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Bell Gallery searches for new curator

Current curator Russell will stay on for two more projects and as assistant professor of visual art

With the recent departure of curator Ian Alden Russell, the David Winton Bell Gallery in List Art Center has embarked on a search for a new curator to select and maintain pieces for the gallery.

Gallery Director Jo-Ann Conklin is spearheading the search. In the past, curators have stayed on the job for varying lengths of time, with Russell holding the position for two years.

Conklin said that while the position often serves as a stepping stone to other jobs with more responsibilities, she hopes the new curator will stay for at least five years.

The search typically takes four to six months, said Conklin, who hopes to make a decision within the next month. She added that she learned of Russell’s departure in May.

The qualifications listed in the position’s advertisement include at least five years of museum experience, as well as a master’s degree in art history or a related field with a specialty in contemporary art.

“I look for a lot of flexibility ... someone whose interests mesh with mine but (are) not the same as mine, so we can get a broader view of contemporary art,” Conklin said.

Ideally, the new curator will have a sense for the difference between the Bell Gallery and a public gallery, Conklin said. The Bell does not have a registrar, leaving the curator responsible for keeping records of the art, as well as for handling insurance and shipping matters. The curator of the Bell, who has an unusual amount of freedom, also has the opportunity to teach informally at Brown or RISD.

“In a university gallery, generally because they are smaller, you (have) more autonomy to decide on the programs you want to do,” Conklin said. “There’s not a constant pressure to bring people to the door so you can do things more esoteric and more daring.”

Russell said he appreciates the freedom and support he received from the gallery. “The position afforded me to the opportunity to start projects that I would normally not be able to achieve without the infrastructure and community behind me,” he added.

Coming to Brown as a post doctoral fellow in public art and cultural heritage in 2010, Russell previously worked as an art technician at Douglas High Gallery in Dublin, Ireland. This position acted as a “hybrid practice between academic research and curatorial work,” he said.

Russell said he faced challenges in transitioning from independent curator to institutional curator but appreciated the resources available to make projects happen.

“Every single project I do, I love, as in I tried really hard to find magic or value in every project I do,” Russell said, reflecting on his past projects at the gallery. “If I’m not doing something with immediate utilitarian value, then it has to be something I believe in.”

“I could put any art in here, so why this art? One of the things I professionally found challenging was coming up with good decisions that I could ethically defend. … While this was a challenge, it was also very rewarding,” Russell said. Another challenge working at the gallery was “finding ways to make ‘amazing’ happen with a limited budget,” he added.

One project Russell said he holds dear to his heart is the project he completed with Shanghai-based artist Jin Shan. At the time of the collaboration, Shan was at a key point in his rising career, and the gallery gave him a chance to show an unusual one-piece installation, which Russell considered a “risky but really wonderful” project to take on.

Russell will stay on as a guest curator for a program in October and another in the spring. In October, artist Vincent Valdez, with whom Russell worked for a year and a half, will open a project. “It would have broken my heart not to keep working with him,” Russell said.

The spring project is for the University’s 250th anniversary and will include a series of solo shows by alums.

The new curator may help with these two programs or start working on later programs, depending upon his or her start date, Conklin said.

“The first year here is a lot about learning the institution and learning the collection. So even if they aren’t mounting an exhibition, there will be plenty of things for them to do,” Conklin said.

Russell will continue as an assistant professor teaching contemporary art, curation and cultural heritage at Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey, where he will both pursue his own research and work with students.


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