The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: Carol Salmanson, Artist Represented by Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery and Development Chair of NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc.

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Carol Salmanson working with a circuit breaker. Courtesy of Carol Salmanson.
Carol Salmanson: “Upon Reflection:” Column, 2007, LEDs, flourescents, stainless steel, gel filters, prism rods, 5 pieces, each 21 3/4″ by 21 3/4″ by 10 1/2.” Courtesy of Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery and Carol Salmanson.

Carol Salmanson, who is one of the most fascinating “painters of light” using colored light-emitting diodes (LED’s) in contemporary art today, is working hard to create ambitious sculptures that behave playfully with intersections of an admixture of materials ranging from gel filters to steel structures. With witty references to urban landscapes or control towers of primary colors, her work reflects a strong balance between the concept of humanity and scientific understanding of our existence within the context of environments, both familiar and foreign. Her expansive vocabulary of diffuse lines and geometric horizons throwing neon-like shadows and engineered halos against the flat wall explodes the viewer’s imagination. The capturing of spiritual aura. I was able to meet with Ms. Salmanson, who works in Brooklyn, through gallerist Leah Stuhltrager who has expanded recently her gallery out to Berlin and represents the artist’s challenging artworks.

Salmanson also works as a development chair-person for NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc. which seeks to join together emerging artists with emerging curators to formulate fresh group shows that often run counter to the prevailing trends of the commercialized art world. This non-profit organization has grown into a major exhibition space in the vicinity of Bushwick which encapsulates a vibrant community of cutting-edge artists working together to formulate a tapestry of unique ideas brewing within the area’s studios. NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc. is quite a happening place that entails a good deal of hard work and intelligent curating that Salmanson has been able to foster during her tenure there.

Now it’s time to turn on the lights for this recording of a performance art between two fellow artists during this studio session. If you have any questions about Salmanson’s artwork, feel free to contact her gallery Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery at (646) 671-3775 or at

So on to the show and here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s latest details of this “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts (either from your childhood or adulthood) that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? How are these incorporated into the ideas for your work?

Carol Salmanson: One of my favorite books is Robert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker,” about how modern New York was built.   It contains so many human dramas and comedies within it that you can’t believe it’s for real…that is, until you’re late for your plane and stuck in traffic yet again, on the very same van Wyck expressway that he intentionally built badly.
When I want simple entertainment, I turn to Elmore Leonard. I love how he can make our evil sides so funny.

qi peng: Have you been recently during the past few months to any galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What elements within those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Carol Salmanson: I was moved by the Song Dong installation currently at the Museum of Modern Art, both viewed from above, and then walking through it. His statement about his emotional connection to the work was also beautiful.

I wasn’t prepared to like the Francis Bacon show at the Met, his work had always left me cold.  But I totally enjoyed it, and his color was a surprise to me, very effective in conveying his subject matter.  I haven’t gotten to galleries as much as I’d like to, but I did catch the Tim Hawkinson show that just closed at Pace, and I found the fertility of his imagination really inspiring.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York City or Brooklyn/Bushwick where your studio is located at or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Carol Salmanson: The restaurant choices in my section of Bushwick are almost non-existent, so I’m happy that one of the few, Roberta’s Pizza, makes great food. In Manhattan, I love Lan, a non-traditional Japanese restaurant in the East Village. And I’d eat the Indian food at Pongal a lot more often if you didn’t have to wait so long in line.

qi peng: In your assessment, how do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work that was typically geared for the art fairs during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?

Carol Salmanson: A lot of people I greatly respect agree with your suggestion that the market caused artists to make more commercial work, especially for the fairs. But when I went to the Miami fairs, I reveled in the fact that I could see so much terrific work in one place, from all over the world.  I expected that the booths would essentially be group shows, and it never occurred to me that they could replace full exhibitions; gallery spaces will always have a much broader range of ways to show art.  Instead, it seemed like the fairs supplemented dealers’ income, and to me that meant that they could, and some did, mount risky gallery exhibitions.

There was a lot of dreck made during the boom years, but there was a lot of good work, too, and I have no doubt that artists will continue to make both.

qi peng: Also, do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work that you pursue? Based your personal interests, are your LED sculptures, installations, works on paper, wall pieces and public art reflective of those hobbies you engage in?

Carol Salmanson: When I need a break, I find new neighborhoods to explore in New York.  I just found Todt Hill in Staten Island—quite a place.  And traveling through Queens is like taking a trip around the world: on Main Street alone, the languages on the signs keep changing as you go through different neighborhoods.

