Sam’s Space shows disabled artists’ work

Sam Messer, associate dean of the School of Art, has teamed with LAND to display works of art created by developmentally disabled adults.
Sam Messer, associate dean of the School of Art, has teamed with LAND to display works of art created by developmentally disabled adults. Photo by League Artists Natural Design .

While Associate Dean of the School of Art Sam Messer may be on sabbatical in India for the semester, the small-scale gallery he curates in his office — otherwise known as “Sam’s Space” — has not shut down operations.

Through April 1, the walls of Messer’s office will display artwork created by adult artists with developmental disabilities, part of an exhibition curated by photography lecturer Lisa Kereszi. Kereszi drew from her own collection of pieces purchased from Brooklyn’s LAND Studio and Gallery, a program created by the League Education and Treatment Center that gives disabled artists a forum to create and sell their art.

Kereszi said she hoped that the exhibition would draw attention to the gallery and its artists.

“I wanted to share this with someone,” she said. “You wouldn’t know about it otherwise.”

The LAND — or League Artists Natural Design — Studio and Gallery is an opportunity for adults with developmental disorders to be taken seriously as working artists, said Margaret Bodell, who founded the program in 2005. Bodell said the push for an initiative like this came from clients at the League Education and Treatment Center. When clients voiced their desire to make art, administrators decided to start a gallery and studio program. Messer could not be reached for comment.

“[The center] found a way to make it possible for art to be a vocation. This is a big shift in the perception of work for people with these diversities,” Bodell said.

The artists, who are generally dual-diagnosis patients, showing signs of both neurological and mental disorders, often come from poor backgrounds, Kereszi said. The income from this program means a lot to their families, she added.

The pieces from the gallery that Kereszi has accumulated run from $15 greeting cards to more elaborate drawings that cost up to $60. Some of the larger paintings, she said, go for hundreds of dollars, often to the celebrity clients that patronize the gallery. Retailers such as Opening Ceremony and J.Crew have also purchased work by LAND artists, selling postcards in-store and using drawings in window displays.

Bodell said the highly personal visions expressed by the artists in the program hold a certain attraction for collectors seeking inspiration. For example, Bodell said Jack Spade, husband of American designer Kate Spade, is a fan.

“It’s something pure,” she said. “They see some beauty and originality in the work.”

Matthew Murphy, the current curator of the LAND Gallery, said that the program also provides a stand for the disabled population, which he said is not often heard.

The program consists of studio time in which program participants work with established artists, who critique their work, give guidance, and help facilitate the logistics of placing pieces in galleries. The artists in the program sell their work in gallery spaces and on commission; half of the proceeds go to the artist and half help support the LAND gallery.

“I think that these works have a very no-nonsense quality. Visually speaking, there’s no pretense. It’s personal, direct, full of unique line marks and style,” Murphy said.

Kereszi said she gravitated toward the obsessive nature of some of the artists’ pieces — many autistic artists have a highly repetitious vision, Bodell said. For artist Michael Pellew, this is seen in an assembly of characters and personalities including Marilyn Manson, Mike Bloomberg, Krusty the Clown, and Mickey Mouse. Another artist — Kenya Hanley, whose work was featured in the windows of J.Crew in New York City — focuses on foods, such as ice cream and popsicles.

“I’m drawn to that unfiltered mind,” Kereszi said. “It’s without abandon. [This] is raw and emotional.”

When the exhibition comes down from the walls of Messer’s office, Kereszi said she will install another version of the show in Davenport College’s gallery, with additional works loaned by Bodell.

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