration in Curatorial Studies. In her current position, she has gained experience working with all types of artists but, in particular, artists of color. The gallery represents artists from Baltimore and all over the world. Galerie Myrtis’ artists have recently been in the national spotlight after several of their artists, including Jamea Richmond-Edwards and Arvie Smith, had artwork featured in the Fox television show Empire alongside Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas.

I sat down with Aden to find out more about her job at the gallery.

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How did you get your start working in galleries?

I graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) with a major in Art History, Theory and a concentration in Curatorial Studies. I carried internships nearly every semester that I was there. During my sophomore year I took an internship here, at Galerie Myrtis, and stayed for about a year and a half. My last internship was a year with the Department of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). I earned a job as the Curatorial Assistant for that department upon my graduation from MICA and was there for two years. I started assisting Myrtis again on a part­-time basis and now I am the full­time Gallery Director.

Can you give a little back story on Galerie Myrtis?

Myrtis Bedolla has been working in the arts for over twenty years. She participated in George Ciscle’s Curatorial Practice program at MICA before it was a formalized MFA. She founded Galerie Myrtis on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and relocated to Baltimore two years later. Galerie Myrtis represents emerging to mid-­career artists, with an emphasis on demographics that have been overlooked by the mainstream arts industry.

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How do you build your connections with art buyers and others who buy work?

We have connections with multiple types of art buyers. Sometimes we will present a buyer that we know with a work that we believe fits their style, needs or existing collection. Other times, we’ll have collectors who will come to our shows and buy work. Over the years, Myrtis has also established connections with private, government, and corporate buyers.

W​hat is the selection process when choosing an artist to represent ?

W​e have to like their work and believe that our clientele will as well. While we do represent artists who work in abstraction—two­ and three-­dimensional—the work that we represent often has a social or political message driving it. Many artists will send us business cards or portfolios or even show up at the front door (we prefer appointments) and I look through all of their materials.

Sometimes we find artists to exhibit or represent that way. More often, we work with artists that we or someone else that we trust has worked with in the past. We also we ran a Call for Entries in 2011 and 2014 for our Emergence​ Exhibitions. We first met half of the artists in the recent exhibition, T​he Image of the Black: Reimagined and Redefined, ​through one of these two application based exhibitions.

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What are the challenges with representing a certain kind of artist?

You have to find the right audience for any type of artwork. For example, Arvie Smith—a recently retired professor at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, Oregon—creates absolutely beautiful paintings but his imagery is very potent. He works with the theme of African American oppression, often utilizing advertising imagery, in hopes of educating about the past and preventing future exploitation. Because his work is so ‘in your face’—even his heavy use of red can be jarring—it isn’t for everyone.

But there are private collectors and museums who are interested in art that focuses on social justice. His work was even chosen for the set of Fox’s television show E​mpire.​ On the other hand, businesses might be more comfortable with the abstract work of our artists Michael Gross and Susan Goldman for their office walls.

What is your role at Galerie Myrtis?

Since I came on full­time, we have been in a transition period, since Myrtis has been running the gallery with the help of part­-time interns and assistants. Myrtis is shifting away from the work with the physical gallery space and artists, which will be my responsibilities. This will give her more freedom to work on establishing an international presence for our artists through exhibitions abroad. And to focus on the art advisory side of the business in which she manages collections of private collectors, corporations and museums. We both work on exhibitions that require our artists’ work to travel.

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​What advice would you give an artist looking to exhibit in an gallery?

Do your research and make sure that you and the gallery are compatible. Also, don’t be afraid. Get your business card and portfolio to as many galleries as you’d like. The very worst that can happen is that they say “no.”

​What is the process of curating a show?

There is a lot that goes into planning an exhibition of any size. We typically start with a theme and create a title, artists list, artwork checklist, curatorial statement, and press release from there. You have to work with details like contracts, dates, and deadlines for images, shipping and installation, promotion, which has now gone largely digital but involves email, our website, various social media platforms and the press. During the exhibition, we usually have an opening and two events to plan and publicize, plus reaching out to our network of clientele, who might be interested in buying work.

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The process of planning an exhibition sounds grueling. How long does it take?  

It is definitely a lot of work. So many things can happen—sometimes the artist might drop out or you might change your mind—there’s always an editing process when you curate an exhibition. Because of this, we tend to start planning a year in advance and have four to six exhibitions a year. Once we got The Image of the Black on the walls in September, one of the first tasks that we tackled was the schedule for 2016’s exhibitions.

Since you are the gallery director (but not the owner), are you looking to open your own gallery one day?

Right now, I’m very happy where I am. I get to work with great artists, beautiful art, and curate exhibitions that I’ve had ‘on the back shelf’ for a while as well as new work. Myrtis has made passing mention of starting to plan her retirement down the road, but who knows where I’ll stand at that point. If my husband and I did decide to move for whatever reason, I’d definitely want to open my own gallery. But he’s a teacher and can do that anywhere, so for the foreseeable future, we’re in Baltimore and I’m at Galerie Myrtis.

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Author Kara Mercer is originally from Clinton, Maryland and is currently a Baltimore-based artist.

Galerie Myrtis is currently is exhibiting Consumption: Food as Paradox. The show will host an Artists’ Talk Sunday, February 21 and a Panel Discussion Sunday, March 20.

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