About three years ago, I contacted Aimee Lusty to feature her work and practice on Make Space. At the time, Aimee was based in Brooklyn, while I was based in Chicago, but we remained in touch and informed of each other’s projects. Since moving to New York in 2012, I have not only met her IRL, but I have collaborated with her in various ways. Aimee is a prolific art organizer and maker, and her diverse practice consists of painting, making zines, and curating exhibitions, to name a few. During the day, she works at a midtown art gallery in Manhattan, and for the last few years she has dedicated the remainder of her time to managing and curating the exhibition program at Booklyn Artists Alliance. Since curating takes up most of her time, Aimee’s art making practice comes in waves. After every exhibition, she makes a large, new series of small paintings. On a Sunday afternoon earlier this month I visited Aimee’s studio, which is located in her Brooklyn apartment. She shares the large space with her partner, Scott Meyers, and her two cats.
Aimee’s practice extends through various disciplines and comes from a DIY ethos found in artists communities functioning outside the commercial art world. Her curatorial practice is both informed by her academic background in art history and inspired by her community of artist friends. From when she first began curating at a Video Gallery, a space she started with a friend in Bushwick, to her most recent exhibition Mike Taylor’s NO/FUTURE at Booklyn, Aimee’s principal goal as a curator is providing opportunities for underrepresented artists whose work is seldom seen in established art venues.
After submitting an exhibition proposal in the form of a book, she began organizing group exhibitions at Booklyn a few years ago. When she first began, her goal was to exhibit underrepresented, self-publishing artists together with established artists. Founded in 1999, Booklyn’s expansive network of artists allowed Aimee to work with established artists that were somewhat outside her comfort zone back then, and show them with younger, emerging artists. Most of the artists she exhibits work heavily in the zine and/or print medium and have limited exhibition opportunities. For each exhibition, Aimee offers the artists a chance to exhibit other kinds of artwork, whether painting or installation, alongside their zines. As a way to maintain a record of the exhibition, and to give the artists another opportunity to present their work, she creates an exhibition zine. Varying in design and content, each zine is conceived as an extension of the exhibition concept, rather than direct documentation of the actual exhibition.
In 2012, Aimee wrote a grant proposal for a yearlong program of group exhibitions and received funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) for 2013. The funding allowed her to create an even more robust program with educational workshops taught by the artists in the exhibitions. Through offering artists teaching opportunities and payment for exhibiting, she created an avenue for deeper engagement between the artists and gallery visitors. For 2014 Aimee has acquired funding from NYSCA and New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs to present solo exhibitions and produce limited edition artist’s books with each exhibition. Rather than attempting to raise funds by selling work, as a dealer or gallerist would, these grants enable her to focus on the art and artists.
Aimee and I discussed the distinctive qualities artist-curators possess and the effects it has on her process. Her exhibition concepts begin with visiting artists studios, and building around common strands and intersecting dialogues that appear in their work. As an artist-curator, she prioritizes the artist’s voice and intention before preconceived curatorial concepts. Generally, it is debated that the group exhibition is the curator’s medium, allowing for their curatorial ideas to flourish through the art objects displayed, somewhat relegating the artists to the background. While it is alluring for emerging curators to exercise this manner of exhibition making, Aimee rejects this way of working. She believes working within an established curatorial concept limits the artist’s work and imposes the curatorial voice on them. Furthermore, it restricts potential spontaneity and experimentation that may happen in the time between the studio visit and the final exhibition.
Another factor that affects Aimee’s process of curating is Booklyn’s gallery space, which is inside the organization’s workspace and contains several physical limitations. Although working with the space is a challenge, she approaches each installation as an experiment. The exhibitions are installed and presented thoughtfully, yet the handicap of the white cube is absent, resulting in accessible, conceptual shows. In addition, the workshops are also hosted inside the gallery space, letting participants make art while surrounded by artwork. Through the workshops participants are introduced to innovative processes that are affordable and require little equipment, promoting the possibilities that everyone can make art.
In terms of her art making practice Aimee makes paintings on a regular basis, but in a concentrated amount of time. Due to her busy exhibition schedule, she works quickly and fluidly when making art. She finishes small paintings within a day or two, allowing her to create a series of paintings within a week. This process of working provides her with a break from the stresses of organizing exhibitions. Within the serial format, her experiments with vibrant color give the paintings a sense of immediacy and a burst of energy when viewed together. Her paintings are abstract representations of everyday things, such as plants, dogs and boobs, and contain an intentional humor that requires the viewer to create their own interpretation. The paintings play with color, form, and perspective, simplifying representational details that transform these everyday objects into surreal imaginary narratives within our psyche.
Aimee’s processes showcases a confidence that comes with the maturity of her artistic and curatorial practice, creating thoughtful dialogues through her art and exhibitions. Aimee makes because she’s a maker.