At the Clark Museum: Giselle’s New World
On a free admission day at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute a couple of weeks ago, 11-year-old Giselle Ciulla seems like just one of the many other well-behaved kids hanging out with their parents on a day’s cultural excursion. Upbeat and bubbly, she says she enjoys spending time with her family and doesn’t include art as a special passion. “I’m not an artist — it doesn’t really run in the family line” (her parents, standing nearby, erupt into laughter at this) “but I enjoy sketching in art class. I really like to write a lot, stories and poems. I’m not really a creative person; I don’t really do a lot of design, so this was a big surprise.” The “this” she is referring to is the fact that Ciulla is the youngest curator in the Clark’s history (or perhaps any other museum’s), and that the show we’re walking around in is itself called Giselle’s Remix. (It runs through January 20.)
As part of the Clark’s uCurate program, Ciulla designed her own installation using the museum’s interactive uCurate software, which allows participants to design their own gallery online with the chance that their virtual installations will be picked for a real-life mounting; Cuilla’s is the first, chosen over 1,000 other submissions. The fifth grader says her goal was simple: that visitors be moved when viewing the art she’s chosen and for each wall to have a different theme. One has images of nature; another exclusively features people working, while a different side contains paintings and ceramics in a wide variety of colors and textures. She chose Auguste Renoir’s painting “Japanese Dog,” for instance, (above right) not only because of its realistic detail but also because she loves dogs; a George Inness was picked for being “mysterious and atmospheric.’’ She then looks around and begins to giggle, admitting how excited she is. “This is the first time I’ve seen the show in real life” she says with a big smile.
Cuilla, who lives in a New York City suburb, has made several trips to the Clark in the past during visits to her grandparents, who live nearby. Walking around her space, she explains why each piece was chosen and where it went. For one of her favorites, “The Messenger” by Martin Drolling (above left), Ciulla admits that while (like many of us) she had never heard of the painter before, his work really stayed with her. “I like it because it seemed a bit round in my eye. There aren’t any sharp lines and people’s faces looked very realistic. Even though the colors are really dark, everything pops out at me. I noticed a lot of things, like the people’s facial expressions and the light shining through the window.“ Every painting has a different emotive quality, the conveyance of which was the deciding factor in where they were to be located. She liked the isolation in the painting at right, “Sleigh Ride” by Winslow Homer (“Nothing else is alive, just the horse and the rider”) and chose it for the same wall as Frederic Remington’s “The Scout,” because they both emit a “sad and lonely feeling.” Pigments were also important. “I chose most of paintings based on colors, I picked whichever ones would stand out at me. I really like all different colors; I don’t have just one favorite. So when I was looking I picked ones with bold or brights. I wanted a lot of those,” she says. Ciulla chose blue for many of the walls and display cases because “a lot of my paintings have blue in them and I thought everything should match.”
Her evident ease with the subject of art may have sprung from time spent at museums in the area. In addition to the Clark, a favorite is MASS MoCA, which she visits often. After learning she had been chosen for the Remix project, her parents took her to Italy to see Florence’s Uffizi gallery. She says she really paid attention to what she saw there in preparation for the work ahead. “Whenever I came here before I never thought about who made the galleries. I didn’t realize it took so much work . Now that I know, it might be something I would like to do when I’m older.”
Kathleen Morris, Director of Collections and Exhibitions, explains what stood out about Giselle amongst the large number of submissions. “We all unanimously gravitated towards her because of her ability to articulate why she chose the art. When reading her description of some of the paintings she selected, we were all like, ‘wow!’ We couldn’t have come up with that because it was such a fresh perspective. We just saw a kernel in what she had already done and thought that she would be able to take that and turn it into artful expression. We hit a home run when we found her.”
So, how does Giselle compare to other curators who have worked at the Clark? “She’s a dream! Hitting all her deadlines and very enthusiastic, punctual and no ego.” says Morris, “I’ve dealt with a lot of other guest curators and none were as easy to work with. It’s been great to see someone so young and passionate about art. She can be a great example to other kids.”
“It’s really interesting,” Giselle adds, “because the more I told my friends about what I was doing, the more it made me realize what a big deal it is.” Standing together in her uniquely coordinated exhibit, you can’t help get the feeling that it might be the start of something big (or at least a little bigger). —Rachel Louchen