Spotlight on the region’s artistry at Silvermine Arts Center

Photographs courtesy Silvermine Arts Center.


The Silvermine Arts Center is poised to once again take its visitors on quite a journey.

And to participate in this tour of sorts, one need only visit the New Canaan arts destination starting June 6.

That’s when the exploration of the artistic wealth of our region — formally known as “Art of the Northeast” — opens for its 65th annual run.

The signature competition/exhibition — one that both encourages an appreciation of our talent-rich region and touches on influences and trends — has quite a storied history.

Founded by Silvermine Guild members Miriam Brody and Revington Arthur, the “New England Exhibition” has continued to expand since its debut in the middle of the last century.

Now, some 500 artists from Maine to the Mid-Atlantic — both emerging and more established — vie each year for the chance to reach a wider audience as they showcase what they do best.

Jeffrey Mueller, the gallery director at Silvermine, says there are a few things the show is not.

“It’s not a thematic show,” he says.

And it’s not devoted to one art form, as Mueller notes the show welcomes everything from traditional photography to avant-garde sculpture.

“It’s the full gamut of possibilities,” he says.

With such diversity, he adds, it becomes all about “really engaging with the work.”

Mueller says Silvermine reaches out to numerous arts organizations and colleges throughout the region, leading to many recent fine-arts graduates applying. That adds a fresh dynamic to the show, one that becomes the first major exhibition for many of these young artists.
As Mueller notes, “It’s a way to see a lot of artists on the beginning of their journey.”

Mueller says the show’s reputation is also rooted in its approach.

“As much as it’s a strong tradition for artists, it has a strong history for curators.”

Past curators have included art critics, artists, directors of major museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The New Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Last year, New York-based critic and writer Andrew Russeth served as curator.

“Each curator has their own voice,” Mueller says. “We allow that to become visible. The curator is a part of the process.”

And that process, he says, is key to what he calls “that triad” — the relationship formed among artist, curator and, eventually, visitor.

Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam, both Illinois-based artists, critics and teachers, are curating this year’s “Art of the Northeast.”

It marks the first time the Silvermine show has had co-curators (who just happen to be husband and wife).

Grabner is a professor in the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was one of three curators of this past year’s Whitney Biennial.

Mueller says that Grabner’s experience with that international event “will give an interesting sort of counterpoint” to this year’s Silvermine show.

Killam, a widely exhibited artist, teaches art at the College of DuPage in Illinois. Together, he and Grabner have established artist project spaces The Suburban in Oak Park, Ill., and The Poor Farm in Waupaca County, Wis.

The curators’ selections will fill all three of the center’s galleries, showcasing some 25 artists who may be invited to show multiple works.
As Mueller says, that element further distinguishes “Art of the Northeast.”

“A lot of times when you see these open-call shows, it’s sort of a one-off. We give curators the freedom to select groupings of work.”

With the hundreds of artists who traditionally apply for “Art of the Northeast,” Mueller said the goal is always to select artists who are showing a “mastery of their craft or telling an interesting story.”

Chatting at a time when the artists are still being finalized, he says that each show also becomes about “the relationships that happen” when the show is finally installed.
And that final moment of the journey to Silvermine, Mueller says with anticipation, is “sort of magical.”

“Art of the Northeast” will be on exhibit June 6 through July 26 at Silvermine Arts Center, at 1037 Silvermine Road in New Canaan. An opening reception will be held at 6 p.m. June 6.

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