In Dialogue with Catherine Fosnot
Art for Your Collection, the upcoming group show at Catherine Fosnot Art Gallery and Center in New London, CT., features paintings and sculptures by 26 artists who were recommended by New York City art critics and curators. Catherine Fosnot, the founder of the gallery who is an artist herself, says that her own experience as an isolated artist during the pandemic has been an impetus for opening this art gallery as a hub for art discourse and art collection outside large metropolitan centers. The exhibition opens November 12th and runs through December 30th, 2020. Catherine Fosnot shares the genesis of her new gallery, her vision, and how this show evolved.
AS: In the upcoming Art for Your Collection, which features 26 artists, you worked with New York City art critics and curators who recommended artists for the show. What led you to that idea?
CF: It has been an exciting show for a beginning curator. I felt like the opportunity of a lifetime had been dropped in my lap. The idea for it started with George Waterman, the director of The Visual Art Library (VAL)—a non-profit foundation that has a collection of over 90,000 volumes of work on art, including several first issues of some of the major art magazines. I believe it is the biggest collection of its kind in the US. He is also my landlord and the Cataloging Office of VAL happens to be next door to my gallery. One day George was recalling his days on the board of the RISD Museum and how the museum put together a show for collectors, inaugurating the exhibition and sale to encourage new collectors and seasoned buyers by giving them a chance to view works of art, which had all been selected by the Rhode Island School of Design Museum curators. The idea was, in part, to be a sort of incubator for emerging collectors. It worked. Several collectors today actually began collecting at a young age at the RISD collector shows. RISD continued the show annually for almost 30 years, through 1991. George suggested we try it.
As: What would you like to share about the curatorial process and the premise of this large-scale show?
CF: The process we used in curating our show was also an interesting one. First, George reached out to several well-known art critics and asked them to name 3 or 4 artists on their radars—artists they thought might be important to include in the show. We then reached out to the artists, telling them they had been recommended for the show and inviting them to submit images for review. We put together a committee to review the applications and chose 26 artists and their pieces to include in the show. At the RISD first show, back in 1962, the art that was exhibited was priced between $10 and $2,500. That was almost 60 years ago. For our upcoming exhibit we told artists they had to cap prices at $5,000, so the prices in our upcoming exhibit vary from $75 to $5,000.
AS: You mentioned that Covid and the work you were making as an artist led to the opening of your gallery and to this group show. Let’s take a look at your work as an artist and how it led to this art venue in New London, CT.
CF: All my life I’ve struggled with the challenge of how to find time in a 24-hour day to do my two passions: mathematics and art. I’m known mostly for my work in elementary math education. I was a tenured professor at the City College of New York where I founded and directed for 20 years a large center for math education, authored 10 books, and then published a k-5 math program used currently by many schools around the world. I’m also the CEO of a company that provides professional learning related to it. Previous to Covid-19, I spent my life traveling around the world speaking and doing workshops for teachers. The joke in my family was that I spent more time in an airplane than my son who is an airline pilot. But, I was also a frustrated artist; I painted whenever I could and through the years I’ve been in many juried shows and won awards for my art work, including being awarded fellowships twice for residencies at the Vermont Studio Center.
I tried hard to integrate my two worlds, letting mathematics seep into my painting. I knew mathematics had allowed physicists to prove there are many dimensions to the space of the cosmos, although the neurological structure of humans allows us only to perceive the world in 3-dimensions. Painting allowed me a medium to explore this constraint. But I often felt more like I was living between the pieces of two worlds.
Covid-19 changed my world. Speaking events were canceled; schools were closed; and teachers could not attend large group workshops or conferences. One door had shut, but another had opened. I could now paint full time. My medium of choice has always been oil. I use sheets of disposable palette paper to avoid messy cleanup, and I go through several sheets as I work. Because of the toxicity of the chemicals I use, I try to integrate pieces of the used palette sheets into the painting or use them to generate new paintings. It is sort of a recycling, to be kind to the environment. I now had time to develop a whole body of work on this approach—one where art is not representation or expression of activity, but a living system of its own. To me, as I integrate the used sheets of palette into a painting, the product of this operation becomes its own organization—the medium is making the art and I am only the instrument.
At first, much of my work was about Covid, but as I worked on my approach to art-making, I began to feel more comfortable and then competent in it. I began to feel (and I say this with a sincere humility) that I was emerging, transforming from a math educator to a new identity, that of an artist—and now I needed a place to display the body of work. I needed a gallery. And so, I opened one.
AS: What is your vision for the gallery?
CF: The art scene is in crisis due to Covid-19. Artists need a place to show their work. They need a social community and setting where they can discuss their work. They need critics to see it. At least on a personal level, I knew I did. The major art scenes in the world are in metropolitan areas, yet these were the hardest hit early on in the pandemic, with museums and galleries shut down. Many artists, critics, and curators in fact are now moving out of the cities.
New London is an interesting place, and some are relocating here. First, it is on the water and already has a burgeoning art scene, with 7 galleries, 3 residency programs, and a museum (though not with a contemporary art collection) for a town of only approximately 40,000 people. Secondly, It is on the Amtrak line between Boston and New York and is situated between two major art schools: Yale and RISD. And thirdly, it’s been a far safer place to be during the pandemic than the metropolitan areas just a few hours away. Art can be shown online, of course, but digital images do not take the place of seeing the art and experiencing it firsthand. I want the gallery to be a place where both established and emerging contemporary artists have a place to show their work, up close and in-your-face to a public to learn from and enjoy—a place that will draw critics and curators to New London. Doing so forms bridges to major art scenes for local and regional artists and art networks widen as we build pathways in and out of the cities. I opened the gallery with a solo exhibition of my own work, but I then went on to curate two more solos: a retrospective of the work of Harrison Love just ended; and Charity Baker’s work. Baker was also selected as an “artist to collect” and after an incredible solo with 13 pieces sold, she continues with a few selected pieces on display in the upcoming show.
AS: What is your takeaway from this show and how making art and managing this new art venue inform each other?
CF: In curating and interacting with all these artists, I’m building a vibrant art community around me in New London. It’s great for the city and I think the artists appreciate this special place as a nice place to show their work and open discussions about art. The bonus for me is that this new community is challenging me in wonderful, enriching ways and continually informs my own painting, which I intend to keep doing now with a zest. One of the things I’ve become particularly keen on by curating this show is how many of the artists in this show have wonderful and different ways of producing dimensionality in their works.
For example, Max Gimblett, one of the established artists in the show who is in the later years of his career and is very well-known with studios in Australia and New York, consigned a piece called Sunrise. I wrote to him saying how fabulous the dimensionality in it was. He wrote back saying that he had learned to do that from De Kooning. The first layer of paint that gets put on the second dimension is the third dimension (The paper or canvas is the second). He said that as he builds the fourth dimension, it is important to play with the interaction of the third and fourth and at times a fifth dimension appears. Take a look at how he is doing that with this piece. The light blue is the established third dimension, but now look at the red and green on the right. What dimension are they? The green and red at first seem to be directly applied onto the light blue, but then the green goes over the darker blue disk and the red goes behind it. In addition, the green seems to recede, and the red comes forward. And then, the metallic disks on the top come forward. This interplay with overlapping and color provides a way for viewers to see many dimensions of space and travel around, behind, and between the layers. As I curate, I learn about what they are doing and the techniques they share help me with my own painting, and I also get ideas for other exhibitions that I would like to curate. I’m now thinking about a group show I would like to put together on this topic.
Art for Your Collection opens on November 14 and runs through the month of December. More information, including an online version of the show, is available on the gallery’s website
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: email@example.com