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A Curatorial Vision at MICA

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An Interview with Doreen Bolger by Alex Ebstein

For the 2016 Fine Art thesis exhibition, MICA’s Graduate Studies office has enlisted the curatorial vision of Doreen Bolger, recent director of the Baltimore Museum of Art and fixture in the local contemporary art scene. Bolger worked with each of the fine arts programs, Hoffberger, Mount Royal, PEM, and Rinehart, to create thematic, curated exhibitions in each of the seven spaces that will host the 2016 MICA Grad Show.

After meeting with students individually and doing a number of sight visits, Bolger dedicated herself to the task of organizing the works and creating cohesive, multidisciplinary exhibitions that present the work as considered, independent art pieces, rather than works representative of the program that each student attended.
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How did you become involved with the 2016 thesis exhibition? Were you familiar with any of the work before meeting with the students?

Erin Jakowski and Gwynne Keathley called to ask if I would come in and discuss any ideas I might have for curators. As we met and I learned some of the details—that there were 42 artists involved and that this was the first time for all four programs to be combined in one show–I realized that this was a challenging assignment and one that could help chart the course for the future. As a retired person living a mile away, I was more likely to have the time and opportunity required to dedicate to the project. So, I volunteered and Gwynne and Erin graciously accepted my offer. We were able to recruit Seth Adelsberger, a painter and gallerist/curator, as my Assistant Curator.

I have attended visiting artist presentations at Mount Royal and spent a day late last year visiting Rinehart students, but actually getting to know all the students was a real voyage of discovery!

Kogut, Kyle_Idle ZealKyle Kogut – Mount Royal

Did you find that themes in the work were similar across programs?

Similar themes did reoccur among the artists and the programs—home, memory, social boundaries, and technology—but this is hardly surprising. Artists have always reflected and illuminated the provocative issues of their time.

Of course, this is the reverse of regular curatorial practice, in that for the Grad Show, the themes emerged from the artists—as a curator in most other contexts, you choose the theme and then find work that relates to it.

Alfornso2Alfonso Fernandez-Vazquez – Hoffberger

What are some of the trends you’ve noticed in working with MICA’s students?

Two trends are really clear: that contemporary artists are increasingly working in transdisciplinary modes and that technology has seeped into every form of artistic expression, as a tool and as a subject.

What are the new venues that will host the thesis exhibition this year? How were they approached to partner with MICA?

In addition to the Lazarus Center and the galleries in the Fox Building on Main Campus, we were able to secure space at three offsite locations nearby on in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District—Space Camp on North Avenue, Gallery CA on Oliver Street, and Penthouse Gallery on Guilford Avenue. Each of the curators of these spaces—Marian Glebes, Quentin Gibeau, and Kimi Hanauer respectively—each responded generously to Erin Jackowski as she reached out to look for more space.

Sara Al HaddadSara Al Haddad – Rinehart

How has it been to return to a hands-on curatorial role after your Directorship at the BMA?

It is a great joy to return to curatorial work –especially after two decades of administrative responsibility—and a true delight to work so closely with living artists. Remember, as a curator, I was dealing with historic American art—from roughly 1875 to 1925—so to be able to speak with artists, to hear why and how they make their work, is a new experience for me.

Are you writing a curator’s statement about each exhibition? Is there one that stands out as particularly within your area of expertise? One that is more difficult to write about because it falls outside of your expertise?

Each of the thematic groupings will have a brief explanatory wall text. Among the themes, Home is the most familiar to me from collections and exhibition work as a curator. Many objects now in museums began their lives in domestic settings. Imagining Home is even the theme addressed in the debut exhibition in the BMA’s new Patricia and Mark Joseph Education Center, which opened late last year.

The most challenging theme for me revolves around technology and the ways in which it empowers and controls our lives. So much changes so quickly in this arena! The graduate students, being young, have had technology present in most of lives—but for me, as an older person, I struggle more with its pervasiveness.

SelinaSelina Doroshenko – Mount Royal

How do you feel about MICA’s fine arts programs and the work coming out of them after seeing the breadth of their output?

I am incredibly impressed with these programs and the amazing students they are producing. It gives me great hope for the future—for art and its pivotal role in society.

It can be difficult to choose favorites in an inclusive curatorial experience, but is there any work that stood out to you that you’re excited to see installed?

There is so much wonderful work being created (including some I may not have seen yet)—I don’t know how I could even begin to choose a favorite!

Alice GadzinskiAlice Gadzinski – Rinehart

Will this be a recurring curatorial project of yours? Will you invite help from additional curatorial voices?

Let’s get through the inaugural year! I am sure once others hear about this incredible opportunity, a long line of clambering curators will appear at the Lazarus Center.

What has been most rewarding about this experience?

The most exciting part for me has been gaining insight into the passion and creativity of artists as their work emerges and develops.

Author Alex Ebstein is a Baltimore-based artist, curator, and professor.

MICA Studio visits are part of an ongoing collaboration between MICA and BmoreArt.

MICA’s Fine Arts Thesis exhibition runs April 15th – May 1st. Please join Doreen and the MICA community for an opening reception on Saturday, April 16th from 4 – 7pm.

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