LUNCH BREAK WITH DOUGLAS TURNER
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
The Curator Discusses how his Latest Exhibition, Structured Optimism, Delves into the Story-Telling, Soothsayin & Myth Making of New Beginnings and Possibilities
I was first introduced to Douglas Turner through mutual friends at a wintery dinner party in Brooklyn. With his striking tall stature and artfully chosen outfit, I felt immediately drawn to his warm smile and exuberant energy. I was already familiar with his work as a curator having seen Which Bridges to Cross and Which to Burn by artists Ayana Evans & Tsedaye Makonnen, which included striking photography of themselves commanding space for Black women through bold poses and fluorescent-colored costumes. Our meeting later led to Douglas interviewing artist Nona Faustine on her photography series White Shoes at Troutbeck during the Troutbeck Symposium.
Structured Optimism is the third exhibition he has curated for Standard Space gallery in Sharon, CT and once again he has chosen to focus on women artists. To better understand what inspires and drives Douglas, a gay and black man in the art world, we got together to discuss his background and heritage as well as how he strives to bring equity for BIPOC, specifically women, queer, and transgendered, to the arts.
How did you become involved in the art world? Could you tell us about how you became an art curator?
After attending the New School for Public Engagement, I began writing for the art world as a way to address larger social and cultural concerns. For me art is a boundless vehicle for such expressions. It wouldn't be long before I began curating, it seemed a natural progression. Around 2015 I began AOT Project Salon. Work was shown on the second floor of the little wedge house in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn that I call home. I mounted 12 shows over the course of several years.
What is your relationship and history with Standard Space? How does the gallery provide a blank canvas for your work as a curator?
I have a long history of friendship and artistic collaboration with the founder of the gallery, Theo Coulombe, dating back to the early to mid-2000s. We were neighbors and both hosted exhibitions out of our private spaces. His was Brooklynphoto Studio and the One Night Only Art series, which he ran out of his massive home and studio loft. One of my final shows at AOT Project Salon, was "Water Down a Drain" an exhibition of Theo's photographs, including light boxes.
Our friendship has nurtured a great deal of trust between us. My role at Standard Space is to introduce this beautiful Northwest corner of Connecticut to a roster of women artists from the BIPOC community and Queer artists, as well. To be given space to create a platform in unexpected places is a thrilling curatorial experience. People pay attention to equity in the arts.
Elan Cadiz, 2 Doors, Acrylic, oil pastel, images and marker on 3/4 inch plywood,
42.5in x 49.5”, 2018
What is your new exhibition Structured Optimism about?
Optimism seen as naivety is a privileged perspective. But the truth is, woven into our inner dialogues of self-preservation and the creation or continuation of cultural practices, and beliefs, is an outlook that seeks concepts, like equity and stability. When we seek to fortify ourselves or take a stance of resistance in an imperfect world, we are taking up with an optimistic outlook. The work exhibited delves into the storytelling, soothsaying and myth-making of new beginnings and possibilities.
Yvette Molina, Isonomia, 24K gold leaf, metal leaf, acrylic ink, mixed media collage on paper,
75 x 44”, 2017 - 2021
Could you please tell us a little bit about each artist, and how their pieces that you have chosen tie into the theme of the exhibition?
Elan Cadiz is a New Yorker currently residing in Harlem. Her practice gives us a unique perspective of the rapidly changing New York City landscape and its many subtle instances. In some of her work architecture and structure come into nuanced play addressing ideas of equity, self, and community care. For Structured Optimism, we are exhibiting three large works from her Building Conflict Series. Yvette Molina's New Pantheon series emotes a sensation for me, energy for sure, so natural that science has always been enthralled by it. And for sure, all energy becomes recognizable either audibly or visually. In Molina's words, the New Pantheon works are paintings of hybrid gods born to confront the world’s challenges. Much of her work is filled with fertile hope. I’ve also included two intimate self-portraits from an as of yet named series of new works. Working with acrylic, egg tempura and colored pencil, the paintings reflect the artist’s relationship with the giving nature of this garden we call earth and perhaps her role as protector.
Katarra Peterson, Formative 2, acrylic, kanekalon, hand-stitching, adhesive and glitter on canvas,
60 x 80”, 2022
Katarra Peterson uses kanekalon (artificial hair) hand-stitched over breathy landscapes that depict the many diasporic liminal spaces. Quite literally, a place of hope, as Ohio was secretively known during the underground railroad. Light plays a role in evoking a glowing sense of optimism, as well. Embarking on a dialogue with pressing themes from food justice, xenophobia, hyper-consumerism and ancestral knowledge, Lina Puerta's work explores our constant cycle of life and death, and beautiful decay working with an abundance of manipulated materials, from paper and lace to artificial plants and found or recycled objects. She brings her dual perspectives informed by her Columbian and American upbringing and heritage.
Lina Puerta, Untitled, (Rose) wood, polyurethane, concrete, wire, acrylic sheeting, paint, fabric, lace, artificial moss, beads, trims, swarovski crystals and flock, 21.5 x 19 x 1.25”, 2014
Last but not least, I understand that you have ancestral ties to the local area. Could you tell us a little more about them and how your family history inspires you as a curator?
I was born and raised in the New York’s Capital Region. My paternal Grandmother, Helen Adele Freeman-Turner (1905-2002), born and raised in Albany, was the great grandchild of Idelbert Burghardt, whose second great grandfather, Tom Etson-Burgh, came from Chad to Great Barrington sometime in the mid 1700s. Idelbert was also the brother of W.E.B. Du Bois, my third great uncle.
Interestingly, I only learned of this when I was in my late teens. My aunt informed me on her death bed. It surprises me that I did not learn this sooner because as is the norm, Black Americans face great difficulty building a complete family tree. This lineage is one of my links to Africa, and to America’s founding era. Which is very exciting, for obvious reasons and it is one of the underpinnings of why I am here. The aim of much of my curatorial work is to make space for BIPOC, particularly women, queer, and transgendered artists. My practice seeks to create equity across the board. And in this region, my practice asks questions, one of which being, where does Blackness belong? Now of course, it belongs wherever we place our foot, but what is historical about this region of New York and Connecticut are the passage ways linked to the underground railroad, a focal point for abolitionism, and its long history of free and enslaved Black Americans. This is not common-knowledge outside of the region, and it is my hope that my work here contributes to a greater shared understanding of the importance the geography plays.
Standard Space is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5PM, and by appointment.
The exhibition ends on October 9th.