By Alin K. Gregorian
WESTON, Mass. — Todd Bartel is an artist who not only creates art himself, but through his vocation and avocation, he teaches art and also presents the art of other artists to the world. He has also brought the story of the Armenian Genocide, through art, to his gallery.
Bartel has been teaching at the Cambridge School of Weston (CSW) for the past 16 years. In addition, he is the founder of the school’s Thompson Gallery.
In a recent interview he said that as far as he is concerned, the gallery should be dedicated to the work of the students, so that “those in the outside word” can come in and see the creativity of the students.
In addition, the gallery holds many installations by outside artists that are “forward looking.” That spirit is in keeping with the school, which is a progressive coed school.
“In 2007, we had our first show. It was related to science and art, based on the theme of climate change,” Bartel said. He received 150 applications from around the world to participate in that exhibit. He came up with the idea of having one theme, and three venues where students approach the issue from separate angles.
“It allowed me to focus in a deep way on a single idea,” Bartel said.
Through his work, as well as through his personal life, he has become knowledgeable about Armenian artists as well as history. He has put together several exhibits at the CSW with the themes of Armenia and the Armenian Genocide.
He put together several exhibits on in 2015 to coincide with the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Those shows coupled various media that expanded on the theme of the Armenian Genocide. He stressed that another reason for the exhibit there was the Cambridge School’s focus on social justice.
In the foreword to the “Kiss the Ground” exhibition dedicated to the Armenian Genocide, he thanks Adrienne Der Marderosian, who proposed most of the roster of artists for the gallery’s 2014-15 lineup.
“In many ways, she acted as a co-curator, not only searching the local community for strong visual artists and bringing outstanding creations to may attention, but also suggesting writers, filmmakers and historians for accompanying programming.”
For the exhibit, he collaborated with the Armenian Museum of America for a five-part exhibition series centering on the work of 12 Armenian artists. The exhibitions examine and celebrate contemporary Armenian art at a particular moment in history, organized to coincide with the centennial memorialization of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
The first portion of the show was in September 2014. With the centennial in 2015, the gallery saw the most visitors it had ever seen, Bartel said.
Bartel married fellow artist Talin Megherian in 1990. Through her, he was exposed not only to a different artist, but a different culture and a history that came with a lot of cultural pain.
Bartel said that as a teacher, as well as artist, his goal is to communicate what is happening with the work. “I like to see a great variety of works from a small number of artists,” he said.
In the catalog dedicated to artist John Avakian, titled “If I Begin to Cry,” pictures of Avakian’s works are paired with a play by Elliot Baker, titled “The Past Is Not the Past,” about surviving the Armenian Genocide.
Bartel has created top-notch catalogs to go with the exhibit. He printed the play, he said, “so that our students can read it. He is the non-visual artist in this exhibit. I experimented with the show that way, to include Elliot’s work.”
“I wanted it to help bring the hard-hitting truth of genocide to the family level,” Bartel said.
All together, there are seven catalogs.
The Armenian Genocide exhibits, he said, “made me better informed and it humbled me.”
“Digging in as a white male, a gallery director in an affluent country, it is very humbling, very moving. There is so much turmoil, so much angst,” he said. “The Armenian people are holding on to the memory of those they lost. You can’t just dig into them and not be moved. The breadth of what I read was very, very informative.”
Bartel is a collage-based artist. His work assumes assembled forms of painting, drawing and sculpture that examine the roles of landscape and nature in contemporary culture.
He received his bachelor’s degree in painting from Rhode Island School of Design in 1985 and also studied in Rome as part of RISD’s European Honors Program between1984-1985. He achieved his MFA in painting from Carnegie Mellon University in 1993.
In 1990, Bartel was a recipient of the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship (U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.) and in 2000, he was awarded a Connecticut Council on the Arts Fellowship Grant in support of the continuation of his drawing series, “Garden Studies” and related “Terra Reverentia” series.
Bartel has taught at Harvard University, Brown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Manhattanville College and Bridgeport University. He has been a guest critic at Rhode Island School of Design, Vermont College and New Hampshire Institute of Art and has lectured at Alfred University, Chatham College, Western Connecticut State University, Montclaire State University and The New England Teaching Conference.
Currently, Bartel is working on an exhibit titled “Utopia/Dystopia” as well as one titled “Light and Dark.” Again, he is taking the themes and focusing on different contexts and meanings to bring in more layers.
The exhibits at the CSW Thompson Gallery are open to the public.