The Contemporary Curator

As defined by the dictionary, a curator is, “a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection.” In the contemporary art world however, we take a different perspective on the roles and responsibilities that this job entails. As described by David Guerra, Director of AREA Gallery and our March 2016 curator of Dualisms, “A curator is a selector and a facilitator, but most importantly, is a connected author of critical narratives that creates social and cultural value.”

Installation View: The Awakening, November 2017

Installation View: The Awakening, November 2017

At Abigail Ogilvy gallery, owner and director Abigail Ogilvy Ryan and Assistant Director, Allyson Boli, typically take on the curatorial role, discovering new artwork that has yet to be exhibited and discussed in the Boston area. We seek out new points of view through guest curators, such as David Guerra (Dualisms), Meredyth Hyatt Moses (An Eclectic View), and Todd Pavlisko (Fuse). This coming February 2018, Abigail Ogilvy Gallery is inviting curators, artists, and collectives to offer a new vision for our gallery, a crucial part of cultivating diverse perspectives in contemporary art.

Whether in a large museum or a small gallery, four things are crucial to the curatorial profession today: the preserving, selecting, connecting, and arranging of art. Every exhibition is more than just the artwork on a wall—it is a long and detailed process.

Preserving: An exhibition is usually based on a theme or topic. It is imperative that a curator chooses work that follows a central theme or starts a conversation with the viewer in some capacity. It is also important that the curator preserves the tradition and concept of the art. The challenge lies in showcasing the work to its fullest potential without glossing over the artist’s inscribed value. Whether a large group show, or a specific thematic exhibition, the curator should preserve the meaning of the artwork and ensure visitors can interact within the dialogue of the show.

Selecting: Once the theme or concept is established, the next step of a curator’s job is selecting the work. The curator can spends weeks, months, or even years during this phase of curation. They will contact artists and galleries, diligently visiting their studios or finding ways to view the work in person. This step includes immense research and discovery in order to learn about each artist’s background and portfolio. When the curator feels they have the right artists for their particular exhibition, they will begin discussions around getting the work to the exhibition space.

Connecting: Connecting the work to the art historical canon is another crucial element of curation. As the definition of contemporary art continues to expand, we must remember that all art is in some way a response to what came before it. The context of a piece must always be considered when building an exhibition. Once that connection is established, the curator will need to find a way to express this vision to visitors in the space.

Arranging: The final part of a curator’s job is to determine how the art they have selected will be arranged and displayed. Keeping the previous elements in mind, the curator must now utilize their own creativity in order to stay true to their theme and enable the art and the environment to become a cohesive experience and form a story. While many of us are used to the “white cube” model of experiencing an exhibition, there are hundreds of ways to display artwork in any given space.

Click to apply for February 2018 Curatorial Role

Art on the Vine: The New Collector's Toolbox

Starting your fine art collection can be an intimidating prospect. Walking into white-walled galleries and silent museums, where everyone already seems to know all of the lingo, can make the fine art world seem inaccessible.

When Jessica Stafford Davis began engaging in the art community, this is what she thought. Now, after spending years teaching herself about the fine arts world and becoming an experienced collector, Davis understands that art can be for anyone who seeks it out. In 2013, she founded The Agora Culture, an online platform dedicated to educating collectors with all levels of experience, and connecting them with the most promising up-and-coming artists of color.

The Agora Culture


A unique resource that The Agora Culture offers is classes on collecting: Art Basics 101. The course is designed to give new collectors a high-level instruction on the basics of engaging with the art community. It answers questions about viewing art: How should we interact with gallerists? What should we expect from a museum experience? What are some art fairs and Biennales worth attending? It opens a discussion about acquiring work once you’ve gotten a sense of what you want: How do we participate in an auction? How do we insure our purchases? What kinds of payment plans are offered by artists and galleries?

Jessica Stafford Davis, founder of The Agora Culture Image Courtesy of The Agora Culture

Jessica Stafford Davis, founder of The Agora Culture
Image Courtesy of The Agora Culture

“Do your research,” Davis says immediately when asked about the most important advice for a new collector. “Read—there are great periodicals—Transition, ArtNews, Art in America, Art Forum. Use that to learn more about different artists and their practice.”

The Agora Culture is, in some ways, a research center in itself. If the course doesn’t answer all of your questions, its members are always available for one-on-ones. Part of Davis’ goals is to provide all of the knowledge she has accumulated open to everyone.


