Bloomington Herald Times interview

Get Out posed questions about music and art to Thomas Robertello, an associate music professor at the IU Jacobs School of Music and owner/director of the Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago. Robertello’s gallery provided the artwork for a new show at the SoFA Gallery titled “One Moment,” an exhibition that explores the nature of momentary experiences.

Q: First off, tell me a little about yourself.
A: I am have been on the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music for about 12 years. I’m 42 years old, and my career as a flutist includes positions with the pittsburgh symphony, cleveland orchestra, national symphony, many international masterclasses and concerts as soloist, chamber musician and recitalist. I have served on the faculties of Carnegie Mellon University and the Cleveland Institute of Music. I have been an avid collector of contemporary art for 20 years.

Q: What (or who) was the catalyst for the “one-moment” exhibit at the SoFA Gallery?
A: I am interested in sharing the work of artists who are doing interesting things with the IU and Bloomington communities. Betsy Stirratt, the SoFA gallery director has a long history of presenting high quality exhibitions of the faculty from the iu sofa, students, and many contemporary artists working outside Bloomington. Her rigorous program not only deserves greater critical attention, but has been an outstanding example of how a university gallery can educate, inspire and enlighten people who may be hungry for the current ways in which art mirrors contemporary society. Betsy has been an enormous catalyst for this exhibition as well as the artists in the exhibition whose work inspires me enormously.

Q: Who is participating in the show?
A: Adam Ekberg, Cayetano Ferrer, Bob Jones, Noelle Mason, Grant Schexnider and Stephanie Serpick.

Q: Is this a traveling exhibit, a one-time collaboration, or something else?
A: There are no plans for the exhibit to travel, but I have an ongoing relationship with all the artists in this show as well as with the SoFA gallery and the IU museum. The IU Art Museum is also one of the gems of Bloomington and several people from the museum’s administration have expressed interest in acquiring some of the work from this exhibit for the museum’s permanent collection — an endeavor that would require more support from the Bloomington community. Contemporary art is not on the minds of many donors, and as a result, there are gaps in the museum’s collection that need to be filled. The exhibit could potentially be a window of opportunity for an interested donor to begin a dialog with the museum’s acquisitions staff, as some of the work in this show is already in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago. I myself am considering eventual gifts to the IU Art Museum from my collection and hope that additional space for contemporary works of art will be created in the future. Ironically, much more money is needed to build buildings than to acquire significant works of art; yet, there are often more donors interested in assisting with building projects than acquisitions funds. I believe that it is one’s civic duty to give back to a community that has supported them, and through my experience as a collector, I hope to eventually give back to the institution that provided the funds — through my salary — to acquire this work. It’s an easier process than most people imagine.

Q: As someone with both a musical and visual background, how would you describe the artwork, if it were music?
A: The work in this show is not in any way related to music. There is a variety of work addressing complicated concepts that explore race, spirituality, memory, the internet, post-modern landscape, and urban sprawl. The media is varied with painting, video, photography, and installation work being represented. The overall theme addresses the idea that a moment can be singular or existing at once in different time zones. It may be long or short, in the past, present, or future only, on in any combination simultaneously. The focus is on the expanding one’s perception in the present through considered moments that include personal reflection, societal progress, suspension of disbelief, and the piecing together of non-linear memory recall. If i had to draw a parallel, i would say that the experience of memory, the present, and being lead to alternate states or fantasies simultaneously can be achieved through both music and art.

Q: What should people keep in mind while viewing the art, to better understand it?
A: There is no right answer to the questions posed by the artwork in this exhibition and everyone will have a different response. Some work will resonate quickly, while other work may feel opaque. It is important to allow oneself to be lead in a direction through instinct and allow the experience to unfold over time. Most artwork that compels me is often somewhat elusive at first though there should be multiple points of entry into the work. Returning to an exhibit for a second or third time may provide new insight. The SoFA gallery staff is available to answer questions, and I welcome questions as well. I have often e-mailed galleries asking for additional information or insight after viewing work that was interesting to me but too complicated to understand without some dialog.

Q: Why did you decide to open a gallery in Chicago?
A: I ran out of space for my collection, and thinking that it was rather selfish to be hoarding so much artwork, I made several gifts and decided to maintain an exhibition space that would promote the work of gifted and under-exposed emerging artists. It is a public service and a service to the artists who exhibit their work in my gallery.

Q: What parallels do you see between the two artistic realms?
A: It is difficult to find parallels in the present since trends reveal themselves more clearly in retrospect. But for me personally, my performances on the flute feel like live drawings — my sound being a line with form, strength, flexibility, color and texture that exists in the space of a concert hall — flute sound being the pencil or paint brush and the open space of the hall being the paper or canvas on which i make my mark. In addition, much of what i have learned in each field seems to inform the other in some way.

Q: Who do you select to represent, with their work in the gallery? How does this process go?
A: I look at a lot of work. When I am moved to consider supporting someone’s work financially, I get to know that person. If it feels like the right thing to do for all parties concerned, relationships begin. I am moved by many different kinds of art, and my gallery is not media-specific. I want each artist to feel that their needs are being met and that they feel like they are a part of a group of artists with whom they feel they belong. We all have different responsibilities, and understandings are reached about how to strategize both in the short and long term for their career goals. I choose people and am chosen by people when there is mutual respect, great communication, interest in each other’s work, and a celebratory energy for shared successes. Our relationships are based on trust and an ongoing interest in their work and my promotion of their work to an international audience. Sometimes they contact me first; sometimes I contact them first; and sometimes I meet them through the network of artists.

Q: What would you consider contemporary art? (What are some of the qualities or elements you look for?
A: Contemporary art can be just about anything that is being made in the present day. I look for nothing but rather am open to everything. I enjoy being lead to new places by intelligent thinkers and communicators. I enjoy work that mirrors the world in which we live, and I enjoy work that exists separately from that world. Great works of art are like complicated mazes that are interesting to engage with — there’s no moment where complete understanding is reached, but rather an ongoing relationship to that work which provides some sense of reward visually, viscerally, spiritually, and intellectually.

Q: What’s next?
A: I am optimistic but not psychic.

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