Curator Carrie Leferer brings big-city art sensibilities to the suburbs at Walnut Creek's Bedford Gallery.
As Walnut Creek has grown into an East Bay
hub for culture and entertainment, its municipal art space, the Bedford
Gallery, has brought a new level of sophistication to the arts scene.
Witness the latest
exhibition, Carny Art: Contemporary Artists at the Circus and Carnival, which opens this month and showcases paintings, photos, videos, and vintage collectibles that illuminate the lives of carnival worke.rs
Longtime curator Carrie Lederer is
credited with mounting ambitious contemporary exhibitions that are on
par with those you’d find in university galleries or urban museums—and
that sometimes challenge the tastes of her suburban audience. An artist
in her own right, Lederer creates riotous depictions of nature and deep
space in a 1,000-square-foot backyard studio she shares with artist
husband Steven Pon. They met when both worked at the Oakland Museum of
California; he is now in exhibit management at San Francisco's Museum
of Modern Art Artists Gallery at Fort Mason. Her exuberant canvases
contrast vividly with the cool demeanor she presents at the Bedford,
where she answers to City Hall and the Arts Commission and takes on
marketing, fundraising, and other business duties with buttoned-down
You are an artist, curator of an
important municipal art gallery, and the mother of a 13-year-old. Busy
moms want to know: How do you manage it all?
Step by step. You have to keep track of all of the balls you have in the air and not let one drop. Sometimes one aspect gets more attention than another. If my son or my family needs something, my studio or personal work has to stop. I often think of Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird—one painting at a time, and keep a steady, consistent course.
Did you always want to be an artist?
From an early age, art was special to me. I grew up in Detroit when there were classes devoted to art and music, and my favorite was always art. I remember at the age of 10 not agreeing with my art teacher. She hung up our pictures of trees and picked some as the best. I said I didn’t think those were the ones that were the best.
What were the primary influences that led you to be an artist?
My mother took visual arts courses in college and was a docent at the Detroit Institute of Arts. My father plays guitar, and his father played violin. My brother is a musician and songwriter, one sister is a violinist, and my other two sisters are very good writers. When I was at the start of my career as a curator and a young artist [exhibiting in New York and Los Angeles, my great-aunt, a concert pianist, remarked that it takes a good 20 years for an artist in any field to season, and that the best way to season is by practicing your craft.
Norma I. Quintana/ Courtesy of Bedford Gallery
What are the themes of your personal artwork?
They’ve evolved through many approaches or styles, from figurative to abstract, all about the origins of life, especially human life. My recent work has been turbulent gardens, informed by my love of nature, and then deep space, our universe filled with Byzantine stars, snowflakes. My work conveys the order beneath the confusion.
How do you come up with your ideas for the Bedford, like the Carny Art exhibition?
When I put together a season, I mix the community-oriented show, the historic exhibition, and shows like Carny, which traverse the fine line between high and low art, art and craft. Carny Art opens a window into the larger community [and] offers a rare glimpse of the mysterious underworld of traveling carnivals, circuses. The work is coming from all over the country and includes photographs; historical elements of traditionally painted backdrops, coin-operated games, and posters; and a documentary film by an artist whose family has been in the carny business for 30 years.
What draws you to the edgy, offbeat themes of some Bedford exhibits?
Sometimes the assumption is that progressive, challenging work is more at home in [big-city] art museums. I give this county far more credit. I think the interest in a broad range of art is apparent. Our programs are designed to show the broad spectrum of art.
The Bedford has been the target of individuals who have disagreed with your exhibition choices. We know you can’t please all of the people all of the time. How do you create a season that synthesizes diverse community desires and your own aesthetic sensibility?
When we don’t have enough traditional work, I hear about that; when we have too much of it, I hear about it. The good news is that people are coming in and voicing their opinions.
We hope our audience will come to understand that, of five exhibitions a year, something will be [their] cup of tea. We want to introduce you to the new and challenging, to present art and artists that are new to the area [and] unique or unusual concepts. [Art] may seem like a foreign language at first. Some people think you should be able to immediately understand what you are looking at. It takes an investment in time and allowing your mind to open and receive that new information.
Where do you want to take the Bedford?
Bedford is a premier art venue. We want it to become an art destination. We can achieve this with excellent programming, a strong network of community, and public-private partnerships. Audience-building is key to our future: educating youngsters about the importance of art in our daily life so they become patrons of the arts.
Carny Art: Contemporary Artists at the Circus and Carnival is on view August 5 through October 7 at the Bedford Gallery, 1601 N. Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 295-1417, www.bedfordgallery.org.
Carrie Lederer’s artwork can be viewed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery, Spur Projects in Portola Valley, and at www.carrielederer.com. She’ll also be part of a group show at K Gallery, a new space in Alameda, early next year.