Gallery Manager Adds Dimension to Art Experience

Julia Morgan-Leamon, right, with co-curator Sarah Sutro at last fall’s ‘Water & Earth’
exhibition in MCLA Gallery 51. Photo courtesy of Astrid Hiemer.

In addition to serving as the manager of MCLA Gallery 51, Julia Morgan-Leamon is an artist and an educator who has traveled to Egypt and India to provide others with cross-cultural multi-disciplinary experiences with the art world.

It was in Egypt that she met artist Alaa Awad. That meeting led to Awad coming to North Adams, where his expansive, 60-foot mural now spans the side of the Route 2 Overpass in the downtown. He created the mural as part of an exhibition of his work, “Thebes,” in MCLA Gallery 51. Once unveiled last June at the opening of DownStreet Art 2014, the event marked the first time his work was shown in this country.

Morgan-Leamon enjoys the process of producing an exhibition, from start to finish.

“It’s great to be able to understand the evolution of an exhibition from a seed of an idea to opening night,” she said. “Being a small gallery, my job involves all aspects of putting on a show.”

Envisioning and curating shows are “most definitely” among her favorite aspects of managing the Gallery, especially when the exhibitions are based a theme that helps the viewer interface with the artwork.

“I love seeing the different kinds of conversations that artworks have when placed near each other, and encouraging those conversations to be a major part of the shows,” Morgan-Leamon said.  

She also loves working with students, “Really talking with them about the shows, getting their responses, being reminded of the intensely personal and varied ways that viewers make meaning of artworks. We are doing more than ever to integrate programming with classes.”

As an artist, Morgan-Leamon loves the process of painting, and the clarity of contrast that may be achieved through watercolor, in particular.

“I like to paint what I see, but I am also interested in larger issues and concepts that are hard for me to work within two dimensions,” she explained. “I employ video, video installation and sculpture or sculptural tableaux to explore ideas. I think of video has a moving painting, and paintings as a slowed-down moving image; I really like getting a sense of motion in the paintings.”

Last summer, her solo show in MCLA Gallery 51, “Split Level,” explored both painting and video. Its overarching theme included her experience of growing up in a split level house, of losing her mother to a tragic death in that house, and her experience in Egypt with a young woman who also lost her mother.

“I hope to continue to bring shows that cause people to think and to really look and learn from the art,” Morgan-Leamon explained. “I hope also to keep finding ways for students to get involved in the gallery.”

She continued, “I find that running some shows for two months – as opposed to one month – gives us a chance to create programs that really make use of the show, to expand on visual ideas with panels, talks, presentations and performances in the gallery. It adds even more dimension to the art experience.”

On Thursday, Feb. 26, as part of the “Winter Green” exhibition, she will moderate a discussion when four panelists – a scientist, an artist, a herbalist and a farmer – discuss their perspectives on and interactions with plants. “Viewpoints on a Green World,” in MCLA Gallery 51 from 5 to 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.

Following “Winter Green” will be a student-curated show on the topic of food, created by an MCLA “Museum Studies” class. That exhibition will be followed by the annual exhibition of work by the College’s senior art majors.

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