I used to be addicted to studying modern dance, and to gardening.  My interest in space is partially influenced by the way that articulate dance movement comes simultaneously from the clarity of shapes the body is forming, and the way it moves through space.  When gardening, I loved the game of trying to manipulate the interactions between trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals, and then foliage, flower, and bloom times. And of course, gardens and landscapes are all about space, too.

qi peng: As a graduate of School of Visual Arts, Art Students League, University of Chicago, and Carnegie-Mellon University, what was life in the studio like back then? How does your studio practice differ today from studio time during those years? What were the ideas that you explored during your undergraduate and graduate years as a student? How has your themes and style evolved over the years? How did life differ culturally between that of Providence where you were born in and that of Brooklyn where you now live and work in?

Carol Salmanson: I got a BS in Psychology from Carnegie-Mellon, focusing on how drugs and the biology of the brain impacted behavior, and then an MBA from the University of Chicago. I was living in Denver when I realized that I wanted to make art more than anything else.  I moved to New York and started taking studio classes at the Art Students League, and at SVA. I was so disgusted by the cynicism where I got my MBA (they actually set up tables in the hallways two weeks before exam time and sold old tests) that I chose not to pursue another graduate degree, so I don’t have institutional art training.

I’d wanted to work with light for a long time before I made the transition from painting.  I didn’t know how to begin, and finally in 2003 I began taking long walks and drives until I started getting ideas.  Because of my science and analytical backgrounds, I could grasp the basic electronics I needed, with help from a friend who’s an electrical engineer.  My paintings were concerned with color, structure and architecture, and I used layering and reflective pigments to create illusions of space. They had a theatrical quality, reflecting my interest in the way the artificial visuals in theater and dance have such a powerful, non-verbal impact. I’m still working with the same elements; in some ways I’ve brought my painting out into their surrounding space.

qi peng: Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? What things do you like looking when you are at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of artwork does your personal tastes gravitate towards? Any opinion on Dan Flavin or Jenny Holzer?

Carol Salmanson: How about if I move into the Metropolitan Museum of Art instead?

My taste is constantly changing, it’s dependent on whatever artistic issues I’m working through at the time.  But Byzantine mosaics are my all-time favorites, at all times, as well as Chinese scrolls from the ancient dynasties, and illuminated manuscripts. There are also a lot of 20th century and contemporary artists who are constants: Robert Irwin, Dan Flavin, Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Sol Lewitt, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, and a lot more I’m forgetting at the moment.

In answer to your question about Flavin, he had a profound understanding of how light could make color impact the space. His Dia installation in Bridgehampton is perfect from every angle, like a Japanese garden. I admire what Jenny Holzer’s achieved, but since her work is more about text and the way that technolgy amplifies its power, her use of LEDs doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what I do.

qi peng: On another light note, do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting?

Carol Salmanson: Home cooking tastes the best, because you can pick and choose the best ingredients available.  But, sadly, I don’t cook anywhere as often as I should, doing take-out instead. When I do cook, I’m amazed by how much better and fresher it tastes, and vow to do it more often….and then I don’t…
I also love Japanese food but somehow, I always end up eating Italian.  Don’t know how that happens.

qi peng: What is the methodology behind your LED sculptures, wall pieces, and installations from start to finish, from preparatory studies to the completed work? What types of materials and equipment do you use to create your final artwork? How do you determine which materials go into a particular object? Also what is an average day like within your studio? Do you use assistants and if so, how are they incorporated into your studio practice?

Carol Salmanson: I start by making drawings for my work on the computer – sometimes it feels like I’m spending all my waking hours in Photoshop and Illustrator.  Making the work involves, as you’d expect, cutting, drilling, soldering, and building circuits, with a lot of planning and calculations done, again, on the computer. I do some outside fabrication: a neighbor in my building works with plastics, and I turn to him when it’s beyond me, and the restaurant supply shop by my old studio does really fine, affordable steel work.
I get excited by certain materials, and start dreaming about what I can do with them. Or else I start dreaming about a certain effect I want to achieve, and hunt down materials that can accomplish it.  For installations I start with the constraints of the site. The Mixed Greens windows were fun to do, because the fluorescent lights were already mounted on the wall behind the windows, and glowed through diffuser material that I had to work behind.  I had absolutely no idea how to do that, and then I discovered that I could use it to blend colors of gel filters, and also to control the hardness and softness of their edges, just like painting.  I also spent a lot of time studying the building’s architecture, and designed the piece to play with the window mullions and sills, and the fire escape railing and ladder.
I had assistance in building that piece, and also for some other pieces in the past.  Right now I’m enjoying being by myself, making smaller works that aren’t quite as big a deal to make.  Of course, figuring out how to make that stuff easily has been a much bigger deal than making the complicated stuff with assistance, but that’s another story.
qi peng: What is it like to be involved on the board of directors for NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc. organization? How has that organization helps emerging artists find new opportunities to further their own career and opportunities in a rather competitive art world? Any good stories from working at that group? How does NURTUREart maintain a large umbrella of diverse artists?