An important element Davis often found lacking in fine art communities was diversity. The lack of representation made certain spaces difficult for her to navigate. When she began The Agora Culture, she knew that it would be a space specifically for artists of color, so that she could put her resources into changing the climate and opening conversations about fine art to a larger demographic.

Art on the Vine 

This year, The Agora Culture launches its first ever major event, Art on the Vine, in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. It is a one-day, ticketed event taking place on August 16 from 1 – 8 pm. The event provides both an intimate art fair, with up-and-coming artists picked by The Agora Culture for their fresh successes and promising outlook, and a panel of seasoned collectors sharing their experiences.

Image Courtesy of Art on the Vine

Image Courtesy of Art on the Vine

Martha’s Vineyard

Davis chose Martha’s Vineyard for its active creative community, especially during its bustling summer months. She had vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard a few times and was impressed by its diversity and engagement. With its history of scholars, artists, and art collectors, it emerged as the ideal place to establish an annual event and a lasting relationship.

Talent on the Vine

The artists on the roster are all emerging talent sourced from all over the country. Nearly all have received MFA’s from premier arts institutions, and many have shown in museums, awarded fellowships and participated in residences. They are proud to feature work by artists such as Vanessa German, Mequitta Ahuja, David Antonio Cruz, Jamea Richmond Edwards—just to name a few. They are “investment-grade artists,”: artists whose work has a high potential of appreciation. Art on the Vine aims to connect these artists with collectors at the onset of their careers to form relationships that can benefit both artist and collector in the future.

Conversations About Collecting

The panel will feature two formidable collectors, with distinguished taste and experience:  Peggy Cooper Cafritz, a collector of African American fine art, and Bob and Faye Davidson, philanthropists and collectors of contemporary art. During this one-hour panel, from 2:30 – 3:30 pm, Cafritz and the Davidsons will share the wisdom they’ve gained in their years as collectors, and discuss the importance of supporting the arts.

The Residency

This is a completely non-profit event and all ticket proceeds will go towards the The Agora Culture’s AOTV Residency program, debuting in summer 2017 as a 4-week residency in Martha’s Vineyard. It will continue Art on the Vine’s relationship with the Martha’s Vineyard arts community and give one artist of color the opportunity to spend a month focused on their practice. 

 Art on the Vine will take place on Tuesday, August 16, from 1 – 8 pm. General and VIP Tickets are still available! Don’t miss this chance to participate in an open and informative  summer arts event.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016: Puloma Ghosh

Artist Spotlight: Caron Tabb

Hollow Through My Core (2015) Acrylic and charcoal on canvas 48 × 30 in

Hollow Through My Core (2015)
Acrylic and charcoal on canvas
48 × 30 in

Caron Tabb’s paintings are born from a continuous stream of energy, flowing from her emotional core, through her body, and onto the canvas. Each piece is a series of choices—technique, material, color, line—which come together in an emotive composition that elicits a unique visceral response from each viewer

Tabb sees the canvas is a fluctuating, enduring surface. She compares it to the hair she lost in overcoming cancer as a teenager: something that can be regrown, reimagined, and reclaimed again and again as she paints. Her canvas has the ability to take in everything she throws at it, and transform her raw feelings into something productive and beautiful.

Having studied fashion design, Tabb brings an openness to alternative materials into her work. She explores a number of techniques, many of which incorporate natural, eco-friendly materials. She has been recently experimenting with rust dyeing, a technique in which the oxidization of rust transfers over to paper or fabric using tannins. Tea, wine, vinegar, even ocean water, can all be used to transfer rust in unexpected ways, imparting the soft, earthy colors of patina.

“I have a great appreciation for what elements do to materials,” Tabb explained. “The wind, the water, the rain, rust—you almost capture a moment in time. You never know what you’re going to find.”

Window of Tolerance Pastel, acrylic and charcoal on paper

Window of Tolerance
Pastel, acrylic and charcoal on paper

Tabb’s paintings all, in a way, carry that theme of capture. She works with her canvas on the floor, moving around it with her entire body to make bold marks. She captures movement, time, and above all, the mental and emotional state of the artist at that specific time—something that she will never experience in quite the same way again. That is the part of the magnetism of her work: it draws something out of its audience that is familiar, and yet impossible to experience again in any other context.

