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Chicago curator heads “Lost in Trans” art show

Chicago curator heads “Lost in Trans” art show

Chicago curator heads “Lost in Trans” art show
January 28
23:51 2015

Kayleigh Bywater / Staff Writer

Hanging up a painting in the gallery at the Art Building, art curator Tempestt Hazel steps back to observe the bright colors and unique art pieces that surround her. The room is full of paintings, sculptures and other forms of art in preparation for the “Lost in Trans” exhibition, which Hazel was asked to curate.

Hazel, born in Peoria, IL, currently lives in Chicago where she helps curate exhibitions and runs an online magazine.

At a young age, Hazel said she had an interest in art and what it had to offer. Instead of being inspired by certain artists or works, she instead encountered it in her day-to-day life.

“I do not think you really ever discover art all on your own,” Hazel said. “Whether we know it or not, we are exposed to art in some form all the time. I think my interest in art probably came more so from me living rather than someone introducing me to it.”

A curator’s life

Instead of molding sculptures or mixing paints, Hazel said her artistic practice comes in the form of curating.

Hazel has been curating for seven years, but said she has been taking it very seriously the past four years. As the curator for “Lost in Trans,” Hazel is in charge of making sure the exhibit is ready for opening night.

“I approach my curatorial practice in similar ways artists approach their art pieces,” Hazel said. “As a curator of visual arts, I am kind of the director in a way, even though a lot of the time I like it to be very collaborative.”

For UNT’s exhibit, assistant gallery director Victoria DeCuir said they were looking for a curator who could bring something unique and ambitious to the table. When Associate Professor of Studio Arts James Thurman mentioned Hazel, DeCuir said she fit the description.

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Tempest Hazel

“Professor Thurman met Tempestt whenever they were on a jury together at an art festival in Oklahoma City,” DeCuir said. “He recommended her to the art gallery director and me, and we got in contact with her. She was very energetic in her approach and had great ideas for the exhibit.”

Jeffrey Austin, a Chicago-based artist whose art is featured in the exhibit, also said choosing Hazel to curate was a good decision.

“I have been friends with Tempestt for a few years and we have worked together on exhibitions in Chicago,” Austin said. “I can honestly say she is the hardest working person I know. She is such a powerhouse, and takes on every opportunity with a smile and a laugh. It is a privilege to have her work on this exhibit, and I am extremely flattered she invited me along to UNT.”

The art exhibit will feature more than 24 artists, including those Hazel learned about in her own education, UNT students, faculty members and artists who have contributed work. Hazel said she hopes to keep all the pieces on an even playing field.

“For me, it is important to place all artists on a similar level, because who should dictate how significant each artists’ contributions are to culture?” Hazel said. “That is a question I asked all through my education. I would say to myself ‘Okay, so these are the people in my textbooks, but who says they are the most important people I should be learning about?’”

More than meets the eye

In addition to leading exhibitions, Hazel runs a non-profit organization called Sixty Inches from Center, started in late 2010 with her friend and fellow art historian, Nicolette Caldwell.

“Sixty is flexible in what it does, but in the heart of it, it always comes back to archival writing and practices,” Hazel said. “Right now, in its current form, it is an online magazine that publishes three, topic-driven issues a year. We also have a digital archive of articles, interviews, profiles and photographs of different artists in Chicago.”

Hazel said the magazine tries to focus on artists in the Chicago area who may not be as mainstream in the city. Though she said Chicago has many museums, art schools and galleries, only a certain number of artists can be shown there.

“There are so many artists who no one really hears or knows about and who are not documented in history,” Hazel said. “Because they are not documented, we try to capture them and get their artwork out there. Since we started a little over four years ago, we have archived over 600 Chicago artists.”

Hazel said Sixty also has a partnership with the Harold Washington Library in its Chicago artist archive, which houses work from more than 11,000 artists from the past 70 to 80 years. Hazel said it contributes items such as exhibition postcards and posters as well as articles from the magazine to the library.

Hazel said one of her and Caldwell’s goals in creating Sixty was to make it easy to Google lesser known artists.

“One of the reasons Nicolette and I founded Sixty was partially out of frustration as to what was included in our education, and what artists, conversations, movements and moments in history were not taught to us,” Hazel said. “This was kind of our way of being advocates for these artists.”

Chicago artist and teacher Matt Austin, a close friend and Columbia classmate of Hazel said he and Hazel have worked together on different shows and articles. Hazel has interviewed Austin three times for Sixty.

Austin said although Hazel seems to always be working, she has everything under control.

“She is always working on something, whether it be a new show she is curating or an article she is helping with in Sixty Inches to Center,” Austin said. “She always has such a calm and cool demeanor about her, though. When she wants something done, she goes out and does it herself rather than just talks about it.”

The final touch

Between managing Sixty Inches from Center and curating exhibitions, Hazel said she hopes viewers enjoy “Lost in Trans” and are able to think for themselves while going through the exhibit.

“My contention with the show is to privilege the knowledge of the viewer above all,” Hazel said. “A lot of the time, museums and other exhibitions have a didactic feeling and tell the viewer too much, but recognizing the educational purposes of exhibitions I teeter back and forth between giving too much information and too little.”

Although the world of art can be a difficult field, Hazel said she loves how anyone can interpret an art piece any way they want by just looking at it. She said art censorship sometimes adds to the beauty even more.

“Collectively, I think there is something to be said about the fact that throughout the social history of art, it is one of the first things that is monitored,” Hazel said. “Artists are some of the first people who are captured and silenced. I think that is great evidence of the significance art has on the society. It is powerful. It allows people to think and gives them the freedom to imagine something else, and to be liberated mentally.”

The “Lost in Trans” exhibit opens today at 5 p.m. and runs until March 7 at the UNT Art Gallery.

Featured Image: A untitled work of art from the Tempestt Hazel exhibit. The exhibit, “Lost in Trance,” is an exploration of how differently people perceive unlabeled art. Photo by Adriana Salazar – Staff Photographer

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