Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gallery Perspective: Christian Pitt from MAINSITE Contemporary (1 of 2)

122 E. Main St
Norman, OK
Ann Sherman, Wyoming 28, Pinhole photography, 12.5”x18.5”
Organizing exhibitions and mentoring artists, Christian Pitt has been the Managing Director of MAINSITE Contemporary Art since 2003.  She is super involved in the community to help creativity in many forms, serving as a board member of the Norman Arts Council and leading  the Norman Music Festival. In fact, if you ask the background on many happening things in Norman, Pitt is likely behind them whether officially or behind the scenes.  Pitt is also a photographer and mixed media artist.    

Since MAINSITE opened, the gallery has featured fascinating artists and uncommon work.  Pitt shared information about the process of putting together shows and selecting artists through the following interview, which will appear as two posts. 
Q: Tell us about an exhibition you have coming up about which you are excited. 

CP: The exhibit we are putting up now is a show of photographs by Ann Sherman, Joshua Meier, Trent Still and Esteban Pulido. It is the kick-off show of an annual photography competition, with the first exhibition to show in August of 2011.

We were discussing how many photographers we have in our artist community and decided that there needed to be more opportunity for those photographers to exhibit their work, and provide them with ward money- which artists always need.

I guess I am always excited about the current exhibit. I love the way the gallery changes space when we change the art work. That is an exciting aspect for me.
Q: What’s your Twitter description (140 characters) of the gallery?

CP: MAINSITE provides contemporary fine art for the beginning and established collector.

Q: How do you prepare exhibitions? Are they planned with a season in mind or more focused on each individual exhibition?

CP: The main planning criteria usually depend on whether or not which of our artists in our inventory has a new body of work to show. We don't really think of season, with the exception of our September show being a grand event, usually only because of the way Norman functions slowly in the summer.

For other exhibitions, planning usually relies on opportunity and interest. Opportunity is important with our exhibitions because at any given time we may have an excellent opportunity to show an artist's work that is particularly influential or outstanding, or maybe a need for education is in order, or our schedule fits with a traveling exhibition. Interest is important because we attempt to follow several different trends- trends of our collectors, trends from the contemporary art world, trends from the Oklahoma art world, and the trends of our own interests and obsessions. All of this combined is the way we decide what exhibitions we plan.

Q: You allude to artists who are in your “inventory,” will you tell us what you mean by that and how an artist ends up there?
CP: Some of the artists we have exhibited in the past have works, which were in those exhibits and remained at the gallery in the storage after their exhibition came down. We use those works from the storage to hang in the hallway, the library and the office during current exhibitions and to help to represent artists that we have shown in the past for a longer period of time after their exhibition. We enjoy pulling the works out from the storage because it allows us to really see the wealth of talent we have had the privilege of being involved with.
Esteban Pulido, Jason, 542 Apt 11 University, Digital photography, 16”x20”
Q: How do you find artists?  How much is research versus proposals? How much is instinct versus logic?   

CP: We look for artists by going to shows, looking at the OVAC website, and magazines or advertisements for shows or websites from other galleries. We receive possibly 5 to 10 submission proposals every week and we look at each one carefully. Sometimes those end up being exhibitions. I'd say the ratio of choices we make would be higher on the side of us looking for artists.

Artists don't always do research about the gallery where they are submitting. I think because Oklahoma only has a few galleries, artists feel that they need to try for any chance they can get here. The research I am speaking of can be simply to look at the artists that a gallery shows- compare the work that is being submitted for review to that group of artists, and if the work doesn't seem like it fits then that gallery is not for you- For example: If an artist is a painter or sculptor and they find a gallery that only shows photography then that gallery would not be interested in showing the paintings or sculpture being submitted.

In the case of the MAINSITE where our only real focus is contemporary art, the lines of comparison are blurred. I think that for the MAINSITE, if a person is a traditional tole painter that works primarily on antiques then I would say that the MAINSITE isn't right for them. But on the contrary, if that traditional tole painting is done on larger than life surreal representations of feet then maybe the post-modern application of the traditional tole painting could be considered applicable to a contemporary gallery. I suppose that relates to both instinct and logic, depending on how you look at it.

Q: What do you mean by “need for education” when choosing exhibitions?

CP: When I refer to a need for education as a criterion for exhibition choices, I mean that we have the opportunity to be involved with events that are connected with the University of Oklahoma due to the close proximity to the school. Specifically, we have scheduled the Masters of Fine Art Thesis Exhibition for the Fine Art School for the past few years because the museum has been under construction and the space for this exhibit has been limited on the OU campus. It allows us to provide the Masters students with exhibition space and a place for the professors to have the review of their work, which can then be open to the public if necessary. It serves as a learning experience for the Master's students, who may or may not have exhibited before, to learn what it is to have an exhibition and deal with a gallery and the rules of the business of art that lie therein. The best part of the exhibit is that the students are forced to interact with the people from the community who visit the gallery and talk about their work- which is rare if you are a Master's student and holed up in your studio with your concepts and your materials. It really helps the students to open their minds to the different ways their work can be interpreted, and to learn how to talk about their work to people who are not in an academic setting.
Watch for more of this interview posted Friday, August 13, the same day the photography exhibition opens with a reception 6-10 pm.MAINSITE Contemporary is open Wednesday-Saturday 11:30- 5:00pm, the 2nd Friday of each month 6-10pm, and by appointment. 

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