Many of her pieces have specific context for herself as well. “Window of Tolerance”, for instance, is everything about a loved one who was suffering from severe depression several years ago, and the process they went through together in coping with it. It refers to the psychological term “window of tolerance”, which teaches people who suffer from deep-seated negative thinking to expand their capacity to tolerate such feelings. Instead of being consumed, they work through these thoughts—expand their window of tolerance for them.

To Tabb, this open conversation about mental and emotional health is important in her work. She allows her paintings to display these concerns in plain sight to be understood and accepted. As these concerns evolve, and her relationship with them shifts, her paintings change along with it.

“He’s doing great by the way,” Tabb breaks a smile after this difficult conversation. “Which, by the way, is the reason why there’s so much more color in my work now.”

Caron Tabb's studio in Newton, MA

Caron Tabb's studio in Newton, MA

Caron Tabb’s work is above all, about being fearless. Fearless about her techniques and her materials, fearless about where her process will take her and what she will discover along the way, and fearless about how much of herself is laid out within it. This assertive approach is what allows her to create identifiable work that the viewer can respond to.

“There’s no downside to being bold. I just go, and there’s something very liberating about that. I feel like I’m just getting going, like I’ve just begun to peel away from the surface.”

Be sure to experience Caron Tabb’s recent work in Abigail Ogilvy Gallery’s summer group show, The Tides, opening Thursday, July 14, 2016.


Wednesday, June 22: Puloma Ghosh

Curator Interview: Meredyth Hyatt Moses on Collecting Art

"There is never anything better than looking at an artist's work in person."

We sat down with Meredyth Hyatt Moses, an independent curator and former gallerist, who owned and directed Clark Gallery in Boston for decades, and asked her for advice on collecting art. Her involvement in developing Boston arts' scene gives her experience and insight on what it means to be a Boston collector.  Here's what she had to say:

1. Were you already collecting before opening your gallery, and what made you decide to start buying art?

We were just beginning to collect art and it was because our home in Weston needed to have interesting art on the walls.  After opening the gallery on November 15, 1976 we decided it would be great to move into more serious collecting.  

2.     Do you remember the first piece you purchased?

The very first piece we collected may have been Bernard Buffet prints in the mid 50’s when were just married.  Could not afford original paintings yet.  

3. What resources do you suggest to a first time collector for how to get started?

Of course now with all that technology has to offer you can go online to look at various galleries and artists throughout the country and even beyond, but there is never anything better than looking at artist’s work in person. Visit museums locally and nationally.  Visit galleries in the same way.  Whenever traveling to new cities visit the local galleries.  We in Boston have a wonderful opportunity to visit art galleries, which are mostly on Harrison Ave in SoWa, but don't forget Gallery NAGA and Barbara Krakow in our Back Bay Newbury Street, where almost all of our galleries were in the 80’s and 90’s. Also, frequently in various artist’s neighborhoods like Ft. Point Channel there will be two openings  a year of artist studios where they live and work.  That gives a potential buyer a leg up to discover someone great.

4. When do you know it’s the right time to buy a piece?

You know when to buy a work of art when you see something that you truly cannot leave behind and must have.  My rule of thumb was to always go to reputable galleries where you know the work is carefully selected, and then if you can say "OMG" three times, buy it!  Be sure to stay within your budget and size and get help from a professional or the gallery in doing the installation.  Installing your new purchases properly is so important.  

5. Thoughts on buying from emerging vs. established artists?   

As a young gallerist, I did buy prints of the major 50’s artists like Jim Dine, Claus Oldenburg, David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, etc. But within a year or so of being very successful with that, I personally realized that I did not have anything to do with their careers. I wanted to help the ever emerging good artists in Boston.  In earlier days, most developing artists had to move to NYC to really get their careers going, but in the late 70’s and all through the 80’s and 90’s, they could live and work in Boston, and their careers took off.  We started Boston Art Dealer’s Association (BADA) and shared ideas and became a national presence for the artists by participating in major Art Fairs in Chicago and NYC.  If you live and work in Boston, I encourage you to buy the work of local artists,  but never exclude the ICA, MFA, deCordova and beyond to find out what is going on nationally as well.  

6.     What is your favorite part of collecting?

My favorite part of collecting has always been personal education and a deep appreciation for the privilege of being challenged daily by the art in my nest.  All of the art becomes my friends and enriches daily visual life.