Carolina Art Crush: Carla Hanzal

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Today we deviate slightly from our typical artist crush and focus on one of Charlotte’s most celebrated curators, Carla Hanzal. Carla worked at the Mint Museum for many years, curating more than 40 original exhibitions, before turning to independent curatorial work. On Friday evening, you can experience her talent at New Gallery of Modern Art, where she has arranged the most recent exhibition, Patterns of Regeneration. The exhibition features the work of Kimber Berry, Elizabeth Bradford, Carolyn Bustenlener, Neil Callander, Suzanna Fields, Chatham Kemp, Hunt Slonem, and Carlyle Wolfe. The Opening Reception takes place on Friday, October 16th, from 5pm – 8pm. A Coffee and Conversation event takes place on Saturday October 17th at 11am. For more information:

ISC event

HCLT: Describe yourself in three words:
CH: Voracious, curious, observer

HCLT: Who or what inspires you artistically?
CH: I am inspired by many artists who have the courage to create every day and the patience to craft their career and life. Teresita Fernandez, a MacArthur Award winning artist gave an amazing commencement address at VCU several years ago. Important excerpts and advice are on this blog.

lowe opening

HCLT: When did you know you wanted to be a curator?
CH: I stared on the path to become a curator when I was a teenager and broke away from the national 4H conference in Chicago to spend the afternoon at the Art Institute. The pull of that institution was like a magnet, and I felt such joy and amazement among the works of art that I had only seen and experienced through photos in books. When I was a junior in college I spent a summer working at the Sheldon Memorial Gallery, a museum on the campus of the University of Nebraska. I worked in a spectacular Philip Johnson building, with soaring gold-leafed ceilings. I was assigned to writing an educational guide to the sculpture garden, worked closely with the curator, and saw first-hand the inner workings of a museum. I knew that I wanted to work in a museum, and ideally produce exhibitions and educational materials that would help connect viewers to works of art. I continued graduate studies and began my first serious job, which was helping to produce major exhibitions (Mark Rothko, David Smith, Peter Voulkos) for Japanese newspaper companies, which brokered these exhibitions to museums in Japan. I had a lot of responsibility, in addition to working with Japanese curators to assemble shows, I was literally climbing aboard cargo planes with priceless and irreplaceable art in the hold, ensuring that all crates got through customs, and overseeing the installation at museums. Although I really loved my job, the nagging question at the back of my mind was whether I had shut the door too quickly on my own creative practice, which was photography and printmaking. I spent a summer vacation taking an intensive two-week documentary photography course in Prague, which was managed by some friends in Baltimore. I had longed to spend some time making art, but found myself drawn to documenting and interviewing some amazing glass artists and sculptors in the city, and had a sort of epiphany that I could best utilize my strengths by putting together exhibitions, rather than making art. Envisioning and orchestrating exhibitions would become my creative output. As a curator, I work more like an artist in how I conceptualize, assemble and write about works of art. I don’t approach the process solely as a researcher or historian, although I love to create context for exhibitions. I generally work from a place of devotion, where I have spent the time to intuitively and emotionally connect to the works of art and have pondered the artist’s vision.

HCLT: Tell us about the joys and challenges of working independently in this field — not tied to one venue or concept?
CH: I enjoy the freedom of setting my own schedule and working on diverse projects and with institutions were there is a great sense of collaboration. I have had to stretch and engage more sides of myself as I work independently—like researching and finding best practice models and creating forecast budgets so that it is possible to place scaffolding beneath dreams. This skill came into play as I helped a local organization envision their future and write a strategic plan. I’ve worked on participatory arts exhibitions with artists and community, and I continue to write, plan future exhibitions, and I am volunteering on a national board, which also requires my time and attention.

