While Door County is known for its art galleries, the round barn of Peninsula School of Art’s (PenArt) Guenzel Gallery is off the beaten path and just a little different. It’s a hybrid. Like other galleries, most works are generally for sale, but like a museum, the mission of the gallery is to provide an educational experience for visitors to PenArt.
This focus on education means that we have to develop and curate a rotating calendar of exhibits year-round. The artists change, the themes change, and even the space is altered to accommodate new works. Developing the calendar of four to five exhibitions each year is the job of PenArt’s Director of Exhibitions and Marketing, Kay McKinley. When asked about the most common question she hears from visitors, she said, “It’s always some version of where did you get the idea for the exhibit?”
It’s a good question, and not an easy one to answer. One thing is certain, the process always begins with a conversation. Kay, myself, and Elysia Michaelsen, PenArt Director of Adult Education, talk about upcoming workshop programs and about the bigger calendar of PenArt activities. We want the exhibitions to dovetail with, or highlight a component of, the adult workshop program.
But for Kay, it’s more than just coordinating with the programs, “I’m always looking for a story that is interesting to tell. I want visitors and students to see the possibilities of a media, a unique aspect of a genre, or to gain insight into the artist’s process.”
In regards to the current exhibition, Going with the Flow: Wisconsin Watermedia, “Watercolor has always been one of the most popular media within the workshop program. I wanted to showcase the opportunities for expression, the range of techniques and also some non-traditional uses of the media.”
Sometimes, it’s the artists who end up dictating the story. We always start by looking within our own Door County community, and the larger PenArt community, for artists whose work supports the general idea of an exhibit. Then Kay does extensive research on the internet, searching art-related blogs, social media and websites, looking for artists who have a mastery of their media, and whose works compliment or contrast with one another.
In last year’s exhibition Fire and Ice, we wanted to work with local photographer Dan Anderson, who had been photographing ice and ice shoves throughout the world. We loved the idea of an artist pursuing a single theme within their work for such a long time. But as always, we wanted to tell more of the story, so after some research, we approached the sculpture duo, of Kristin Thielking and Keven Burnett. Their cast glass and metal sculptures, were not only visually inspiring, but they used language as a consistent theme throughout their pieces. The exhibit then became the story of how artists, in both two and three dimensional works could work utilizing a singular theme to create a body of, or a lifetime of work.
In any exhibit, Kay likes to “throw in a surprise or two, like an artist who works in a non-traditional subject matter, or who provides fresh insight into the handling of the media.” In Going with the Flow, this would be artist Joye Moon, who works abstractly across all subject matter, from figurative to landscape; and Chris Beck, who utilizes unusual cropping techniques in her vibrant vignettes of toy ducks.
Once the basic story has been developed and preliminary artist research completed, Kay works with our volunteer Gallery Committee to bring the exhibition to life. The Gallery Committee provides new perspectives on the exhibition concept, additional artist research and support for the installation and de-installation of the exhibition.
Even at this stage, the exhibition concept is still evolving. The artists submit samples of their work, and we begin the curation process – which pieces reinforce the story, which add to the conversation, or create that sense of contrast we are looking for. In addition, Kay does additional research on the media or genre, interviews the artists and prepares the educational materials that accompany every exhibit. This is also the time to think about how the exhibition will be installed. Each piece of work or group of works is sited in the gallery, so that as the visitor moves through the exhibition, the story unfolds. Sometimes this means hanging work from the ceiling or creating distinct spaces within the round shape of the gallery.
In recent years, the addition of video and multi-media have become an important part of every exhibit. Many artists now offer videos of their creation process, or videos from other sources that set the stage for the context of the exhibit. Going with the Flow features a time lapse video of artist Ryan Radke painting a street scene and tutorial video on different watercolor techniques.
Finally, we add something for our youngest gallery visitors, the the Kids Corner @ Guenzel Gallery A place for parents or grandparents to share the exhibition story, including a free hans-on art project, and a take home worksheet.
The Guenzel Gallery is free and open to the public year-round and we’re always here to answer the question, “Where’d you get the idea?”