Mitchell Klink quickly immersed himself in Bermuda’s art scene after moving to the island, joining the board of the Bermuda National Gallery 6 months later. Having spent over 10 years at Atlanta’s High Museum, where he led docent tours and gave talks, Mitchell joined BNG with a focus on visitor experience, arts education and strategic planning, culminating in the curation of Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape.
With a full-time role as a consultant at Ernst & Young, Mitchell dedicates much of his spare time to the gallery, supporting board meetings and gallery events and leading engaging and insightful tours for visitors on Saturdays.
We caught up with Mitchell to discuss how, as a boy, a fascination with Lichtenstein’s Bull Profile Series led to a passion for the arts, what it was like to curate an exhibition of this scale for the first time and why, for him, the local arts community has been a highlight of his Bermuda experience.
BNG: How much did you know about the local art scene before moving to Bermuda and what is your impression of it today?
MK: I wasn’t familiar with the local art scene before deciding to move to Bermuda. On my first visit, David Brown took me to an event at Masterworks, where he is a board member. David’s generosity, and the Bermuda arts community I met there and since have been a highlight of my Bermuda experience. Bermuda has a long history of great collectors, artists, and institutions. But we cannot take this for granted — the arts are always a fragile ecosystem, supported by contribution of caretakers.
BNG: You spent over 10 years at the High Museum in Atlanta, where you volunteered in the docent programme and gave tours and talks. Could you please tell us a bit about your experience there?
MK: The High has 140 docent volunteers giving over 3000 tours a year – more than 80% of the tours and volunteers focus on weekday school groups. As a working professional, my volunteer availability is evenings and weekends, and I primarily gave tours and talks with adult visitors. We trained and used varied techniques – curriculum-related, visual thinking strategies, games, slow looking – to offer variety.
I created formats and programs to appeal to young adults, casual visitors, and corporate event attendees – people who want an experience that makes the art approachable, provides information and perspective, and doesn’t require the commitment of a full tour.
BNG: Your role as a trustee at BNG combines your strategic thinking and professional experience with your passion for art. Could you please tell us a little bit about your role on the board?
MK: From the first meeting, Executive Director Peter Lapsley was open to discussing how I could work with the BNG on visitor experiences, arts education, and strategic planning. Peter, BNG Chairman Gary Philips, and the whole board have been open to my input and ideas – culminating in guest curating this exhibit. Everything at the BNG is collaborative – I can contribute structure and approach, but no one has a monopoly on ideas – ideas come from everyone: the community, members, staff, board, collaborators….
BNG: You are also very involved on the ground, giving talks and tours and now curating the exhibition. This a unique position to be in. Has curating the exhibition given you any insights into the day-to-day operations of the gallery that you weren’t aware of previously?
MK: The entire team is professional, dedicated, and totally hands-on. Arts organizations are often scrappy – like a start-up or small business – and BNG is no different. Everyone contributes and the juxtaposition of tasks can be dramatic and even funny: climbing a ladder to adjust lights, then welcoming a minister; meeting with lenders one moment, then vacuuming eraser and drill dust from the walls; collating and bundling postcards, then popping champagne at an opening.
The staff and dedicated volunteers are all-in. At some level I knew this: it all gets done by someone, of course. But to see it all come together for an exhibition opening is exciting. If you’ve been part of a play, organized a board-meeting or major event, you know how that feels – it’s a production.
As a board member, I help the institution balance aspirations and resources. Close engagement with the BNG team in the creation of an exhibit makes that less abstract.
BNG: This is the first exhibition that you have curated at this scale. What other exhibitions and curatorial projects have you worked on? Is this something that you are keen to do more of?
MK: I’ve been involved at the concept-stage and in selection and editing of exhibitions at institutions, commercial galleries, and private collections – mainly with contemporary art. The idea-stage is fun and I’m constantly planning out shows in my head. It’s like creating a fantasy football team, a dream cast for a movie, or a playlist.
After the idea stage, the effort and complexity gets real, and project management skills come in handy – securing selected works, organizing the logistics and hanging, and developing supporting content and programming. It would not have been possible for me to do that without the significant contributions of the BNG staff: Peter, Eve, Lara, and Alice. I would like to curate more, and soon, but the next one will be smaller in scale.
BNG: Where did you get the idea for Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape?
MK: Growing up, a friend’s parents had prints from Lichtenstein’s Bull Profile Series that fascinated me. There are six images ranging from a traditional etching-like image of a bull, through a cubist bull decomposition, to a Mondrian-like composition of squares. I like different ways of seeing and creating. I was interested how people had strong opinions and preferences – more realist or more abstract. This still interests me.
