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‘Taking Care’ with Richard Rinehart

August 5, 2012
By BRIAN BUSH ( , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

LEWISBURG - As the director of both the Samek Art Gallery and the Downtown Art Gallery, Richard Rinehart's daily routine goes something like this: eat, sleep, curate. For many, juggling two galleries year-round would present more of a burden than an opportunity. For Rinehart, however, having two galleries means he has twice the audience and, therefore, twice the opportunity to bring new and exciting art to the Lewisburg-Bucknell-Central Pa. community.

Rinehart is more than up to the challenge. He's a curator on a mission. "My charge is to scan the universe for great art and bring the best that I possibly can to Lewisburg, for this college and for this community," Rinehart said.

This is an apt choice of words, since the galleries serve precisely these two sets of audiences. The Samek Gallery, which is situated on-campus, is geared primarily towards Bucknell students and faculty. The Downtown Gallery, located at 416 Market St. in the heart of Lewisburg, has a broader, more community-based audience.

Article Photos

Richard Rinehart, the director of Bucknell University’s Samek Gallery and Downtown Art Gallery, is seen.

"They're very different, both because the spaces are different - in terms of size and layout - and, more importantly, in terms of their locations," Rinehart said. "Their locations really situate the two galleries not only physically, but in terms of their programming. When I'm putting together shows for the Samek, I'm thinking about shows that will appeal to a broad public, but which especially lend themselves to co-curricular and academic connections.

"With the shows downtown, I'm thinking about the town and the larger community first. I'm thinking of ways to make the Downtown Gallery part of the rhythm of the community. I want to make the shows there more approachable by a community with a broader background. That being said, the art is just as challenging and excellent downtown as it is uphill. It's important to think of the shows downtown as being excellent art, but framing them in such a way that they're open and accessible."

Making art accessible is something Rinehart knows a lot about. Before coming to Bucknell, Rinehart was a curator at the University of California's Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Rinehart's specialty was new media art, a genre that encompasses artworks created with technology, including digital art, Internet art, virtual art, computer graphics and animation.

"I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time," Rinehart said. "I was in the San Francisco Bay Area in the '90s when the boom of Silicon Valley was happening. It was in the atmosphere. You couldn't help but breathe it in. People read Wired magazine, not People magazine."

Rinehart tapped into this zeitgeist, making connections between the digital world and the art world. "Some fantastic artists were working in these new media and with these new tools," Rinehart said. "There were all these new ways that artists could ask questions and that was interesting. It wasn't like it was me, as a curator, leading the way. In fact, I would hasten to say that curators rarely lead the way. It's usually the artists who lead. The curators, if they're smart, follow as quickly as they can."

Because of its emphasis on new technologies, new media art offers additional and sometimes ready-made ways to engage audiences, especially younger audiences like college students. "At Berkeley, I was working with the Internet generation, so there's a clear resonance," Rinehart said. "I think new media gave them a point of entry. They were like 'well, I use Twitter, so it's really weird that this artist uses Twitter.' You really can't do that with an oil painting. You can't appeal to them on that level."

New media art allows Rinehart to engage students on their own terms, outside of the confines of the gallery, outside of their preconceptions of "fine" or "high" art. "New media isn't even contained in the gallery," Rinehart said. "You can put together an art project - I'm curating one this fall - which takes place on your iPhone. So instead of asking the students to make the leap in your direction, you can make the leap in their direction, curatorially. You can say, 'here's some art that's happening on your iPhone' or 'here's some art that's happening on the web' or 'here's some social media art.' "

New media art has continued to be relevant and widely-accessible thanks, of course, to the Internet. The widespread availability of art outside of the traditional gallery prompts an interesting question: What is the role of the curator in the Information Age? As a specialist in new media and digital art, Rinehart had some thought-provoking answers to this question.

"What I think is interesting is that the role of the curator is almost more important in the digital era than it ever was previously," Rinehart said. "The reason why is because the everyday person has access to a million times more information than they did in the past. Even 40 years ago, what did we have? Three network TV channels, a handful of radio stations and one city newspaper. There just wasn't that much information to consume. Today it's multiplied many times over. So the idea of filtering - the idea of somebody who takes the world of stuff and makes some selections based on some criteria and winnows everything down to a 'best of' - is all the more important.

"Even someone like Tosh [host of "Tosh.0"], who scours the Internet for the funniest web videos to show you, he's essentially curating. He's saying 'You know what, there are a gazillion videos and I'm going to go out there as your agent and you're going to trust my taste and judgment to some extent, and I'm going to find you the best ones.' That's what curators have been doing forever and that function is more and more important in the information overload society."

Winnowing down the wealth of available art to put together an exhibition is the primary task of every curator. Rinehart said this is the most time-consuming aspect of his job.

"I'm constantly in research mode," Rinehart said. "I'm constantly consuming all of the art world material, from newspaper reviews to magazine reviews to blogs to academic journals to email lists. At the same time, art is one of those things that's very different in person than in a magazine or promotional material. So, to the extent that I can, I travel to see new art. We're in the lucky position where we're a three-hour drive from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. So that makes it relatively easy for me to scan four major metropolises, one of which is the de facto art capital of the U.S., if not the world: New York. The curatorial process is essentially that. It's the standard museum curator model where you have a professional curator out there scouting talent all the time and bringing it back home."

For Rinehart, who grew up in a small town, taking the best art the world has to offer and making it available to a small community like Lewisburg is a top priority.

"Most art jobs are concentrated in the big cities - to the extent that the art world really is not engaging with rural America," Rinehart said. "By 'the art world,' I mean the ensconced world of the Village Voice, the Chelsea galleries and the national art journals.

"That art world - the world of fine, high art-is not engaging with rural America; they've turned their backs on it. I grew up in a small town in Oregon, about the same size as Lewisburg, and I grew up loving art and wondering why these two worlds could never meet. Now I have a chance to connect those worlds. That's a really big part of what I want to bring here."

For more information about the Samek and Downtown Art Galleries, visit galleries.blogs.buck



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