A few weeks ago, I visited NIAD Art Center in Richmond, CA. One of 11 local artists and curators who joined the organizer, painter Timothy Buckwalter, to select work for Rare and Unreleased, an exhibition celebrating NIAD's 25-year history. The show opens this Saturday, April 10 with a reception from 2-5pm and runs through June 4, 2010.
I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I responded, "Sure, sounds fun!" to Buckwalter's email invitation. The group, which included Oakland gallerist Kimberly Johansson (Johansson Projects), Philip Linhares, Chief Curator of Art at the Oakland Museum of California and artists John Casey, Heidi De Vries, Cliff Hengst, Helena Keeffe, Mike Monteiro, Lisa Solomon, Canon Tolon, and John Zurier, had the -- yes, fun, but -- daunting task of going through NIAD's vast archive. And I mean stacks and stacks of paintings, drawings and prints, several rooms full of sculptures made from all imaginable materials and a couple of large spaces jammed tight with canvases. But the sorting wasn't the worst part. Each curator was given a space to collect the various gems retrieved from this overwhelming mass of artwork, and then -- toughest task of all -- we were asked to lay out our collections and CHOOSE JUST SIX pieces, which would ultimately appear in the show! Perhaps this task sounds simple or mundane to you, and it's probably one of those situations where you really had to be there, but (gulp!) it was tough.
Founded in 1982, NIAD (National Institute of Art and Disabilities) is a really bright and friendly place packed to overflowing with creativity. The center is a studio art program that provides assistance in the form of materials, working artists and art assistants to adult artists with any kind of disability, either mental (think autism) or physical (think wheelchair bound).
We saw sculptures in all shapes, sizes and materials, screenprints, woodcuts, ceramics, fiber art, portraits, landscapes, word art, pop art, abstraction, minimalism and more. The artists are obviously engaged with issues in contemporary culture and contemporary art. We uncovered one who painted magazine covers; another made the most intriguing and intricate lists, elegantly filling up page after page with them. There was an artist trying to capture the weather; another created imaginary flags. Fanciful and brightly colored animals dominated the pages of one artist's stack; one man made medical equipment (stethoscope, syringe, etc.) out of masking tape. When we broke for lunch, we were entertained by an artist obsessed with Michael Jackson, who moonwalked and sang songs into a microphone he had fashioned out of cardboard. The day was filled with such magic.
I cannot wait to see the results of our dig through the strata of NIAD. As someone engaged with contemporary art galleries (through my work at KQED) and as an artist myself, it was humbling to be down on my knees digging through a pile of paintings, uncovering a creative expression so pure it took my breath away. This didn't happen once; it happened at regular intervals -- and not just to me. Judging from the gasps occurring throughout the space, the same was true for the rest of the crew. Maybe one day, I will be lucky enough to plug into my own creative energy so well, making my own artistic statements with such elegance and grace.
Rare & Unreleased is on view through June 4, 2010 at the NIAD Gallery, 551 23rd Street in Richmond, California. The opening reception is Saturday, April 10, 2-5pm. For more information visit niadart.org.