Expect the Unexpected

Changes are happening at Stony Brook University’s Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery. This September, the new curator and director presents the first glimpse of her vision for the art space and it’s more youthful and risky than audiences might be used to. The gallery will still be presenting four to five shows each year—a combination of student shows and those of nationally recognized contemporary artists. Karen Levitov says she’s not afraid to mount exhibitions that may be “unexpected and challenging.” If visitors come hoping to see impressionistic paintings in gilded frames, the experience might be surprising, shocking even.

For her first show, she’s chosen an artist who exemplifies this direction. Kate Gilmore is a feminist performance artist Levitov first discovered a decade ago in a gallery on the Lower East Side. Gilmore will be creating a site-specific installation that combines sculpture, performance, painting and video. But neither she nor Levitov actually knows what the piece is going to be until it happens. Gilmore says part of the fun of her work is not knowing what to expect. And Levitov relishes this “edge of my seat” experience.

Levitov said Gilmore’s work “often pursues issues of gender and women’s struggle with societal obstacles… sometime she smashes through sheet rock, sometimes she creates and destroys clay pots filled with paint that create kind of a beautiful mess… and there’s humor, there’s absurdity, but there’s also this struggle and victory.” The resulting installations, she said, resemble abstract expressionism in three dimensions.

Not only will the gallery experience a shift in perspective, but with Levitov’s appointment, she too has experienced a change. For the last 12 years Levitov curated at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan where she developed and presented exhibitions ranging from contemporary artists to shows of Matisse and Pissarro. But it’s a big museum, with 4 floors of gallery space, a curatorial staff of about 20 working on exhibitions and approvals to be had. This is the first time Karen will be flying solo—Stony Brook has given her carte blanche.

“That’s definitely a big difference and it’s very exciting,” said Levitov, who grew up and studied in the Midwest, but completed her Ph.D. in art history at Stony Brook. She knew the gallery well, in fact she helped curate an exhibition at the Zuccaire about the expression of Jewish culture in the arts while she was still at the Jewish Museum. But in her new role, she will handle everything from choosing artists to publicity to placing the work and hosting receptions.

Her November exhibition, Form and Facture, will be slightly more traditional, presenting abstract paintings and sculptures by six Brooklyn-based artists. “There’s a scene of abstract artists coming out of Bushwick that has a big buzz. I’m hoping to bring some of that energy here.”

Levitov also has plans for big name artists down the line, noting, “I’m sure that at some point I’ll do some historical shows.” Her goal is to present exhibitions just as exciting as any museum and that “match the quality of the performances at the Staller Center,” but, at the same time, she’s “wanting to shake things up a bit.”

Kate Gilmore fills the expansive Zuccaire Gallery with a performance-based installation that includes painting, sculpture and video and invites viewers to rethink both women’s obstacles and their capabilities. Sept 6–Oct 18.

words: mary gregory | photo: lynn spinnato