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Curators on the cutting edge: My Little/Membrane at NUTUREart

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In a first for Williamsburg’s NUTUREart gallery, two curators will be curating the same show, My Little/ Membrane, opening at the gallery’s Grand Street location on May 9.

“This show pushes the idea of a curator in different directions,” said Ben Evans, gallery director at NUTUREart. “They like the same work for different reasons. For me, this is the most exciting show of the year.”

Curators William Heath and Zeljka Himbele, who met as art students at Bard College in upstate New York, chose the pieces for the show together from NUTUREart’s extensive registry of artwork. The gallery’s staff members have been providing guidance for local artists and curators and helping give them more exposure to the art world for the past few years.

“We’re showing people how important the curator’s role can be, which is one of the reasons we like art,” said Hannah Gibson, assistant director of NUTUREart gallery. “It’s very subjective. Curators have a lot of power, particularly in a group show like this.”

The idea for the joint curation evolved organically, when Heath and Himbele noticed that they were interested in similar artists and similar conceptual themes. Both curators are based outside New York now and communicated with each other frequently about what pieces they liked conceptually and how they might fit into each other’s show.

“While the exhibition narratives grew next to each other, they became intertwined but in many aspects different,” Heath said. “Instead of agreeing to form one exhibition concept together, we decided to juxtapose these two concepts in the exhibition set up, through different labels which will give two interpretations of each work, and in the brochure, where two essays are separated but also connected through the images of work put in the middle.”

Having two different descriptions on the wall next to each work is critical for explaining the themes of the exhibits. Both curators focus on pieces that contemplate the idea of a membrane and how people pass through or are contained in them. Heath views the works as people imagining themselves into different universes, much like the mini-snowglobes, while Zeljka looks at the boundaries between ourselves and others and how people negotiate those boundaries.

“Both ideas will hopefully resonate in the exhibition display itself,” Heath said. “The works will be maximally juxtaposed and very close to each other using the space between them as well as their own physical edges as membranes, creating a horror vacui atmosphere in which the viewer might feel like a miniature in space.”

The works will include sculptures, video stills, photographs, and life-size installations people can walk through. One artist in the show creates large sculptures that can appear unbalanced like they are about to collapse, which can make for an uncomfortably strange experience for viewers.

“I see a lot of Williams interpretations as a desire to return to nostalgic, utopian worlds that don’t exist anymore,” Gibson said. “It’s a memory or a return to a more innocent time of childhood. He told me about going to the zoo in Central Park once and sitting inside as a child. Also I think [some of the works] reminded him of greenhouses in Florida where he grew up.”

Heath and Zeljka hope that the project will show how the interpretation of art is a subjective experience while also questioning the curatorial process. Not that they dismiss the importance of curation in gallery exhibitions. Both said they are grateful that NUTUREart has been able to provide them a platform for experimentation and reflection.

“We help curators see the works visually and coordinate them into a logical idea that they can explain to other people” Gibson said. “It’s a cool idea that can get people into the gallery to see art and cultivate their ideas. The show really hasn’t been done before this way.”

My Little/ Membrane runs until June 15 at NUTUREart (910 Grand Street). For more information, go to www.nutureart.org or call 718-782-7755.

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