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Teen curators learn the art of gallery management at girls' school

Students in the Archer School for Girls' gallery management and design class earn credit while running the school's art gallery, including organizing exhibitions and hosting opening-night events.

May 25, 2013|By Jori Finkel, Los Angeles Times

It was a knotty problem that many curators face at some point in their careers: making sure a three-artist exhibition doesn't look like three completely distinct shows in one space.

"We need to find a way to connect the artwork; it should flow from one wall to another," said one curator, who wore disposable blue gloves as she carefully held up a painting.

"What if we use these images of trees side by side, so the green works as a transition?" asked another, moving an artwork closer to a corner.

But in this case the curators don't really have careers — yet.

The blue gloves worn by these art handlers offset the green V-neck sweaters and gray pleated skirts of their school uniforms. They are teenagers at the Archer School for Girls in Brentwood who are completing their school's first-ever class in "gallery management and design," which involves running the school's art gallery from organizing exhibitions to hosting opening-night events.

Museum and curatorial programs are more common at the university level, but a high school art gallery is unusual — and a student-run gallery even more rare. Archer's program, which evolved from a popular school club into a for-credit course this year, is also winning praise from local gallery owners.

"You never know. One of these girls might be the next Ann Philbin," said gallerist Peter Fetterman, referring to the director of the Hammer Museum.

Fetterman lent photographs from his book "Woman: A Celebration" for a 2008 show at the school gallery. One of his daughters graduated from the school, and the two interns at the gallery have come from Archer.

Archer's spring exhibition featured three female artists: Phranc, Pam Posey and Nancy Monk. It took place in the campus gallery, a converted chapel originally built in the 1930s. All three artists show with the Santa Monica gallery of Craig Krull, who has two daughters at the school.

"It's a good way to raise money for the school," he said. "I worked with them in 2007 on Julius Shulman and Peter Alexander, a two-person show that raised $75,000 for the school." (He and Shulman donated their proceeds from sales to the school.)

Phranc's work in the show consisted of paper sculptures painted to look like colorful beach gear: bright green swimsuits, blue boat cushions and a green-yellow-and-red striped sunbrella included. Posey's paintings were delicate watercolor images of trees done on scraps of hardwood such as oak and maple. Monk works with photographs and found materials such as dish towels and buttons to create intricately patterned, sometimes pixelated-looking mixed-media paintings, often with a branching or flowering form.

The seven students in the gallery class chose these artists after a scouting trip this year to Bergamot Station, where they visited galleries looking for art. Krull showed them works by several artists, but the group gravitated toward these three women.

And all of the students played a role in hanging the artworks. They spoke over one another, reached over one another, and finished one another's sentences during a 20-minute whirlwind of deciding where to place which works.

They finished Monk's wall quickly, doing a crowded, salon-style hang of small patterned pieces clustered around a few larger works, including the one made with a stretched dish towel. "Let's put the dish towel at eye level, so you can really see what it is," said Sage Malecki, 17.

Their biggest challenge was figuring out how to group Phranc's beach-themed sculptures. They quickly agreed to put the umbrella sculpture in the corner, and to bring in real sand for it. But they weren't as sure about where to position a pair of faux boat cushions and tried out different options in rapid-fire succession.

"Do you think this works on the wall?" asked Danielle Simpson, 17.

"It's a seat — do we want to keep the seats together?" said Seaf Hartley, 15.

"You know what would be really cute, if we put the two seats together with a swimsuit here and the trunks there, it would look like two people coming together," said Carina Oriel, 14.

"That would be so cute, I think people will get the idea of two people sitting together," said Riel Macklam, 17.

Then, after a minute, the idea evolved.

"Do we want the cushions together, because that would be just one pedestal instead of two separate ones?" said Shelby Mumford, 14.

"What if you hang the cushions on the wall?" said Simpson.

"I think that would be cool," said Siena Deck, 15. "What do you think: are they sturdy enough to go on the wall?"

"That's a good idea. I think we could hang them, but we will have to ask Phranc," said Krull.

"Maybe we could put something on the wall to support them," said Deck.

"They look like little backpacks," said Hartley.

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