FEELING CHANGE: "It's the start of a new possibility. And I will work towards that."
"Somebody introduced me yesterday as the former curator of the Mutual Gallery, so it is starting to sink in," quips Gilou Bauer about the culmination of her 15-year stint with the little gallery that could. On a postcard perfect Saturday afternoon, she and I are seated on a beige couch inside the gallery surrounded by stark signs of a chapter coming to an end: art pieces stacked neatly against the wall and in corners, boxes filled with pamphlets and stacks of paper, and countless empty spots where eye-catching scupltures once stood.
Established in 1975 as a donation of art space (by the now-defunct Mutual Life Insurance) to the artists of Jamaica via the Artists Guild, the Mutual Gallery quickly emerged as a haven for up-and-coming and established talents to have their work recognized by their peers and the wider public. Sadly, all that has come to an end following a decision by sponsors AIC, present owners (since 1993) of the Oxford Road-based building that houses the gallery, to discontinue its free-rental sponsorship as of June 2013 -- a move that has brought today's harsh economic realities into sharp focus, to say the very least.
"I'm obviously very sad about it," Bauer admits, "but at the moment we're really overwhelmed by all the other work there is to be done and quickly because we have a very short time to wrap up everything."
As for the work at hand, the curator and her administrative assistant for the past two years, Keisha Campbell (photographed below), are presently consumed with the arduous tasks of cleaning up and clearing out by the end of the coming week. But there's that little issue of getting the artworks into the hands of their rightful owners. "We're still calling artists to come and collect their works, but there are a few pieces for which we cannot find the owners, for one reason or another. Some of the artists from the Caribbean are unable to come here," Bauer explains.
"I've been in touch with two or three companies who, in the past, have asked for work to be displayed and put up for sale," she continues, "so if the artists should return and find me, I can direct them to that company so they can collect their work."
The physical gallery is now a thing of the past, as fate would have it, but the institution will maintain an active presence in cyberspace for the time being. "We will keep the website running, in any case, and just put in a notice saying that the gallery is now closed. I'm working on that with the webmaster," she says. "And then, possibly, change the number to my personal cell number, so people can still get in touch with me."
Of course, for Bauer, and the rest of us who simply adored the quaint and charming little gallery that could (along with its all-important annual initiatives Art Fresh and the Super Plus Artist of the Year competition), parting is such sweet sorrow. "I haven't cried yet, but I'm excited about the future," she tells me with the faintest hint of a smile. "I believe when one door closes, it's the start of a new possibility. And I will work towards that."