Looking ahead to the 2018 season, Don Kimes plans to bring the artwork of one of his favorite teachers to Chautauqua. From 1977 to 1979, Gretna Campbell taught Kimes at the New York Studio School.
Campbell was born in the Bronx in 1922 and began studying painting formally through an art workshop organized by the Works Progress Administration in 1939. Over her career, she showed work in the Whitney Annual and taught at Yale University, the Brooklyn Museum and the Philadelphia College of Art, among others.
“And (she) was a really important, influential artist, in a lot of ways,” said Kimes, artistic director of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution.
But as Kimes noted, her name doesn’t get much recognition anymore.
“People don’t know her,” he said.
Opening with a show of her work will also be a chance to expose viewers to an alternative style of artwork from the 1940s and ’50s.
“That generation is labeled ‘abstract expressionist,’ so the work that history has remembered has been people who fit that mold, but there are lots of other people around who were important artists at the time,” Kimes said. “I think there’s an emerging interest in finding or rediscovering some of the women of that generation.”
Campbell’s work did not fit into abstract expressionism.
“She felt that depicting the actual world, the natural world, was still important, so she never stopped being a landscape painter,” Kimes said.
Campbell is also notable in that she was a woman painter in the male-dominated art world. Kimes calls her one of his greatest influences. Women artists like Campbell, he said, “were the pioneers for the pioneers.”
“They were a much earlier generation than even feminists of the 1970s,” he said.
Kimes hopes to arrange for the Campbell show to travel to other galleries after it’s shown at Chautauqua.
“I think that’s a discussion that many people at Chautauqua are interested in,” he said. “We bring all this stuff here and it kind of just stays here, but we don’t send things out. And this will be our major effort at putting out something that emanates from Chautauqua, too.”
Kimes got many Campbell paintings from her son, Henry Finkelstein. Campbell died in 1987, so Finkelstein had been storing her works, but he didn’t know what to do as rent for storage space rose in New York.
“I was concerned that this stuff was just totally going to disappear,” Kimes said.
Kimes hopes that bringing Campbell’s works to Chautauqua and then sending the show out to travel will bring some attention to it.
Finkelstein, who is also an artist and a landscape painter like his mother, will come to Chautauqua for the show’s opening. Works by Campbell’s husband, Louis Finkelstein, will also be included in the show, which will hang in the Main Gallery of Strohl Art Center.
Also starting off the 2018 VACI season will be the annual contemporary show in Fowler-Kellogg Art Center, for which Kimes has selected artist Sharon Louden as the juror. Louden is the editor of The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, which features essays from 40 artists.
Louden is also successful in her own work as an artist and has shown at various museums across the country. Kimes said he thinks many artists will be interested in submitting their work to the show because Louden will be the juror.
Judy Barie, the Susan and Jack Turben Director of VACI Galleries, will also curate a show to start the 2018 season. Titled “Masters in Craft,” the show will be held in the Gallo Family Gallery of Strohl Art Center.
“I’m going to reach out to people who have been doing their craft for a long time and thus, the title ‘Masters,’ ” Barie said.
The show will mainly be three-dimensional pieces, but may also include some wall pieces, such as tapestry or fiber works.
Barie will be organizing the show and selecting pieces over the winter, so what viewers see next June will be a surprise for everyone.