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A Polish Princess in America
Collection: Selections from the Private Art Collection of Princess Sophia Solar Michalski

December 4, 2002 - January 29, 2003

McQuade Library Art Gallery, Merrimack College
315 Turnpike Street, North Andover MA 01845

Organized by Kathleen Bitetti/

Accompanying essay and interview with Princess Sophia Solar Michalski
by Denise Markonish, Gallery Director/Curator at Artspace (New Haven, CT)
The exhibition featured work by: Leika Akiyama, Kathleen Bitetti, Gayle Caruso, Catherine Debrocke, Monique Deschaines, Laura Donaldson, Lalla A. Essaydi, Ife Franklin, Fena Gonzales, Linda Hazell, Joanne Kaliontzis, Karyn Kirke, Jane D. Marsching, Robin Masi, Cathy R. McLaurin, Amy Ross, Jowhara Saud, Pia Schachter, Anne Spileos Scott, and Cynthia von Buhler. The exhibition was made possible through the support of Princess Sophia Solar Michalski, Merrimack College, the, and the Artists Foundation.

"Although this exhibit was originally conceived to be on view for March- Women's History Month, I decided to keep with the original concept of showing art work from Princess Sophia's private collection that had both a social context and was made by women artists. This is only a small sampling of work from her vast collection. Like most royals, she, and her family for that matter, come from a long tradition of collecting art. She does not, however, see collecting art as a means of an investment strategy. Rather, she collects works she wants to live with and see on a regular basis. The Princess particularly likes to collect work from artists she has personally met and can develop friendships with in order to watch their work grow and change. Many of the artists on view in this exhibit have become dear friends of the Princess. She often collects work that is not only beautifully crafted but also has a challenging social context/commentary. In essence she likes art work that makes one think.

Special thanks to Princess Sophia and her staff for allowing this work to be in the exhibit and also for all of their help on the project. And thank you to Merrimack College and Kevin Salemme for support of the exhibition. Special thanks to the Artists Foundation for additional funding for the exhibition, and to Denise Markonish, Gallery Director/Curator at Artspace (New Haven, CT) for her accompanying essay and interview with the Princess."

- Kathleen Bitetti, show organizer

Accompanying essay and interview with Princess Sophia Solar Michalski by Denise Markonish

It is rare that one gets the chance to sit before royalty, let alone do this while also gaining insight into one of the most important collections of art by local women in the Boston area. Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Sophia Solar Michalski is a true visionary. Along with her advocacy for women's issues, she is one of a small group of art collectors whose true focus and mission is to support local artists and to help enliven the Boston art scene especially for the area's women. Even just a glance at the roster of names on this vast list (Pia Schachter, Laura Donaldson, Cathy R. McLaurin, Amy Ross, Ife Franklin, Lalla A. Essaydi, Cynthia von Buhler, and Annee Spileos Scott just to name a few) is enough to make the mouths of any art lover, museum worker, and collector alike water with jealousy. When Kathleen Bitetti, a good friend of HRH first came to me with her idea of showing the Princess's collection I was delighted to finally have the opportunity to see her holdings, and I knew the public would be just as tickled. I was even more honored when Kathleen actually asked me to interview HRH in conjunction with her exhibition at Merrimack College. I of course, jumped at the chance. There is a long tradition dating back to the Renaissance of royals showing off their collections, but it is rare to see this done in a contemporary fashion. How often do we see the Queen of England's art collection? My point exactly. So it is with this unique opportunity placed before me that I actually sat down with HRH, who was both open and gracious, as she shared with me her insights into collecting, supporting local artists and the importance of a rising Boston art scene. I hope you enjoy reading and touring the collection as much as I enjoyed meeting with HRH. Take advantage of this exceptional event, and gain insight into a contemporary Royal Collection.

Denise Markonish, Gallery Director/Curator
Artspace, New Haven, CT

Denise Markonish: First of all let me start out by thanking you for sharing with the community both your insights and your collection. This brings me to my first question. There are two main focuses in your collection, the first being on works by women and the second being that all are from the greater Boston area. Can you tell me a little bit about how your focus on women fits in with your greater social concerns and why you decided to support Boston artists?

