UIC BFA student Mo Bella Russo reflects on what she is learning in her Museums & Exhibitions in Motion course and its collaboration with Gallery 400.
When I am making art, I do not think about where or how it will be displayed until after it is created. Only after I’ve added the last layer of paint do I ponder where it will exist. When I am in the zone of creating something new, my brain does not consider where it will end up. Many artists who I have talked with make their work with that same energy driving them to simply make art.
Mo Bella Russo (right) contributes to class discussion.
In a perfect world, this would be all I need. However, there is a cunning art market, of which artists are aware, that can change its mind according to changing styles. You can imagine the effort and heart that goes into a piece of art. There is so much risk involved in creating something and putting it out into the world to be judged. The artist’s level of vulnerability can be acutely high.
What a delight then to gain a unique insight into the “other side of exhibitions" while taking the Museums & Exhibitions in Motion course at UIC. The brilliant staff at Gallery 400 contribute to teaching the course. I have been completely astonished by their transparency in discussing how they curate exhibitions. Through tours and lectures, the staff has shifted my perspective on exhibiting art, and made me aware of the meticulous effort each member of Gallery 400 makes in presenting each artwork that comes into their space. Although not every gallery is as accommodating and open to their artists, this gallery makes me feel excited to keep creating. Because of Gallery 400, I know there are spaces for my art to be honored without the exploitation of the art market.
Museum & Exhibitions in Motion students try out a museum education lesson developed by a classmate.
The Associate Director of Gallery 400, Erin Nixon, gave our class a lot to digest after her lecture. She explained how she got her start in curating through making her apartment into a gallery space. She broadened our thinking about institutional critique and started a conversation by posing questions instead of giving answers. Anthony Stepter’s tour of the Gallery 400 exhibit Few were Happy with their Condition challenged us with thought-provoking questions and intriguing commentary on why the artists may have made the decisions they did. Erin and Anthony unwound the tightly bound fear of the daunting museum world and fine art market in general.
As a maker and local social activist, I am refreshed by the productive relationship between the gallery and the art it displays. I am so relieved to know that this can in fact happen between the artist and gallery and museum spaces. Taking this course has rekindled my imagination for the possibilities to present the art I lovingly create. Gallery 400 on UIC’s campus reminds me that people actually do care about the work you create as an artist. I always look forward to seeing what art show they will feature in the future!