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CORNERED: ALI GOODWIN, DIRECTOR AND CURATOR, DRIFT GALLERY

Ali Goodwin, Drift Gallery director.

Drift Gallery director Ali Goodwin in front of a painting by Tyson Jacques.


Portsmouth, NH – Located alongside a winding country road in Portsmouth, N.H., the grounds of the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion Historic Site is the unlikely, yet scenic location for Drift Gallery, a contemporary gallery space that is run and curated by Alicia “Ali” Goodwin. This is no small feat, as to get art outside of major cities is a tough task, and Goodwin has done so with extreme vigor and skill.

Its final exhibition of 2013, “Last Word,” which closed on November 2, was an eclectic and well-made comprehensive discussion of language and text that featured a storybook dress by Ryan Jude Novelline, a selection of Goodwin’s photographs from her series ‘Body Language’, large panel paintings by Dennis Michael Jones and Tyson Jacques, a video portrait by Robert Wilson and a neon installation by TED Fellow, Alicia Eggert. This past weekend, artscope online zine reporter Cole Tracy “cornered” Goodwin as visitors trickled through on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

YOU’RE A PHOTOGRAPHER AND A CURATOR; HOW DO YOU RELATE THE TWO AND WHICH ONE IS MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU?

They are symbiotic. When I think about other galleries and curators and their backgrounds, they are via definition, art history majors. I went to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) — I have a degree in graphic design — but I did a large portion of my work in photography. I started curating while I was at RISD — I worked at Hasbro, the toy company, and they started asking me to curate the president’s office and doing site-specific installations in their corporate buildings. As a curator you have to have a keen eye — that’s your strength — so being a photographer, artist and designer myself, having a clear, distinct vision is the most important element, and has served me well.
YOUR CURATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY CAN BE SEEN THROUGH ALL OF YOUR SELECTIONS. THERE IS A THREAD OF THE HIGHLY PERSONAL IN ALL THE WORKS, MANY PERSON-BASED WORKS AND PROJECTS THAT LOOK INWARD SUCH AS CIG HARVEY AND CALEB COLE.
I started out in a very small space, about the size of our current loft exhibition space, and that was the original Drift Gallery in 2010. They were very small exhibitions, but I showed a lot of work, from a lot of artists outside the area. I brought art in from people I went to school with and people that I was familiar with, and always work that resonated with me personally. I would mix it up: I’d have painting with sculpture and photographs with installations. It’s really important for me to have the pieces I choose not only speak to the viewer, but speak to each other. Drift Gallery is based on narrative: as a photographer, and as a writer, I’m infatuated with the story. So the work that I choose, such as Cig Harvey and Caleb Cole’s photographs, really goes back to how it speaks to me, how the pieces speak to each other, and how I hope the viewer will be able to converse with them as a whole.

TELL ME ABOUT THE WENTWORTH-COOLIDGE PROPERTY.

This property is about 400-years-old; we’re in a converted carriage house on the grounds of a historic mansion on the water. It is suspected that the building was designed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s nephew, Alexander. This (the gallery space) is where the horses were kept, the hay loft is now an exhibtion space, and the chauffeurs quarters are still intact in the other wing. This place is steeped in art history: John Singer Sargent and Isabella Stewart Gardner would work here in the summer; at the turn of the century it was an artists’ colony. So my goal was to turn this back into an artists’ colony of sorts — to instill a sense of place for the 21st century with work that is cutting edge for our time. I love to bring in work that you wouldn’t see in the downtown galleries; no lobster boats and lighthouses.

IT’S A SMALL PLACE BASED AROUND COMMUNITY; I THINK IT STARTS WITH YOUR CURATION. YOU CAN REALLY GET A SENSE THAT YOU ARE VERY INTIMATE WITH THE WORK; THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN THE PIECES IS VERY EVIDENT, THE WORK IS HIGHLY FOCUSED ON ONE FACET OF OUR EXISTENCE, LANGUAGE.