HRH: I have been looking forward to meeting you for quite sometime Denise. Kathleen speaks very highly of you and I have had several opportunities to see some very exciting shows you have curated. Some of the artists you have worked with I have their work in my collection: Jane D. Marsching, Annee Spileos Scott, Monique Deschaines, and Lalla A. Essaydi.

I have always been involved with issues that impact women- this involvement in women's issues and issues of greater social concerns have been in my family for generations, as has collecting art.

Kathleen picked the work from my collection for the show and many of the works on display that she chose have a social context to them. I particularly like work that is not only beautiful but is challenging. I think one of the functions of art is to challenge the viewer and society as a whole. Interestingly, I don't seek out to collect work solely from women artists, it just happens that a large a mount of the work I own is by women artists. Much of the work I connect with concerns itself with issues or is challenging in some way. It seems that in this area that a large number of women artists are creating work that fits with my interests. Kathleen has been instrumental in introducing me to Boston-based artists and others in the greater Boston art community. Granted I do travel quite a lot and I do see work elsewhere, but since I live in the greater Boston area, I decided to collect work from where I live. And there is great art here. One doesn't have to travel to New York, London or Paris to find great art.

DM: Now that we know a little bit about what drives your collection, I am interested to learn a bit more about your process. How do you go about finding artists and how do you remain connected to them as part of a greater support network once they are in the collection? This is a task I find many collectors struggle with.

HRH: I do not buy art as an investment. I buy work that I love and want to live with. Work, and for that matter artists, that I connect with. I usually go by my first impression or instinct on a piece. If I am drawn to it and it holds my gaze and/or after I see the piece I am still thinking about it the next day, I usually purchase it or begin to follow the artist and their work. I find artists via Kathleen, people like you, and/or going to alternative art spaces and nonprofit spaces. Although I greatly respect many of the commercial galleries in Boston and beyond, I like to buy art work from artists who are not connected to a commercial gallery. Plus most of the artists' work I collect is on the challenging end and doesn't always make for good sales and therefore is not in commercial gallery settings. I also go to many of the area art school galleries and look at work there. I am still in school and many of the artists from the schools are in my peer group. I make a concerted effort to stay in touch with artists after I purchase their work. I invite them to dinner or to tea and try to attend their shows, open studios, and/or make studio visits. I have often collected more than one work from an artist over time.

DM: In looking at your collection I noticed that a good number of the works cross various media and are impeccably crafted. What is it that draws you to this type of work?

HRH: I am interested in impeccable craft and that goes for most of what I chose to buy or live with. I have a large collection of vintage clothing and that is due to how well crafted that clothing is. Since I am interested in owning art that is not an investment, I can take risks on the work I acquire. I can acquire work that may not be "worth" anything in a resale environment so to speak. Often times people who buy art as an investment buy paintings, prints, more traditional type media. I have more freedom. I can acquire works that cross various media. I also collect single channel video art work as well.

DM: And lastly, what made you decide to finally share your collection with the public?

HRH: As you are aware, I am the muse for Kathleen's art project, and this was her idea to show aspects of my personal art collection. Originally this show was to be in March for women's history month and hence this is an all women show. However, as I mentioned before, I do collect work by men artists as well, so this show isn't totally representative of my collection. Kathleen has put many of my personal objects on display as part of her art project. The spring 2002 Persona Show at Somerville Museum is one such example. Kathleen and I are good friends and share a similar sense of humor and ideals, so I usually go along with what she comes up with. She often arranges some of my public appearances and/or documents my public appearances for her project. For example, she is asking me to save my hairpins from as many of my public appearances as possible. She has put the hairpins on display in various formats. Denise, I think you have seen some installment of that, correct? My entire art collection will eventually be on my website for people to see. I am hoping to have it relaunch in spring 2003. Again Kathleen is helping with the site and she wants the relaunch to coincide with her relaunch of and the 2003 Boston Cyberarts Festival.

DM: Yes, I have seen the hairpins and I love them. The idea of collecting artifacts and ephemera of the collector/muse is very interesting to me. Well, your Highness, I must say that it has been a pleasure to finally meet and spend time with you. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to give me a preview of your wonderful collection as well as to speak with me about what drives you as a collector and supporter of the arts. The Boston area and its many great artists are lucky to have you.