A Currator’s Perspective

It is my pleasure as well as that of the Newport Art Museum to participate in the collaboration known as NetWorks 2008. Since becoming the Museum’s curator ten years ago, I have strived to educate a diverse audience about the vital group of artists working in Rhode Island. The mission of the Newport Art Museum is to preserve, collect, exhibit and interpret the highest quality art of our region. To that end, over sixty-five artists have had solo exhibitions, dozens more have participated in group shows at the Museum, and approximately 250 artworks by the region’s contemporary artists have been added to the permanent collection since 1998. One of the strengths of being in a small state is that it is possible to visit and indeed “network” with the many wonderful artists who work and reside in and just outside of our borders. Some have grown up here and been nurtured by the artistic community, others have remained from their Rhode Island School of Design years. Some find the state a happy medium between Boston and New York, still others are inspired by both the industrial and natural landscape. Rhode Island is very fertile ground for artists of every media.

The documentation of Rhode Island’s corps of artists should be an ongoing project. While AS220, under the dynamic leadership of Umberto Crenca, exemplifies a model for the future of urban arts organizations and education, it has admirably stepped up to make sure that we maintain a record of the present. Supporting these efforts to photograph and video this group of sixteen of the state’s accomplished and charismatic artists is Dr. Joseph A. Chazan, already well known for his art patronage. And to come full circle, AS220 and Dr. Chazan, respectively, have worked with the Newport Art Museum in the areas of exhibitions and collection development.

The concept of NetWorks 2008 has intrigued me from the beginning. What a perfect opportunity for the Newport Art Museum to highlight the work of some Rhode Island’s premiere artists, while simultaneously focusing attention on our mission and collection development. Some of the art to be shown at the Museum is from our permanent collection, most of it the gift of Dr. Chazan and his late wife, Helene. Howard Ben Tré, Jonathan Bonner, Umberto Crenca and Salvatore Mancini have had solo exhibitions at the Museum, Ruth Dealy, Walter Feldman, Lucas Foglia, Denny Moers, Jacqueline Ott, Elizabeth Pannell, Timothy Philbrick, James Watkins, and Toots Zynsky have been featured in group shows. This continuum is important and will allow us to observe the artistic evolution of some of the participants. Artists Mark Freedman, Xander Marro, Angel Quinonez, CW Roelle, Richard Goulis, and Scott Lapham are new and exciting connections for the Newport Art Museum.

Artistic collaboration is critical, especially in lean economic times. In Newport many non-profit organizations work together with great success. Sometimes reaching beyond the bridges in this Ocean State is more challenging, but NetWorks 2008, is a considerable leap forward in combining forces. The exhibition is at once archival and contemporary; it makes us think. We see video and photography as documentary, but also as fine art. We have fine craftsmanship contrasted with everyday objects. Order prevails in some art works, while chaos rules in others. There is beauty—and there is the beast. NetWorks 2008 offers myriad opportunities for reflection, consideration and appreciation of an important segment of Rhode Island’s art community.

Nancy Whipple Grinnell
Curator, Newport Art Museum

An Art Director’s Perspective

NetWorks 2008 is an attempt to begin a process of documenting the vital Rhode Island arts scene. Artists, of course, are central to what is becoming the Providence, R.I. identity “brand.” Outside consultants, marketers and policymakers are all looking to capitalize on Rhode Island’s highly publicized creative community.

NetWorks 2008 is a collaboration of Dr. Joseph Chazan, AS220, the Newport Arts Museum, 5 Traverse Gallery, and numerous videographers, photographers, designers and administrators. The project attempts to show the faces and tell the stories of a small sample of the artists that constitute this energetic and influential community.

It is my assertion that the more self-conscious we are about documenting Rhode Island’s community of makers, the more likely that this community will be sustained and in fact grow. The artists of Rhode Island have had enormous influence on shaping the larger community. Today, maybe more than ever, it is essential that our artists are heard. Our quality of life is dependent on it.

Umberto Crenca
Artistic Director, AS220

A Producer’s Perspective

The exhibition NetWorks 2008 is an articulation of my professional interests and involvement with Rhode Island artists and visual arts organizations over the past thirty years. In the 1970’s, I was introduced to the local “art scene” by Henry Kates, an entrepreneur and collector, who invited me to join the Collectors’, Club at the RISD Museum where Frank Robinson was the Director and Deborah Johnson was Curator of Prints and Drawings. Through these associations, I began to discover and relate to art and artists.

I was very impressed by the artists I met who were in search of excellence. They focused on being innovative while problem solving as they pursued their creative expressions. Around the same time I had begun my private practice of nephrology, having left the world of academia. I immediately identified with the artists and saw that our careers had many similarities. I had entered a clinical specialty in which initially there were few treatments but much in the way of intellectual engagement through biochemistry. Subsequently with the advent of chronic hemodialysis and kidney transplantation, we nephrologists could actually treat people and improve and prolong their lives. I not only learned and explored the technology of these life saving treatments and applied them to patient care, but also experienced the frustration of dealing with institutional and governmental bureaucracy as I tried to create out patient facilities which would provide excellent care to critically and chronically ill patients. I could relate to both the frustrations and gratifications of the creative process just as my new friends in the arts struggled with the technologic and economic aspects of their creative endeavors.

In the early 1980’s, I began a long, gratifying relationship with Umberto Crenca of AS220. I watched as this fledgling institution with its unjuried venues and its rehabilitation and use of historic buildings became a major force in transforming the face of downtown Providence.

My involvement with artists culminated in 2005 with an exhibition of selected work that my wife and I had donated to the RISD Museum of Art in a show entitled “Chazans’ Choice” curated by Judith Tannenbaum and Tom Michie. Unfortunately, while the show was still up, my wife, Helene, became acutely ill and died. Now some three years later, I continue to struggle with this but have turned my energies again to artists as I try to help them in their efforts to form a more meaningful milieu in which we live. I remain most interested in introducing art and artists to the community and hope that NetWorks 2008 will advance this process.

This exhibition highlights some of the accomplished artists who have been working in our community over the past several decades. Initially, it was planned as a documentation of their careers, using portraits and videos of these artists. Subsequently, Bert and I thought that a show at AS220 of the portraits and videos would enhance the project. In addition, works created by the artists shown in a museum setting would bring another dimension to the project. Fortunately, Nancy Whipple Grinnell, Curator at the Newport Art Museum, embraced the concept and made her Institution available for such a show. 5 Traverse, a private gallery in Providence, also agreed to show work in their private space and we engaged the AS220 design department to create a catalog to document the scope of the effort.

NetWorks 2008 is an unusual cooperation and collaboration of artists, art space, gallery and museum to not only present works of accomplished local artists but also to provide a window into their motivations. I find this quite gratifying since I strongly believe that one can accomplish a great deal by asking the question “How can we do this?” rather than “Why can’t this happen?” We did this together.

I am hopeful that NetWorks 2008 is the first of what will bemany collaborations, and that this cooperation among individuals, organizations and institutions will serve as a model for artistic advancement throughout our community

Jospeh A. Chazan M.D.

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