James Hull, the curator of Gallery @ Green Street and an artist himself,
Looks at Larimer Richard's installation "Glass Bottoms"(L) and gets a
close look at Cameron Shaw's "Untitled (Red Line #1)"
(Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)
Art on track
James Hull was looking for a home for his gallery, and he found one by taking the T
By Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondent, 6/22/2001
has a simple answer for art students who complain
about how hard it is to get their work into a gallery. ''Make one
yourself,'' he says. ''You'll learn a lot.''
Hull knows what he's talking about. The
40-year-old artist is the
founder of the Gallery @ Green Street, the Jamaica Plain visual-art
venue located inside an MBTA station.
After graduate school in Atlanta, Hull
opened two galleries there in the
lobbies of downtown office buildings. The first he started from scratch;
the second sprang up when a businessman wandered through the space
and offered the lobby in his building to the nascent curator.
When Hull and his girlfriend, metal artist
Donna Veverka, moved to
Jamaica Plain in 1996, he couldn't help but notice that the Green Street T
stop on the Orange line, just down the road from where he lived, had
some unused storefront footage.
''The space was empty, with the door
chained,'' Hull recalls. He's boyish
bright-eyed, with a thatch of curly dark
hair and graying sideburns. ''The
same 10 mangled shopping carts were out front. I looked at them for a
Finally, fearing that someone would get
the space before he did, he acted. He called the Transit Retail
Partnership, which manages the space, and they invited him to make a proposal.
''I went in with my book of images from
galleries and references from two very happy landlords,'' he said.
He came out with a rent-free lease. The Gallery @ Green Street opened in 1998.
Since then, the space has become a hotbed
of art world and neighborhood activity. Hull shows everything
from work by high school students to installations by established artists who might want to experiment
with pieces that wouldn't sell at a commercial gallery.
Through June 30, heavy-hitters Cameron
Shaw and Larimer Richards have work up. Shaw's work is a
departure from the conceptual, sometimes magnetized sculptures he's made in the past. Here, he works
with light: a beam of red light carves a line across a wall; little buds in neon-bright colors sprout within
silver cups recessed in another wall.
''He's been like a school kid, so excited
about this [work]. But how do you sell it?'' Hull asks. At Green
Street they don't have to, the way commercial spaces do. ''Artists want to experiment, but a commercial
gallery is not always the first place to say, `Yes, you can change what you're doing,''' he says.
While Hull sometimes finds himself a
little daunted when approaching artists of Shaw's reputation,
freedom from commercial restraints at his gallery excites them, so they often sign on. Sculptor Ellen
Driscoll has shown here. Curator Christoph Grunenberg put together a show at Green Street after he left
the Institute of Contemporary Art, and before he took his job at London's Tate Gallery.
The big names also thrill at the prospect
of a new audience, with fresher eyes than the usual gallery goer.
Commuters, high school students, and parents with their children pass through every day. Hull boasts that
more children under 5 have seen art at the Gallery @ Green Street than in any other art space in Boston.
''Every space I've done this in has had
built-in traffic,'' Hull says. ''Instead of breaking your neck
people to see the shows, I'll fight other battles and have a built-in audience. They may not be art
connoisseurs. ...'' He stops himself, then smiles. ''They're not art connoisseurs yet.''
Art isn't for sale at the gallery, but
Hull engages his visitors as if he were selling the art. He offers
coffee or spring water. Invites them to walk around. Asks them what they think.
''You learn a vocabulary that isn't laden
with art jargon,'' he says. ''That's what I do when I talk with
businessmen about leases.''
In short, he includes the community in
the conversation about art, rather than make it exclusionary -
often happens with museums and commercial galleries, against their best intentions. ''When you talk to
someone who has never been in a gallery before, you learn so much as an artist,'' Hull declares.
For the established artists who show
at the gallery, there's yet another attraction: Hull himself.
enthusiasm and love of what he does is infectious. He's avid about art. So avid that he runs the gallery on a
shoestring. Everyone who works there is a volunteer, including himself. He makes a living patching
together freelance gigs: as an art installer and teacher, doing his own commissions as a sculptor, and more.
''I've put $6,000 to $10,000 from my
meager income into putting shows up here,'' Hull admits. ''It
more than $10,000, but if it is, I don't want to know.''
One of Hull's side jobs is curating the
Boston Drawing Project for the Bernard Toale Gallery, one of
Boston's leading contemporary art galleries. Twice a week, he sets up shop at that gallery and critiques the
work of local artists. Some he accepts into the Drawing Project, an archive that he hopes will reflect a
Boston aesthetic and work as a glue to hold the artists' community together. The archive aims to give
exposure to artists among collectors and curators.
Other artists he turns down. Whether
an artist is accepted or rejected, the critique is nearly always
''James is so much about artists,'' Toale
observes. ''And he's so much about younger art. He makes it
accessible to people. They come out of the subway and they're in an art gallery. Here, they come in and get
an hour, and James doesn't stop talking. He wants them to get real feedback. I love that about anybody,
who can talk directly to artists about their work.''
It's true that Hull won't stop talking.
He's effervescent with ideas. During an interview, he doesn't
reporter a moment to pose a question. When he started teaching classes in how to get into galleries at local
art schools, Veverka, to whom he is now married, remarked, ''Imagine, getting paid to talk. Maybe there is
some financial security in our future.''
That may be true of the Gallery @ Green
Street, as well. Hull lives in fear that the MBTA will sell him
to put a Starbucks in the space. Right now, he's negotiating a new lease with the Transit Retail Partnership,
which he hopes will result in a three-year commitment in exchange for the gallery's installation of air
conditioning and a bathroom. Contemporary art collector Ken Freed, who recently showed some of his
collection at Green Street, has agreed to donate two-thirds of the cost.
The space just received its nonprofit
status from the federal government. Up until now, it has run on
spirit and energy of volunteers and an annual fund-raiser in which artists donate work to be sold at
rock-bottom value of $100. In September, the event will be called 150X150, and the price will go up to
$150 per art object.
Sometime in the next year, Hull hopes
to start drawing a salary for himself and anyone who sits in the
gallery during its daytime hours. In the meantime, he still spends time in his Fort Point studio, working on
sculptures and paintings.
At the Gallery @ Green Street, he looks
around at the plate-glass windows and the art hanging on the
walls. ''This is one of my public art projects,'' he says. ''I do make art. But the creative component to
curating - the aesthetic decisions, the collaborative aspect, making the show live in the space - that's a great
creative outlet. I'm a working artist and curator, and I want to advocate by example.''
This story ran on page D1 of the Boston
Globe on 6/22/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.