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Lauren Haynes of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Visits Athens

Lauren Haynes, Curator of Contemporary American Art at Crystal Bridges Museum, is the guest juror for this year’s Juried Exhibition at the Lyndon House.

Lauren Haynes is working towards the day when it is the norm for female artists and artists of color to inhabit museum collections with the ease and frequency of white males. She also wants to get people excited about contemporary art.

Haynes spoke to a full auditorium Tuesday at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. The Curator of Contemporary American Art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, she is in Athens to serve as this year’s guest juror for the Lyndon House Arts Center’s 44th Juried Exhibition. Speculation is high among local artists about how the show might look and feel in the hands of this bold young curator. Babs Kall, a local artist who works with fused glass, said, “I’m curious and anxious to see what Lauren chose for the show. I am expecting a vibrant and colorful, tactile exhibit.”

Kall came to hear Haynes speak in part because she has always wanted to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum. She left “encouraged to visit more art venues and to maintain an open mind.

“There is certainly more to being a curator than I could even imagine,” she added. 

Haynes spoke at length about the process of curating a show from start to finish, which can take from three to five years at a large museum. Her enthusiasm for curation was clear, and she spoke with admiration about mentor Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Haynes was an assistant there for almost 10 years before landing at Crystal Bridges, and describes it as “the place you want to be” if you are interested in contemporary black art. Golden told a young and nervous Haynes, “There is no one way to be a curator, to find your way, to find your voice.”

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Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Lauren Haynes discusses “Hysteric Sign (Ribbed Tomato’n Grapes” with artist Katye Tepper.

According to Haynes, “Every curator has a dream show that they want to work on… Alma Thomas was, for me, that artist.” Haynes co-curated a retrospective of the bold midcentury painter at The Studio Museum in 2016. 

Thomas created bright, large-scale paintings with energetic presence, in spite of being enmeshed in the Civil Rights Movement, working full-time as an inner city art teacher and struggling to be seen in a male-dominated art world. Haynes said, ”She said, ‘I want to make happy paintings.’” You can imagine Haynes’ own joy among the works she pulled together for the show.

At Crystal Bridges, Haynes works to achieve inclusivity by putting together shows like “The Beyond: Georgia O’Keefe and Contemporary Art.” For the exhibit, held last year, she chose artists early in their career, or older ones who had not yet shown at a major museum, and showcased their works alongside later paintings by that revered icon of modern art, O’Keefe. 

“The idea is that in a world-class museum, “ she said, “ you don’t just come for works by the same seven artists.” 

When asked about her method for jurying the Lyndon House show, she said, “I go in with a completely open mind.”

Over 300 artists submitted a total of 767 works for consideration in the Lyndon House’s Juried Exhibition. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, Mar. 7 from 6–8 p.m., and the artwork will remain on view through Friday, May 3.