The first things you’re likely to notice upon entering the BCA Center’s new Vermont Metro Gallery are Kathleen Schneider’s explosive, hanging flower-petal sculptures. The two orb-like “Bouquets” — made from deconstructed fake flowers and wire, some of it twisted into the shape of miniature helicopters — hover like floral fireworks in front of small, deep windows looking toward Lake Champlain.
This is the fourth floor of the Church Street art center. The small, roughly square room in the eaves of the old firehouse most recently served as studio space to 2013 Barbara Smail Award winner Kate Donnelly. But since last month, it’s been transformed into a commercial gallery space dedicated exclusively to Vermont artists.
Back in 1982, when Burlington City Arts opened Metropolitan Gallery, its first exhibition space, in city hall, the goal was to show work by local artists. But when it moved into the firehouse, BCA broadened its horizons, showing more and more contemporary artwork from farther afield. These days, the BCA Center stands out in the local art scene because it’s one of few places where Vermonters can be exposed to art from around the nation and the world.
Still, for several years, says Kerri Macon, BCA director of sales and manager of the new gallery, the organization has been itching to return to its roots and dedicate a new space to Vermont artists.
At first BCA looked into using commercial spaces elsewhere in town, but the cost was prohibitive.
“It took a change of curators, timing, and we had residencies still lined up,” notes Macon, who says the Barbara Smail residency will continue in a different location on Pine Street.
Macon, who will curate the rotating exhibits, sees the Vermont Metro Gallery as “a graduation point from some of the other galleries around town.” She says that BCA’s reputation as a venue that exhibits high-quality contemporary art from around the country is likely to raise the profile of the local art displayed upstairs. “We know what good contemporary art looks like,” she says.
Still, the VMG will have a different flair. While the artwork shown in BCA’s main galleries is often fairly conceptual, Macon is looking for more of an aesthetic emphasis on the fourth floor. After all, this is a commercial gallery. She will be seeking out “really great conceptual art that’s also really beautiful and professionally presented,” she says.
Macon’s inaugural exhibit certainly fits the bill. Schneider’s flowery orbs — despite the mission-ready helicopters lurking within the petals — are so pretty you might consider using them as wedding decorations. Schneider lives in Winooski and teaches sculpture at the University of Vermont, but Macon first saw her work in a gallery in Brooklyn. “I just fell in love with them,” she recalls.
On an adjacent wall hang the abstract paintings of John Gonter, a Burlington-based artist and musician who works at Dealer.com — many of his expressive works adorn the walls of that South End business. Macon selected Gonter for her first show because of his “really great potential on the marketplace,” she says. One of the works on display, “Irises,” is made up of splatters of yellow, blue and brown oil paint, echoing the explosiveness of Schneider’s “Bouquets.”
The next wall presents the prints of retired UVM art prof Bill Davison. Macon says she has known his work for years, often having spotted it in the homes of local art collectors. Davison’s series “Moments of Darkness,” which he completed for the 10th anniversary of September 11, is on display. It features rows of uniquely textured watercolor monotypes standing side by side in parallel towers.
Don Ross’ photographs of Vermont quarries command attention on the north wall of the gallery. “He’s really throwing his heart and soul into his art,” Macon says of the Brandon artist. From a distance, Ross’ large-scale prints appear almost abstract, as if they were simply stacked rectilinear shapes — similar to Davison’s towers. But a closer look reveals abandoned quarries marked with tiny details, such as a worn-down fence along the rock edge, or a tangle of rope left behind from a long-ago task.
To fund the new gallery, BCA has rolled out a kind of CSA — in this case, community-supported art — financing model. So far, 13 founding members have contributed $3000 each. In return, each receives use of the gallery for private events, a $750 credit toward the purchase of gallery artwork, and other perks. “You’re basically writing a check to an artist,” says Macon, who aims to get at least another 12 members on board.
As director of the new gallery, Macon says her job isn’t just about seeking out Vermont artists but also about cultivating local art buyers. “I don’t expect people to walk off Church Street and spend $4000 on a set of prints,” she says. To that end, she’s planning to hold events at which interested collectors can browse more work by exhibiting artists.
Macon has been working at BCA since 2010. After a childhood spent watching her interior-designer mother transform spaces, she went on to earn a master’s degree in cultural history and has experience in business management and a woodworking hobby. She suggests that background uniquely qualifies her to run the new gallery. “I can build things, beautify things, and I can do your budget,” she says, smiling.
Moving forward, Macon hopes to challenge herself by showing artwork that caters to a variety of aesthetic preferences. As for the current show, it’s a reflection of her personal tastes. “I just want to live here,” Macon says.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Bringing It All Back Home"