Lenny Campello on Seven | Catalyst



Lenny Campello on Seven

Seven (photo by James Bailey)

My own experiences with the WPA have been terrific and go back many years. But clearly the most important one was in 2005, when I had perhaps the most difficult and most fun curatorial job ever. This happened when I was retained to curate the massive “Seven” exhibition for the then WPA\Corcoran. My goal in curating the show was to expose WPA artists who rarely, if ever, got any attention from previous curators and pair them up with some well-known names. In order to do that I reviewed 24,000-plus slides in the WPA\C Artfile, plus about a 1,000 digital submissions – the first time that the WPA had used digital entries for a show! I reviewed all those slides and files not once, but twice over a six month period of trips to the Corcoran, where the WPA lived at the time.

Seven” got its title because it filled seven different spaces at the Warehouse Theatre and Gallery complex on 7th Street, NW. At the time it was the largest WPA exhibition ever, and it was the WPA’s best-selling show up to that time (nearly 70% of all the artwork from 66 artists sold, including two Sam Gilliams, three Chan Chao photos, a major Tim Tate glass piece, huge Graham Caldwell glass piece, Cornelius videos, Jamison painting, etc.) and about a dozen WPA member artists without representation got picked up for representation by galleries from that show (as I took groups of gallerists for one on one tours of the show). These dealers then picked up new artists for their galleries… such as Susan Jamison by Irvine Contemporary.

It was a huge opening with estimates of 600-800 people all spilling out onto the streets. We had a live nude drawing class during the opening show, with the model posing for several artists who created drawings on the spot. They were in what I had dubbed the “Nude Gallery,” which was hung with the work of artists who focused on the nude. We also had opera singer Hisham Breedlove, who had been body painted ahead of time by Adrianne Mills, singing around the galleries as a walking, living work of art. On the top floor gallery, Kathryn Cornelius conducted a performance several times that night. All of this was going on at the opening.

The show got major reviews by the DMV press with coverage in The Washington Post, the City Paper, Georgetowner, and all the new art blogs. It was even covered by local TV as well as covered by CNN – It was the first WPA show ever covered by CNN! The show was the buzz of the town for the whole month and it accomplished what I had intended to do: expose as many “new” artists to the DC art scene as possible while getting the WPA some buzz and selling some artwork. It did all of that and more.

And most important for me: I met the woman who eventually became my wife at the curator talk that I gave during the show! I challenge anyone to beat that success story!

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