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Getting the hang of curating

Every year thousands of people pass through the glass entrance of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s 1962 building to see the works of some of the world’s arguably most influential artists, from Frida Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Monkey,” to Pablo Picasso’s “Glass, Vase and Fruits”; from Sol LeWitt’s “Drawing #1268” to Celeste Cares’ “Louis (Study of Half my Genes II).”

The only thing is, they might not be familiar with Cares’ work yet. That’s because her work, like that of 60 other student artists from around Western New York and Southern Ontario, has been selected to be included in an exhibition that aims to allow the next generation of art curators to curate a show of their peers’ work.

The Albright-Knox’s AK Teens Future Curators program is an annual opportunity for students in grades 11 and 12 to get hands-on, in-depth experience with art history and curatorial studies. Sponsored by First Niagara Foundation, the future curators take part in a roughly 16-week program that allows them to spend time in the Albright-Knox’s galleries after hours, not only with the artwork but with the Albright-Knox’s most prominent curators, such as Godin-Spaulding Curator and Collection Curator Holly Hughes.

During this year’s four-month program, the 19 participating students have had the opportunity to learn about careers in the museum and fine arts fields; about exhibitions; and about how to curate a show; and they have been given the opportunity to collectively curate a show of works by local artists in grades 9 through 12.

“This program has affected my future goals because it opened up my options to art-based careers,” said Lewiston-Porter High School student Uma Samudrala. “I never knew it was this fun to work as an artist who views art for a living.

“After this experience, I have considered going into the art field that deals with the history of famous pieces, and brings new ones into the scene,” she said.

Students from as far away as Springville and Lewiston have made the weekly Thursday night commute to the North Buffalo gallery to participate and learn under the direction of Education Program Coordinator Elizabeth Bryson.

A typical class for the teen curators includes a visiting speaker from a department of the museum, such as James Baker, the marketing coordinator, or Carolyn B. Padwa, the senior registrar for exhibitions.

Then, the students take what they learned from the guest, or from Bryson, and apply it to their own upcoming show. From writing wall text, to designing displays, to the opening night, the show is very much theirs.

Each of the participating students had a vote on which pieces from the nearly 600 entries from 35 high schools would make it into the final 60. These 60 pieces are being presented across two venues, the Albright-Knox Clifton Hall Link and the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, for four weeks between April and May.

This year, the future curators selected works by 60 artists from 17 different schools, ranging from private Canadian and American art schools to public high schools and charter schools. A few of the future curators also had their own works selected to be in the show through the anonymous selection process.

From the selected works, the team of curators pulled the theme of “Viewpoint,” which is also the title of their show.

“I’m glad we choose “Viewpoint” as the theme of our exhibition because it really represented our entire experience as future curators,” said Williamsville East student Eva Erickson.

“We were young artists coming from all over, and with us we brought different ideas and new perspectives. Each person contributed such unique talents, and our exhibition wouldn’t be what it is now without all the fighting over what we felt to be right,” she said.

The future curators chose the title after several debates over word choice and themes found across all of the work. “Viewpoint” aims to not only analyze the physical perspective of the artist, in the likes of angle and form, and through media chosen, but from the greater metaphysical standpoint of the artist in the creation of their work. The show aims to bring works that highlight perspective not only through realism, like that in works of Leah Krezmien’s “Lives of Venice,” and Lillie Shallowhorn’s “Solitude;” but also through abstract and avant-garde works such as Kyle Baillargeon’s “Tax Hikes,” and Annabel Barthoff’s “Hairdress.”

“I think what makes a good curator is really your ability to problem-solve. You have to find a way to take all the obstacles and limitations thrown at you and still pull off a successful exhibition,” said future curator and St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute student Benjamin Lojacono.

“You really have to think on your feet and think creatively to make everything work harmoniously,” he said. “I think that’s part of the excitement though, it’s like a big puzzle scattered across the floor and you have to put it all together.”

After weeks of hard work the future curators are proud to be inviting the public to the openings for “Viewpoint” over the next two weeks.

The Albright-Knox Clifton Hall Link opening will take place today from 5 to 8 p.m., and this portion of the exhibition will be on display through May 15. The Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology opening will occur next Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., with this portion of the exhibition on display until May 13.

This year’s curators class included: Kyle Baillargeon, Niagara Falls High School; Madison Bean, Nichols School; Olivia Carney, Lewiston-Porter High School; Clare Corbett, City Honors School; Claudia D’Auria, Nichols School; Hannah Emminger, Kenmore East High School; Eva Erickson, Williamsville East High School; Chloe Everett, home school; Malika Kodial, Williamsville East High School; Benjamin Lojacono, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute; Augusta Morgan, Lewiston-Porter High School; Vivien Pearce, Nardin Academy; Axel Sack, Park School of Buffalo; Uma Samudrala, Lewiston-Porter High School; Leon Simone, Orchard Park High School; DesRee Taylor, Royalton-Hartland High School; Emyle Watkins, Springville-Griffith High School; Malia Williamson, Charter High School for Applied Technologies; and Emily Wilson, Niagara Falls High School.

For more information on “Viewpoint”; for applications for next year’s AK Teens Future Curators Program or for other educational programming from the Albright-Knox, visit www.albrightknox.org/education/. To follow what the future curators have been up to, check out the #FutureCuratorsFridays hashtag on Instagram.

Emyle Watkins is a senior at Springville-Griffith High School.