Q. So how did this new job come about?
A: About 3 months ago, I received an email from Eva that really spoke to me. She said she was looking for a catalytic push forward into a vision for The Co and for contemporary art in Dayton.
I had been in my role as senior curator at the Wexner Center for over four years and had in that time organized —with the exhibitions team and staff — five full museum shows and three smaller exhibitions. I felt like it was time for a new challenge; a new endeavor I could help “build from the ground up.”
It was clear after a few conversations that Eva and I shared a very achievable vision for a contemporary arts center in Dayton that would include a change in location along with a shift in philosophy that both embraces new and exciting ideas while still respecting and adhering to the original spirit of DVAC — a community for artists and art for the Dayton community.
Q. How far back can you trace your interest in art?
A: My mom is from a rural fishing community in Newfoundland, Canada, and my dad is from coal mining country in West Virginia. My exposure to art really started with an incredibly generous gesture of my parents: they bought the family a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. I was endlessly fascinated by all the images in the books.
My first real experience with art was a painting at the Dayton Art Institute by African-American artist Sam Gilliam. He was the first artist to introduce the idea of a draped, painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars. When I was 15 years old and listening to punk rock music, I was really interested in the deconstruction of music and there was something about that deconstruction of painting that made sense to me.
Q: What’s your connection to Dayton?
A: I first moved to Dayton as a kid as part of an Air Force family at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I was very involved with Dayton’s music scene, which is so very historically rich and diverse. I finished high school in Dayton at Stebbins and earned my BFA from Wright State University.
My experience at Wright State is really where my career in visual art began in earnest, primarily with Tom Macaulay , the head of the sculpture department there, but also with great educators like David Leach, Kim Vito, Ernie Korland, the late Kim Kaiser and certainly art historian Carol Nathanson. All of these fine people changed my brain chemistry in very fundamental ways.
From Wright State I went to Cranbrook Academy of Art for my MFA and in fairly short order moved to New York to be an artist. I later returned to Wright State as a professor of art and in 2002-2003 was chair of the sculpture department.
Q. How did you decide to become a curator?
A: When I began working in artist studios and galleries, I realized I really enjoyed organizing exhibitions of other people’s ideas. After a decade I accepted a job at Columbus College of Art & Design as curator, director of exhibitions. From there I had the opportunity to join the Wexner as senior curator and worked on exhibitions that included Mickalene Thomas, Stanley Whitney, Maya Lin, Ann Hamilton and Jenny Holzer.
Q. What changes will we be seeing at The Co?
A: We’ll be putting into practice what many arts and cultural institutions across the country and across the world are discussing — a movement toward equity. We’ll do it not only in statements and well-meaning missives — but through programming, audience and public outreach and exhibitions that connect with members of our community for whom contemporary art has likely felt an exclusive endeavor.
Q. Can you tell us about the current exhibit?
A: I taught with artist Nari Ward at Hunter College in New York for about nine years. He’s a really kind guy who is very approachable. His family immigrated to Harlem from Jamaica when he was a kid and he brought with him the Caribbean tradition of using normal, everyday things — like bottles and fabrics and found objects — and repurposing them into art.
“Nari Ward: We The People,” currently on display at The Co, is a 40-foot-wide wall installation made from thousands of shoelaces. They are embedded in and hang fringe-like from the gallery wall.
In this piece, Nari recreates the words that start the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, replicating the font and style of the Constitution’s main scribe, Timothy Matlack. By pairing these everyday materials with one of our country’s most lofty and enduring ideas, he explores the ways in which this living document remains vital as Americas participate in a crucial election.
During this exhibition, The Co will collaborate with the Dayton League of Women Voters, turning the gallery into a voter registration center. Registration will include the ability to receive mail-in ballots.
The work itself can be experienced from the street outside as well as from inside the gallery. This exhibit will remain lit every night. A free full-color gallery guide includes an interview with the artist and explanation of the work’s installation process. On our website, you can see images, essays, interviews and videos that further explore Nari Ward’s work and ideas.
Q. Any future exhibits you’d like to mention?
A: We will dedicate the next two years to a range of artists that have been largely excluded from contemporary art venues, primarily women and artists of color. This will include artists who have been shown at the national and international level, as well as artists who have dedicated themselves to living and working in Ohio and Dayton.
We’ll introduce our new space with an exhibit by Dayton native and resident Zachary Armstrong, who’ll present works — drawings, encaustic painting and sculpture. He will also curate an exhibit featuring the work of Daytonian Curtis Barnes Sr., who exemplifies a generation of African-American painters who came of age in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, not only as creators but as educators within the Dayton community.
In the spring of 2021 we plan to open two exhibitions, both consisting of women artists. As a mother and an artist, Dayton’s Mychaelyn Michalec seemingly resides between conflicting worlds: artist and mother. We will also feature a show of three internationally renowned artists, all women of color: Xaviera Simmons, Bethany Collins and Amalia Pica. In the fall of 2021 we will present an exhibition of three women who are prominent artists and educators in and around Dayton: Claudia Esslinger, Heidi Kumao, and Kristin Reeves.
In our main gallery, The Co will present a wall mural by the Nigerian-born, Columbus-raised and internationally recognized artist Odili Donald Odita.
While there is more programming of this caliber to come in 2022 and 2023, this year of rebirth and re-evaluation at The Co is meant to concretize our commitment to diversity, but also to the power of art to edify our entire community through thoughtful concepts, impeccable installations, beauty, scale and grandeur.
HOW TO GO
What: “Nari Ward: We The People”
Where: The Contemporary Dayton, 118 N. Jefferson St., Dayton
When: Through Nov. 20. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.
Admission: Free. Visitors are required to wear face masks and hand sanitizer will be available in the galleries. The number of visitors will be limited at any given time.
More info: thecontemporarydayton.org or 937-224-3822