Editor’s note: HamletHub summer intern Carolyn Neugarten sits down with Cybele Maylone, the executive director of the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. What’s it like to be the head of The Aldrich? Cybele talks about 52 artists, the current exhibition (and the first to take up the entire museum), Larry Aldrich’s vision, the museum’s unique location on Main Street, and the upcoming Farm to Museum Dinner, Aldrich Artists at the Table.
How did you become executive director at the Aldrich? Were you interested in the arts? Museum work?
Yes! I have always been interested in the arts and studied art history in college with the hope of working in a museum. I have worked in several museums in New York and in several other arts organizations. Working in a museum combines my interests; I like working with artists, and also connecting this work with the public.
Where are some of the places you worked before the Aldrichs?
I worked at the New Museum for Contemporary Art, which is a much larger facility; it is a non-collecting art museum in New York. I worked with the American Museum of Natural History, which is definitely not a contemporary art museum (and is probably the biggest place I’ll ever work) which I absolutely loved. And more recently, I worked at an organization called Urban Glass, which was a studio, school, and exhibition space for artists and the public interested in doing work.
What are the duties of an executive director?
No two days are alike, and that’s one of the things that I think makes the job really interesting for me.
Well, I would say one thing: no two days are alike. It can be overwhelming. But that’s also something I love about this job; I’m involved in a lot of different things at once. I’m very lucky that we have an incredible team at the Aldrich full of specialists who are well versed in particular aspects of the museum’s work, which I can discuss with them.
Yesterday afternoon, I visited an artist’s studio. Now I’m talking to you! Later that day, I talk to an architect about a project we’ve been working on for the long term. I will have endless conversations with all of our team members, spending time in the museum when we open to the public. So it’s really a huge, huge mix. And it depends on the season we are in; we have just completed four weeks of summer camp here. And then there are times when we’re working on installing a big exhibition, and that’s maybe something I spend a little more time on.
What is it about the location of the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield that makes it special?
The museum is integrated into the community
The location is a really interesting part of the museum. And I actually think that’s one of the things that makes the museum so special, and so incredibly unique among our peers across the country. All the other institutions I worked for were in New York, with 8 million people. It not only has a huge local following, but it is also a destination for tourists who come from all over the world, very often to experience the culture. And it’s very, very different here. It was interesting to learn what new beats might be for an institution that is, in fact, located in a relatively small town. We drive very heavily from Connecticut and New England. I think this is one of the greatest and most amazing things about the museum.
When it was founded here in Ridgefield by Larry Aldrich, he had this surprising idea to set up a museum of contemporary art on the main street of a New England town. So instead of having a certain significant portion of our audience made up of people who have crossed an ocean to visit us once, we have a lot of visitors who return to the museum several times a year. We got people walking down Main Street and hanging out [admiring] the sculptural works outside; they walk their dogs, they explore our campus. There’s something really special about it.
Let’s talk about the current exhibition, 52 artists: a feminist stage
This exhibition is called 52 artists: a feminist milestone, and it was really the brainchild of the museum’s chief curator, Amy Smith Stewart. She discovered this exhibition that the Aldrichs presented in 1971, entitled 26 contemporary women artists when researching the work of an artist named Jackie Windsor (which is actually in the exhibit).
This was the first exhibition of its kind that addressed the lack of representation of female artists in institutional settings and drew attention to this point by organizing an exhibition of female artists. So it was the type of exhibit that became much more widely understood, as far as representation goes, but it was really the first of its kind.
And while doing this research, Amy realized that there wasn’t a lot of information about that first show. The museum itself did not have much information in our archives. Nobody was sure if it was at the Aldrich or in another institution, so the idea was to revisit this exhibition on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Additionally, we can use this exhibit as an opportunity to research that original exhibit and expand it for the 21st century.
Amy also realized that the best show wouldn’t just be to try to put it back on stage, but to unite this group of 26 original artists with 26 up-and-coming artists. The Original Artists are essentially a companion group of those 26 Originals, at the same phase of their lives, with the original criteria that Lucy had used to select them. So it’s called 52 artists because of the two lists of 26 artists.
This is the first exhibition to take over the entire museum. So the biggest show I’ve ever done, both in terms of footprint and ambitions.
The 26 emerging artists, all born since 1980, live and work in New York, which adds to the geographical criteria of the show. It opened its doors in June and will be visible until the very beginning of January.
What has been the experience of the exhibition so far?
It has been a truly wonderful experience so far. The active organization of the exhibition was in itself incredibly complicated, and there was a lot of detective work for the curatorial team. Amy made extensive studio visits over a significant period of time to put this band together. There was a truly wonderful dialogue between these two generations. I would say we were thrilled to see how emotional both bands are to be presented together. Many young artists present alongside artists they have admired for much of their career.
What is the available program related to this exhibition, or to the museum?
We continue to have our third Saturdays which offer the free museum visit. These are very popular with members of the Ridgefield community, and it’s a great opportunity for families to visit the museum and our studio often – which had been closed for much of COVID. But it’s open again! Our educators have set up activities related to the works presented. It therefore changes from month to month, depending on the work in the exhibition to which the activity is linked. So a family can visit the museum, maybe take a tour, then enter the studio and create their own work inspired by the show. We also offer many more tours to the public. We are starting to offer tours for seniors in the fall, as well as tours for children and families.
On September 17, we are hosting a dinner titled Aldrich artists at table in our sculpture garden which is a beautiful event where artists and members of the museum community join us for an outdoor dinner. It’s really beautiful and supported by [the Museum’s culinary partner] Hay fields.
We’re doing several performances– a collaboration with a choral group called Music on the Hill, and we’re doing a collaboration with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra.
We present a quartet performing at the museum who are inspired by the work presented and compose a program of music and composition linked and connected to the exhibition. It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear extraordinary music played by incredible musicians.
There is a lot to look forward to! Is there any word on new art after this exhibition?
This fall, we will be installing a new [outdoor] exhibition by an artist named David Shaw. It’s a beautiful green scale (it’s hard to imagine!) David and Richard Klein, the museum’s former director of exhibitions, will have a public conversation about the artwork.
Richard, who had been at the museum for over 30 years, is hosting his latest show for the alternates which is called Raw material. It will open in early February. It’s also a great group exhibition that highlights how artists work with materials from the periodic table – from gold to silicone!
We will also open an exhibition of new works by an artist named Hangama Amiri, who is of Afghan descent and lives and works in New Haven. The work is amazing!