How do you write about your first “real” show? It started out as just an idea. Charley Neff ’09-’10 came to visit for a month, brought some watercolors he had done with them, and wanted to show them. “Why don’t we have some kind of a group show?” he asked one day over dinner. Why not? It could be done for cheaply enough, if the IAU would let us use their Great Hall for free. So the idea started snowballing, and before too long, vague notions of having some kind of a group show became more concrete. The show would involve four of the ten Fall 2009 Marchutz School alumni, Charley, Mary Hamilton, Nick Velleman, and myself, O’Neill Cushman, because we were all back together in Aix for the month. We would hold it on Tuesday, June 12th at IAU. The room was officially reserved, and now all we had to do for the next couple of weeks was paint and try not to think about it. Fast-forward about 2 weeks. It is the weekend before the show. We have all been working hard with the goal of maybe having some fresh, never-before-seen work on the walls. But now the other, very different challenge begins. We have to choose work, and hang it. The idea of us all having an equal share in the decision-making process must have been important, because at no point did selecting one of us to jury and hang the show come up. So we all grabbed all the work we would want to show and brought it to Mary’s apartment. Over lots of coffee, we slowly eliminated works from the show, going artist by artist, but keeping the whole collection in mind. Our strategy was to walk into the room with about twice as many paintings as we could hang, and then work with what we brought to create the best show possible. Little did we know that would be the hard part.
The selection process took about three hours. Not so bad. Once we had finished, we took a quick lunch break and headed to the main hall and began what would become a nine-hour process of hanging the show. I can’t really do the process justice in words. All I can say is that I’m extremely glad I did this show with people I love and respect as people and as artists, because it is not easy, and when it comes to art, people can be very opinionated. But we laughed our way through it. When we disagreed with the positioning or order of the paintings, we tried something else, and decided, all together, which was best. It was an organic process, and the result was astonishing. Standing in a room full of my own art and the art of my most respected peers, at the end of the day, filled me with hope. This is really happening.
The next two days were about making the show a success. We bombarded the town with last-minute posters, and we picked up a ton of chips, peanuts, and wine. I made a gigantic bowl of my increasingly famous hummus, and we waited for our moment with anxious excitement (or was it eager anxiety?). Finally, at T minus 45 minutes, the last class in the great hall ended, and we raced in to set up the aperitif station, do some last minute adjusting and photography of the works we hoped would sell, check the levels on the music, and just pace around nervously.
When we opened our doors we saw something amazing. People had actually begun waiting outside! We’re not sure how many people came to our little one-room vernissage, but the room quickly filled up and stayed full late into the night. I have to admit that, at first, I was extremely nervous. My only real showing experience before this had been school shows at the end of the semester. With only four of us, it felt like the pressure really was on. My anxiety peaked at a somewhat silly moment. I was schmoozing in the corner and a friend approached me. “You have someone who wants to give you a compliment,” he said. My whole body swelled in excitement. My first real compliment! Could they be interesting in buying a work? Was this my big break? My friend led me over to an old French lady, presenting me as the man behind the masterpiece. “I just wanted to tell you that this hummus is absolutely amazing!” she said (in French, of course) smiling, clearly unaware of the disappointment that had washed over me like a tsunami of unmet aspirations. I thanked her, and dejectedly walked her through not only the ingredients but the process as well, wondering what it meant that my most popular work was made of chickpeas.
But I had no reason to worry. Towards the end of the night, it was made clear to us all that we had done good work. Every painter sold at least two works from the show, and it was deemed by those who know what they are talking about to have been an absolute success. Alan Roberts called it the best show ever to be hung in the space.
I am incredibly honored and humbled to have been able to work with three other talented artists, and I want to thank everyone who attended, as well as the IAU, for allowing us to show in their magnificent space. And for those who didn’t get to come, don’t worry. There will be more.
-O’Neill Cushman, Alumni Fellow