Featured Artist and Curator: Maddy Rosenberg

This is the first segment of a 2 part interview with Maddy Rosenberg. This interview focuses on her own individual art while the second interview will be focusing on her curatorial work.

Hometown:  Brooklyn, NY

Current town:  Brooklyn, NY

Job description:  Artist & Curator

Bio: As a native of Brooklyn, I also spend several months each year away from New York, with Berlin presently my European base and second home. As an artist I work in several media: oil painting, drawing, printmaking, artists’ books, toy theater, and installation. I maintain an active international curatorial as well as exhibition career. In September, 2009 I opened CENTRAL BOOKING, a two gallery space in New York, focusing on artist’s books and their integration into the larger art world as well as exhibitions on art & science. Among the grants and residencies I have received is a National Endowment for the Arts grant for my international multi-venue curatorial project, New York/Paris DIALOGUE Paris/New York. I have exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Europe, including recently a solo in San Antonio, Texas and a two person in Munich, Germany. My work can be seen in many public collections, including National Museum of Women in the Arts, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Fogg Museum, Baylor University, Yale University, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Austrian National Library and Salzburg Museum. I received my BFA from Cornell University and my MFA from Bard College.

Skyline I
Berlin Bestiary front&back
Berlin Bestiary Front & Back
Skyline II

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What are you working on/ describe your work?

I work with architectural imagery and spaces, enjoying crumbling facades and evocative details that I take from a variety of sources and reassemble within a new context. I work within oil painting, printmaking and artist’s books, occasionally venturing into the realm of toy theater and installation as well as other projects that catch my interest.

My paintings are usually multi-panel and very small, mixing very finely painted areas with those of flat or textured color. I am currently at work on a series of paintings, each panel 4.5 x 1.5 inches, which is indicative of the size I prefer.

When it comes to the artist’s books, I especially enjoy the aspect of the two dimensional becoming three dimensional, with planes of paper popping up, folding out, hidden in flaps and pretty much playing with altering the object in space and its interactive quality. My ongoing work now involves continuing with the series of standing, three layer artist’s books, begun about a year ago for the US Consulate sponsored project in Munich (a month long residency that culminated in an exhibition). The original two referenced Munich and New York streets, the one I am presently working on combines New York with Berlin and I intend to create an installation of the whole series of them.

But my most immediate project is working on an artist’s book for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Project, a wonderful international reaction by book artists to a sorrowful incident. This is a quote from the organizer of the project, Beau Beausoleil: “On March 5th 2007, a car bomb was exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. Al-Mutanabbi Street is in a mixed Shia-Sunni area. More than 30 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, holds bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops… It has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community.”

Hanging On
Hanging On

What’s your art background / when did you begin really focusing on art?

I always made art, and though I have many other interests as well, I was the one in my elementary school classes who was chosen whenever art was needed. When I came home from school, I could spend hours in my room constructing stage sets for my puppet theater from cardboard, paper and crayons or draw outside our apartment the row houses across the street. I unknowingly even made my first artist’s books as a child, combining my writing in sculptural structures. Even educationally, art has always been my focus, with painting soon becoming primary. Growing up in Brooklyn, I commuted to the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan then went off for my BFA to Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning and eventually for my MFA at Bard College, Milton Avery School of the Arts.

What’s been happening in your life/ what’s next for you?

Last year I was in San Antonio for an exhibition and workshop I gave at The Southwest School of Art, in New Orleans for the Southern Graphics Conference and affiliated exhibition I curated and participated in at NOCCA and in Berlin for an exhibition there (I spend several months each year in Europe). A few of my artist’s books was also included in 1000 Artist’s Books, published in 2012.

Right now my team and I are getting ready the March issue of CENTRAL BOOKING Magazine. In early February I’m off to Portland, Oregon for the first time and then Berkeley, CA for the Codex Art Book Fair and Symposium; I am giving an artist’s talk here in New York at FIT in March; and in April, I’m in Reno, Nevada, invited by the Art Club of the University of Nevada as this year’s juror (the juror selects and curates their exhibition, gives a public lecture and makes studio visits to MFA students).

I am presently writing a book on the contemporary artist’s book scene and looking forward to re-opening CENTRAL BOOKING, the space I founded over 3 years ago as a place for my curatorial practice that focuses on artist’s books and exhibitions on art and science. And I’m finally hoping to go forward with an animated video that’s been percolating in my brain for more than fifteen years, having finally found the right collaborator. Other projects in the works include a possible art exchange with Cuba and a collaboration in Poland.

Crouching Tiger
Crouching Tiger

Describe your current state of mind / what’s inspiring you?

I ended last year with a sale of my work and began this year with one, too, both to important collections, so that was not a bad way to begin another year. I am constantly reminded of the wonderful community I have, the thing is I believe in always surrounding myself with people who, you can say that, we inspire each other. And I am always pushing forward, my mind is full of possibilities, with such a rich resource of people worldwide, the opportunities continue to multiply. New York is a constant source of vitality and imagery for me, but I also try and keep a fresh approach by, not just traveling, but staying in other places for a long enough time to get a feel of the culture and place. And to photograph (my “sketchbook”) – give me an urban space with decaying building and I am in heaven!

