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Fall 2002

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“Visual buzz”

Tumultuous Fifties curator Doug Dreishpoon ’76 on the job at the Albright-Knox
Midway through his pre-med studies at Skidmore, Douglas Dreishpoon ’76—son, grandson, and nephew of doctors—suddenly pulled a one-eighty, abandoned medicine, and took up art history.
     Currently a curator at Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., Dreishpoon has organized nearly forty exhibitions in his twenty years in the field, including two shows now traveling nationally. He’s got a new one in the works, a couple more at that twinkle-in-the-eye stage—and absolutely no regrets over the spurned M.D.
     What keeps him so energized, he says, is the “visual buzz” of working with art, which he first experienced during an art-history survey course at Skidmore. Delighted at how easily art history came to him—“I could read the images!”—he switched majors in his junior year. For him, “that’s what a liberal arts program is all about—giving yourself a chance to discover.”
     Discovery has been the heart of his work ever since. He earned a master’s in art history at Tufts University and assumed his first curatorial post, at Manhattan’s Hirschl & Adler Galleries, in 1982. Gravitating to twentieth-century American and European art, he sharpened his critical skills by writing for Arts and Art Journal (using a talent he may have inherited from his mother, freelance writer Georgene Simon Dreishpoon ’51). After earning a doctorate at City University of New York, he held curatorial posts at museums in Florida and North Carolina; he joined Albright-Knox in 1998.
     “To be a curator is to love the art object,” says Dreishpoon simply. And coming up with fresh exhibition ideas is a snap. “Looking at art, reading art journals, visiting studios, talking to artists—you get the seed of an idea. Then you figure out how to do it.” From initial grant-writing to packing and shipping an exhibition to other venues, Dreishpoon enjoys it all, right down to the catalogs—especially the catalogs. Art exhibitions, like live performances, are transient; “catalogs are my way to capture them,” he says.
     A number of the shows he organizes are history-based, like The Tumultuous Fifties: A View from the New York Times Photo Archives (on view through December 16 at Skidmore’s Tang Museum, just one stop on a nine-venue national tour). The show’s 200 news photographs are “the original prints,” Dreishpoon points out enthusiastically. “Some of them are dog-eared, torn, or folded; several still have the grease-pencil crop-marks; and they all have captions and publication dates on the backs. I like to do shows that expand my understanding of an era, and those images really grounded me in the life of their time.”
     He also enjoys producing retrospectives of worthy “underdogs” like midcentury American painter Edwin Dickinson, whose underappreciated body of work is now receiving new attention. And an upcoming group show at Albright-Knox will feature cutting-edge contemporaries like Petah Coyne, Jeanne Silverthorne, Tom Sachs, and others whose work exults in a near-manic abundance of media and materials.
     Each new exhibition offers “different content, different demands,” Dreishpoon says. And openings are “very joyous moments. By that time, my work is done. The art is on the walls, and people are enjoying it.” For Dreishpoon, that’s what the doctor ordered. —BAM


© 2002 Skidmore College