Bearden comes to life

HCLT: Tell us about the exhibition or project you are most proud of?
CH: I was thrilled to be a member of the team that laid the content groundwork for the expansion into the Mint Museum Uptown. I worked with donors to expand the collection, and I was fortunate to curate two of the opening exhibitions, followed shortly by the Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections exhibition in 2011. Throughout my career I have been able to work with some extraordinary artists and teams of collaborators, staff members, curators, administrators, trustees, collectors and donors to create exhibitions, programs, and publications. But of course the project that my husband and I are most proud of is our daughter.


HCLT: Tell us about your current project/s?
CH: I’ve just completed touring a Vik Muniz show, which originated at the Virginia MoCA and traveled to the Lowe Art Museum at University of Miami as well as the Taubman Museum in Roanoke. Collaborator Annabel Manning and I are traveling the Out of the Shadows: Undocumented and Unafraid exhibition, which was presented at the Levine Museum of the New South, and I am developing a traveling exhibition for painter Elizabeth Bradford, which will originate at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum. Most immediately, I am guest curating a show for the New Gallery of Modern Art, Patterns of Perception, featuring painters that explore landscape – observed, experienced, and imagined. Included in the show are several artists whom I met while curating 2014 Mississippi Invitational, a fun project where I spent two weeks in Mississippi conducting studio visits and selecting the participating artists.


HCLT: What do you think is the most valuable art experience in the Carolinas?
CH: The Carolinas have a significant history of supporting artists and building collections. There is the whole legacy of Black Mountain College, Penland School for the Arts, the stellar collections at the Weatherspoon Museum and Reynolda House. During the 12 years that I have been in Charlotte, I’ve watched and participated in the creation of the cultural campus at the Levine Center for the Arts, which signals a critical mass. This campus has great potential to be a platform for the production of significant content and access for participation in the arts, and it is already off to a good beginning as the fifth anniversary is celebrated. The Levine Museum of the New South and the McColl Center for the Visual Arts have truly come into their own and are creating some nationally-recognized, socially engaged projects. I am excited to watch the progress of The Light Factory that is embedding itself into the community by re-igniting its grassroots appeal. Of course there are some very good university museums and galleries, which by their very mission are mandated to be interdisciplinary, take risks, and create forums for dialogue. We have a long list of assets.

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HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?
CH: I have given up on a nightstand, and have a rotating pile of books by my bed and on the adjacent shelf… The ones that are near the top are two books which are informing my way of thinking about radical engagement with the natural world – Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man, a biography about Eustace Conway and Will Harlan’s Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island (a biography of Carol Ruckdeschel). A collection of poetry by Robert Hass, The Apple Trees at Olema, and Jane Kenyon’s essays and poetry, A Hundred White Daffodils; The Jesuits Guide to Everything: Spirituality for Everyday, by James Martin, SJ, and Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus.

HCLT: Best meal in Charlotte?
CH: My best meal has probably been at my own table with friends and family – for me, it is the conversation and company that makes a meal worthwhile and exceptional. Preparing food and sharing quantities is imbedded in my genetics; although, I don’t take the opportunity do it often enough. On the rare occasion when we go out for a special dinner, it is usually at Good Food or a new place in our neighborhood, Rock Salt, which serves smoky, roasted oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. There are many exceptional ethnic restaurants in town, but we have not explored all that the city has to offer.


HCLT: What is your number one art piece/place/event in this area?
CH: I have to agree with Shaun Cassidy, that one of the most significant experiences is seeing the blooming Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies at the Lansford Canal State Park—a rare botanical wonder—as this site is the largest collection in the world. If I were to pick a singular piece of art, it would be Sheila Hick’s monumental installation in the atrium of the Mint Museum Uptown.

HCLT: What’s up next?
CH: I’m researching practitioners who are creating fascinating projects about the interface of art and science, which I’m developing into an exhibition, and I’m working on another project that will use language and moving image. I’ve also started a short story about an inventor and artist who has been haunting me for the last 25 years. I show up at my desk every day, and there is always something interesting to think about and create.


One thought on “Carolina Art Crush: Carla Hanzal

  1. Pingback: DAILY: Artist Interviews | HappeningsCLT

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