Different Strokes

Different Strokes

When it comes to curating the Club’s art gallery, the committee in charge embraces its differences.

Opening the glass partitions that separate art from audience in the Club’s Frederick Harris Gallery, the three women take in the prints on display.

Liisa Wihman, Makiko Durkin and Beatrice Weber are part of the group responsible for curating each exhibition in the gallery, and their regard is evident in their lingering gazes. In most cases, winning the approval of the Frederick Harris Gallery Committee is no small task.

The 13-member committee receives upwards of 30 applications for just 16 exhibition spots per year. Artists may not exhibit until months later, and the rollover schedule means the committee accepts far fewer than the slots available. In 2017, for example, 10 artists were accepted from 27 applications. In 2018, seven were selected from 26 applications.

Despite these exacting standards, the Frederick Harris Gallery is booked solid through the 2020 Olympics. “A stamp of quality,” says Wihman of the gallery’s full calendar.

Maintaining that quality, especially among members whose artistic senses and backgrounds can differ, is another issue entirely.

“Because different nationalities are on the committee,” admits Durkin, “we all have different ideas.”

“We see the art differently,” adds Weber.

When an artist is being considered, an open discussion prefaces an anonymous vote. Wihman’s background in the garden design and art museum sectors and Weber’s experience studying for a master’s degree at Christie’s auction house in her native France give them plenty to draw upon when mustering their opinions.

When works with traditional Japanese aesthetics come before the committee, however, Weber and Wihman are aware of their critical limitations. Calligraphy, for instance, gives them pause. They appreciate the aesthetics of a bold brushstroke, but they defer to their Japanese colleagues to make the final decision.

“Japanese can understand the strokes [in calligraphy],” Durkin says. “There are literal kanji meanings, but if you’re not Japanese, sometimes you might not understand.”

“The most interesting discussions in the meetings have been those [multicultural] discussions,” says Wihman, who is originally from Finland. “It’s really lovely because you learn about each other’s ways of seeing the works.”

Therein lies the give-and-take of a multinational committee. Through discussion, examination and explanation, committee members help mold one another into more complete critics.

“Little by little, we are learning from them,” Weber says.

Each member has their approach to unearthing new artistic talent. They scour small galleries for inspiration or canvas college showcases for fresh perspectives. Wherever the next artist is discovered, discussion begins anew, as does the members’ own critical growth.

When Weber describes the gallery as “the art of living artists,” Wihman and Durkin nod in agreement. Whether life imitates art or vice versa, the trio emphasizes that the Frederick Harris Gallery Committee is as complex and vibrant as art itself.

Visit the Frederick Harris Gallery page to learn more about upcoming exhibitions.

Words: Owen Ziegler
Image: Enrique Balducci