The show is called “Last Word” — and we’re going to have the last word before we end for the season. I want the core foundation of the show to be about conversation, and build on that with many mediums. The Brad Pitt video portrait is very confrontational for me; I have trouble watching it. It’s not visually unappealing; it’s Brad Pitt in his underwear. The off-beat cadence of the voice, the rain, the music, and then you turn around and have this beautiful, contemplative piece by Alicia Eggert: ‘Equation’ which says in neon, “art = people + place x time.” It gives me chills.

That’s what it’s all about, getting people to this place and giving them the time and space to take in every facet of it. Bringing in world-class work and creating this experience is by far the most important “last word” we could ever have. When I called Ryan Jude Novelline about his Golden Book Gown, he said, ‘That’s great, but the Smithsonian wants it.’ I don’t know when it’s going there, but I was in competition with them for the dress. And it’s amazing to have Robert Wilson video portraits coming in from all over the world, to have someone walk in and say, ‘The last time I saw that was in Torino.” It’s good for Portsmouth.

SO YOU’VE ONLY BEEN OPEN FOR THREE YEARS NOW?

I opened Drift Gallery in June of 2010, and ran it for a summer season. I was accepted in a residency in Berlin that fall and closed the gallery for the winter. I moved to Berlin at the end of October and was supposed to be gone for eight months, but I ended up coming home after two months because I found out I had cancer. Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital; I spent a lot of time curating exhibitions in my head to keep my mind off of things. When I was well enough to consider reopening Drift, I realized that I had grown beyond the space, and as luck would have it, someone from the Wentworth-Coolidge property reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in relocating.

THE ART WORLD IS HIGHLY CONTROLLED AND IT’S GREAT TO SEE POPULAR CONTEMPORARY WORK IN A MORE RURAL AREA; IT’S A FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY FOR THE COMMUNITY AND MUST HAVE BEEN HARD TO CONVINCE A LOT OF PEOPLE TO GET THEIR WORK OUT HERE.

My mother says I’m a collector of people. I have traveled the whole world many times and I’m so blessed to be able to forge the relationships that I have. The Sally Mann photographs came from a friend’s personal collection; there were many and I selected the five that I was in love with since college. I’m so grateful for all the help I received; I could not have done it on my own. People really came out of the woodwork and helped me get Drift going again, from all over the community. They really wanted this space to happen. When I reached out to the artists I wanted to show, only one turned me down, and that was only for logistical reasons. I get such satisfaction in supporting other artists, and giving them this kind of alternative space to show in.

I WOULD THINK THAT WHEN SOMEONE DOES TWO THINGS WITHIN THE ART WORLD, ONE TENDS TO TAKE OVER. YOU HAVE BALANCED THE TWO WELL AND YOUR VISION IS STRONG ARTISTICALLY AND CURATORIALLY.

Having cancer has been very clarifying. I’ve become an expert in paring down to the bare essentials of what I need to survive and make me happy, and only doing those things. I may not live in the lap of luxury, but every single day I am doing what I love. This is my passion, my vision, and my legacy. There is a certain strength in knowing that.

WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR?

I think were going to have some really big work next year. I can’t announce it yet, but some really fabulous exhibitions. It’s hard; I have to top what I’ve already done. It’s going to be great. One of the challenges is not being downtown, we don’t have foot traffic, this is its own destination. I would like to make this a destination that collectors seek out, that artists seek out and that people that want to have the experience will seek out. And that is happening, very quickly. The governor of New Hampshire comes in here quite often; I have curated her office. We’re a resource and I’d love people to know that. We have a classroom where we’ll be holding classes and workshops, too.

WHAT KIND OF WORKSHOPS?

Alternative drawing, photography, plein art drawing, oils, acrylics, figure drawing, foundations and alternative processes within photography. This winter there might be one or two, but we’re going to continue renovating the spaces.

(For more information on the Drift Gallery, visit drift-gallery.com or call (603) 379-6560. While the gallery is officially closed till April, 2014, it will be holding classes and events in the upcoming months; to keep updated on the Drift, follow it on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/driftgallery.)