Maybe 18 months ago, I rehung two paintings at home and liked how it worked. I thought – this could work to bring together historic and contemporary landscape art in Bermuda. I discussed and developed the idea with friends; I got ideas and encouragement from Jacqueline Alma, Sophie Cressall, Hayley Skurowski, Wilena White, George Peterich, Peter Lapsley, and many others.
BNG: Could you please talk us through your vision for the exhibition?
MK: I wanted an exhibit that would have something for different perspectives and preferences, and with different experiences and expectations. I conceived of the exhibit in three parts. “Realism, depth, and space” would be the most traditional. A section on “Light, atmosphere and color”, would start with impressionism and include abstract works using nature’s colors. “Line, shape, and form” would include realist and abstract works with a focus on composition and structure.
BNG: What do you hope that visitors will take away from it?
MK: I hope visitors will see how different works are connected. For traditionalists, I hope to draw a connection to more-abstract work that is based on observing the world around us. For modernists, I hope they see ingenuity, innovation, and creativity in representational work. I hope to encourage close-looking and consideration of the artistic choices that result in the rich variety.
BNG: The exhibition brings together 39 works pulled across a number of different sources, including the BNG’s permanent collection, corporate and private collections and direct loans from local artists. What was the starting point in selecting the works and how did this evolve?
MK: I pulled first from the permanent collection, showing Bermudian connoisseurship and collecting: Richard Wilson from the Watlington Collection, Charles Lloyd Tucker from the Young Collection, E. Abrose Webster from the David White collection. Then I contacted artists whose work would strengthen the three sections of the exhibit.
Many artists generously loaned – Antoine Hunt, Abi Box, Marion Watlington. Others helped me with recommendations. Sharon Muhamad reminded me that Otto Trott would be an important inclusion; Tina Hutchings showed me work by her mother Nancy Valentine; Flora Goodall showed me the spectacular Jason Bereswill painting; Charles Zuill’s writings pointed me to Rory Jackson; Julie Sylvester told me about the Jennifer Bartletts in Chubb’s collection. Ian Hind suggested and offered the James Toogood and Chris Grimes paintings. Deryn Lavell and Steve Johnson sent me to Steven Masters. John Cox offered the Prosper Louis Senat and outstanding William Chadwick. I found Erik Gamble’s Jabarute on a BNG tour of the Bacardi collection.
The hardest part is the editing. Every piece is selected on its merits, but the pieces need to work in the space and in relation to one another. Choices are made in separate viewing and the selections don’t always work together when side-by-side in the gallery. There are many factors: wall dimensions, art and frame sizes, and the much-needed visual space between. While some combinations don’t work as planned; some new connections are made. I didn’t know that the Abi Box and Antoine Hunt paintings would have quite the effect they do beside each other – and I hadn’t connected that they are the exact same height. I selected more works than are on display at this moment – I’ve held back some works that will rotate into the show.
BNG: You worked closely with many local, living artists on the exhibition. Could you please talk us through this process?
MK: For this exhibit, it is important to show continuity and connectivity across time and place. Even in the most traditional part of this exhibit, half of the works are by living artists, and three were made in the last two years.
It is a great opportunity to spotlighting local living artists. Some artists I already knew, like Abi Box and Eli Cedrone. Some, I knew the work, but had to find and make contact like Charles Zuill. Some were recommended by other artists, like Teresa Kirby Smith who was recommended by Tina Hutchings. In each case, I made contact and explained my intention with the show. I told them why I was interested in their work for the show and asked if they had work that would fit. For several months, every Saturday and Sunday included visits to collections and studios. It was a huge joy. I also just looked and engaged whenever I could. The Bermuda Plein Air painters go out each Sunday. The BSOA rotates shows every month.
BNG: You also collect contemporary work yourself. When did you start collecting art and what do you tend to look for?
MK: I got my first serious painting in high-school – it’s a color field oil painting with a horizon line by St Louis artist Fredrick Nelson. Funny enough, an abstract landscape. Over the past 20 years, I have collected and gotten to know artists everywhere I’ve lived. My taste is broad: I love dark and minimal works – like Antoine Hunt’s roofline. I also love bold colorful geometric works – like Cathy Lapsley’s painting. Themes include transformation, making, and looking.
I mostly collect small scale – I have budget and space constraints, and I like how small works can pull you in. I have far more art than wall because I live in small places – I rotate and rehang all the time. Here, I have fewer pieces and hang more sparingly. In my tiny place in Atlanta, I hang things up to the ceiling and rotate constantly.
BNG: Have you added any Bermuda art to your collection since moving here?
MK: I have small pieces by several artists living and working in Bermuda. My first acquisitions were a photo-realist painting by Rogerio Trott from BSOA, and an encaustic landscape by Sharon Muhammad from Gallery 117. My most recent are a Jayde Gibbons photograph from Black Pony and seascape in oil by Michele Smith from the Art Centre at Dockyard.
Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape is on display at Bermuda National Gallery through to October.