Ellen Hackl Fagan, the artist, gallerist and curator who runs ODETTA, is having a show at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT. It is curated by David Borawski, and runs till Feb 19th. AIB interviewed her by email about her diverse roles, exhibitions, and overall vision.
AIB: How long have you been associated with Bushwick and in what forms?
EHF: I’ve been working in Bushwick since late May 2014. Prior to that I had my studio in Harlem, mainly in the barrio. From the moment I registered for Bushwick Open Studios, other artist/curator/gallerists have invited me to work with them, and we exchange opportunities often. There’s a strong sense of community here, about raising the quality of our galleries by supporting one another.
AIB: Tell me about the genesis of ODETTA.
EHF: I’ve been organizing, hanging, creating exhibitions of art since 1982. I’d been looking for the right space to both live and work, for several years. I wanted a gallery space where people could see the work from the street and then walk right in. Also, I was looking for a space that could handle exhibiting large-scale sculpture and painting. Finding that combined use space proved impossible in my price range. When I decided to look at leasing strictly commercial spaces instead, I walked into this building the very first day. My landlord loves the arts and had put in the glass front, hoping to attract a gallerist tenant. So I can’t live here, but it’s definitely where I’m getting some good work done.
3 ½ weeks after signing the lease, I designed and built out the space, incorporating my studio into the back of the gallery space, and opened ODETTA the day Bushwick Open Studios_2014 weekend started with a four-person show titled Opening Day. This featured the work of artist/gallerists Joe Amrhein, Rob de Oude, Enrico Gomez, and artist Marcus Linnenbrink. The place sang with color and artists and the culmination of 30 + years of art and practice was launched in its new home. That was one of the most fun evenings of my life. The neighborhood welcomed me completely.
AIB: You are an artist, gallerist, curator. How do these roles inform each other and how do you prioritize?
EHF: I think it’s difficult to prioritize, but these sides all support each other. I’d like to believe I’m an interesting curator because I see things from an artist’s perspective. If I’m working for myself, rather than the gallery, I try to give that some attention mid-week every week. Multiple roles have all always been a part of my overall practice. I’m one of 8 children, and married into a family of 12 kids, so I’m used to chaos.
AIB: You are having now a big exhibition in CT at Real Art Ways. What can you tell me about it ?
EHF: Since mid-November, Into the Blue Again, curated by artist David Borawski, has been running concurrently with Kurt Steger’s solo exhibition, Scribing the Void. Real Art Ways www.realartways.org, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year. They’re a remarkable institution. Paving the way for interdisciplinary arts as early pioneers in experimental music and film, along with solo exhibitions of some of our best contemporary artists. David placed my works in a solo exhibition in one of their longer, narrow gallery spaces. My 9’ tall blue painting found its home on a singular wall that soars 18’ x 14 ‘ wide. I have experimented with the orientation of my blue paintings, sculpting them while drying in order to amplify their dynamic patterns and to create a humming sort of tension with them just lifted off the ground. Along with large works on paper, the viewer is immersed in this blue environment, creating a joyful space to connect in a full body experience with this gorgeous blue.
AIB: ODETTA is remarkable for incorporating poetry, performance and dance in dialogue with the visual art exhibitions. What is your vision for that in future programming?
EHF: I plan to continue introducing the community to innovative artists who want to share their talents with our enthusiastic audience. Expanding the programming into other genres builds the gallery’s audience. Coming up: Creative Tech Week in May brings the tech world into the gallery setting, integrated into an exhibition about healing systems created by Nature to restore and regenerate itself in the wake of human intervention.
AIB: What is your vision for the art exhibitions in 2017-18?
EHF: I plan to have some exhibitions revolve around major themes in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake like our next show, River Woman, featuring works by Nancy Cohen, Fritz Horstman, Ellen Kozak, and Kathleen Vance. A special guest event will an introduction/reception to Riverkeeper. Future exhibitions this year are mainly focused on healing. I feel we’re all in need of that. 2018 is the Year of Color for ODETTA. Programming is going to be all about my favorite topic, color.
AIB: Can you give an insight on how you pick the artists?
EHF: I think, in many ways, the artists pick me. Through studio visits and regular interactions, I get to know their work. If I see a high degree of craftsmanship and intention, and they seem easy to work with, then it’s a matter of how to fit their work into the puzzle. Right now, I’m still in the introductory phase of getting to know artists. I’m looking for quality, a subtle humor and intelligence, compassion, and beauty.
AIB: How does the change in the neighborhood affect the art scene and can you share any concerns and hopes for the near future?
EHF: I see the neighborhood as prime for becoming another extension of Williamsburg. As in other areas, artists and galleries will get pushed out ultimately to luxury brand stores. But artists have always challenged the wisdom of a business model in favor of experimentation. So, a constant migration to affordable space is part of the process. ODETTA is a project that can move around if necessary, and I will continue to develop satellite opportunities for artists’ works to be seen by wider audiences.
AIB: The country has gone through a political quake. Will that affect your art program or your own artwork?
EHF: For our current show, the elegant black works of Thomas Lendvai, Janet Passehl, and Esther Podemski transmit a funereal hush to the exhibition. Our upcoming show River Woman has a strong message of healing the earth and one another. As we continue through 2017, every exhibition is directly offering messages of hope and loss as the artists themselves experience the ramifications of this new administration’s tactics.
AIB: Where can we see your work next?
EHF: I will be showing my work at A.I.R. in an exhibition titled Space Craft, curated by Liz Surbeck Biddle, featuring works by Tomoko Abe, Liz Surbeck Biddle, Ellen Hackl Fagan, and Jackie Welsh. Opening reception Friday March 17, 6-8 pm. This exhibition runs thru April 16, 2017.
April 4- June 29, 2017, What Does Blue Sound Like?, solo exhibition featuring my web based phone app, The Reverse Color Organ, at the New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Library Windows. Artist dialogue with guest artists Joseph Celli and Hap Tivey, April 29, 2017 fromj 2:30-4:30 pm.
Ellen Hackl Fagan
Into the Blue Again
November 17, 2016 – February 19, 2017
David Borawski, Curator