Al Fresco

Any exhibits coming up/ past exhibits you’d like to mention?

Besides those exhibitions mentioned elsewhere, there is Off Broadway, Artist’s Books from New York at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, opening in February and running through May. And in March I will have work in Text Out Of Context, an exhibition I am also co-curating at Marymount Manhattan College.

What is one of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?

I have always let the work lead me, not the other way around. This means my work is not influenced by the latest trend, it does not fit nicely into categorization. My experience has often been that galleries appreciate the work but it slides between the cracks of their client base or is deemed commercially unviable (the work is very small so is not high priced). Like many artists, my challenge has always been to find a larger audience and an income from it. Luckily, since all I need is a table, I can work almost anywhere, a luxury many other artists do not have. This means my work is very portable and makes it easy for me to work wherever I go.

Single File
Single File

Are you involved with any organizations/ do you collaborate with other artists?

As much as I love retreating to my studio and immersing myself in my own little world, I do like to collaborate with artists on certain projects. It gets me thinking in ways I would not ordinarily. With the best collaborations, I find it is neither of our work, but becomes a third entity, something neither of us would have, or could have, done alone.

I collaborated on two artist’s books with the Austrian artist Hubert Sommerauer. We brought a similar sensibility and feel for Gothic Europe and Piranesi spaces, as well as an interest in what paper engineering could do to a flat plane, though Hubert’s work was more figure/ground where my concentration was on the uninhabited structure. We were both pleased with the results and both artist’s books have been well received as well (Shadow of Descent is in the Book as Art, Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, published by Princeton Architectural Press, that seems to have become a classic in books about artist’s books).

And I am very excited about finally working on the animated video project with Marianne Petit, with music composed by Larry Bell (who has used my paintings for his CD covers).

There is one thing about doing planned collaborations (and some are long in the planning), but some are just fortuitous. Last summer, I had been asked by Barrak Alzaid of ArteEast to interview Mary Choueiter at the Fall event of her reading from her artist’s book. The audience response was so positive, Mary was very encouraged in her idea of making an editioned version of her multi volume artist’s book with its original Arabic and an English translation. On the spot, the three of us decided to pool our resources and are currently working together to make it happen.


What are a few of your favorite spots in New York?

I love walking along the Brooklyn part of the harbor where I live. Over the years I have been here, it has become more and more open to the public. Unfortunately, the Fairway in Red Hook was wiped out from Sandy, but the café there has become a favorite break for me, with good fresh inexpensive food and the best views, taking in the Statue of Liberty. And the ferry near me that now goes to Governor’s Island in the summer makes it very easy for me to pop over there for a couple of hours and then back to the studio.

For indoors, nothing can beat the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I can always find something there to fit my mood (though growing up, the Brooklyn Museum gave me my early art influences through the hours I spent looking at its Egyptian Art collection). And though it may be corny, I have enjoyed the occasional splurge on a cocktail up on the roof sculpture garden, watching the sunset over Central Park.

What are you reading?

The book that is on my nightstand right now is Phantasmagoria by Marina Warner. It is basically background reading for an artist’s book that has been jelling in my mind for a while. I have read articles by Warner before, though this is the first full-length book of hers. But one of the most influential exhibitions for me of all that I have seen was curated by her in London, she incorporated contemporary work with historical artifacts to create a truly haunting environment of the subconscious mind.

Favorite authors, fiction:

I first read everything I could get my hands on by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and George Eliot when I was a youngster, and I still come back to the two as my favorite authors, Dostoyevsky for his grappling with the philosophical issues of being human and Elliot for her realistic rendering of a culture and time and place through character. They both can also tell a compelling story. And it is not that I discount contemporary authors, there are many wonderful books I have read by such authors as Louise Erdrich, Don DeLillo and Milan Kundera that made me want to keep reading more work by them, but none who as an entire body of work holds together for me as Dostoyevsky and Elliot. Though coming across the first volume of Mervyn Peake‘s Gormanghast in a thrift store in London years ago, I got hooked on the trilogy (and was thinking of how I could visualize it, when PBS broadcast a wonderful BBC dramatization of it a couple of years ago).


Favorite authors, nonfiction:

When it comes to non-fiction, it really does come down more to particular books rather than authors, though I would probably be glad to read anything Oliver Sachs writes. Although I tend towards lots of non-fiction these days by scientists and philosophers with a visual sense, I really have read everything from biographies to history to politics, though much these days on those topics I read online.

Do you buy a lot of artwork?

Like most artists, I think, my art collection is generally built through trades with other artists. I am a firm proponent of bartering anyway, and believe in it wherever possible. But I live very simply, I am not one for really buying much of anything except for what is necessary for making my art. And I do have the luxury of living with and advocating for a lot of the work I love on a “temporary loan” basis as a curator.

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