Carol Salmanson: I feel privileged to work with NURTUREart, because we’ve built a highly effective organization with extremely limited resources. Our four programs work together to provide support for emerging artists and curators that isn’t available anywhere else (check out our website,  On a selfish level, because our exhibitions by emerging curators show emerging and underrepresented artists, I’m always seeing new art and getting fresh perspectives.  I’ve also found that building something with other talented people for the good of the whole provides a balance to the individualistic pursuit of being an artist.

qi peng: How has life been working in the gallery system, particularly with Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery and Mixed Greens for displaying and promoting your beautiful artworks? What are some of your future projects or exhibitions that you will be pursuing soon? Does working with non-profits and museums differ much than working with commercial galleries? Will these new artworks be anextension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or perhaps a different direction instead?

Carol Salmanson: Both Dam, Stuhltrager and Mixed Greens care first and foremost about the quality of the art that they show, so it’s been great working with them.  Even though I know that some galleries seem to get attention for being dishonest, I believe that most galleries and non-profits are passionate about what they do.  I once showed up at a respected non-profit with a truck full of paintings for an exhibition, to discover that the director had been fired for embezzling (he even stole the postage money for PR!)…so I can tell you first-hand that crooks are found everywhere.

I currently have a piece, “The More Things Stay the Same” in “X” at Mixed Greens, and I’ll be having a show in Berlin this coming winter, with Leah Stuhltrager’s new East/West Project. The pieces that I’m making now are almost like small paintings, with LEDs, prismatic reflective sheeting, and some really beautiful two-tone reflective paint whose pigments were originally designed for cars. They’re a counterpoint to my installations because they can be hung on a wall with no muss, no fuss, and don’t require a dark environment to be effective. At the same time, they continue to expand my focus on the simultaneous use of surface and space.

qi peng: Is your work influenced by the ethereal nature of stained glass work, particularly in cathedrals? What is the spiritual thrust of your artwork? Your works on paper brilliantly use LED’s as part of the circuit-based drawings. How did you get interested in using electronics and technology into your pieces?

Carol Salmanson: I’m influenced primarily by Byzantine mosaics, especially in Ravenna, and in the cathedral in Monreale, Sicily. The way they built those things to work with the architecture, and especially the daylight coming through the windows and reflecting onto the glass bits, knocks my socks off. I consider them the original light artists.

It’s funny that the mosaic that speaks to me the most strongly depicts Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora as saints, since their main interest seemed to be building their temporal power.  In spite of that, the mosaic is otherworldly and celestial… I have a pretty grim view of humanity, so I’d like my work to appeal to its better side, too.

qi peng: How do you think that the new media, ranging from video art to Internet-based projects, will impact people’s appreciation of painting and photography and sculpture, more traditional and established media, which are interacting with each other in terms of visual motifs and archetypes? Do you feel that as people interact with new media, they will be able to critique the cliches of mainstream media and have a profound understanding of what it means to be human?

Carol Salmanson: New media has brought new thinking about what art can be.  Artists are also frequent gallery- and museum-goers, and “traditional” painters and sculptors are looking at and interested in new media even though they might not be using them. So the vocabulary we all use is being expanded in more ways than is immediately apparent.  There are indirect ways, too, in which new methods and materials are being used in traditional media, such as computerized preliminary plans, that might not be visible.
I use elements of both the new and traditional.  My work uses physical space instead of cyberspace, and a lot of the considerations that go into making it are derived from traditional concepts such as color, form, and scale.

Like most new media, my work is time-based, but in a different way. My goal is to make time stand still and expand that moment, in contrast to the way most new media work is constantly moving or changing.
Our culture has a tendency to think of visual art as being “over there” instead of “right here,” and the use of technologies designed for other purposes can bridge that gap by resonating with a larger audience. Hopefully, the general interest will probe beyond the novelty to, as you put it, impact their appreciation of all art.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with our readers and fans of LED sculptures, installations, works on paper, wall pieces and public art as well as your upcoming exhibitions here?

Carol Salmanson: I think you’ve already covered more bases than I ever knew existed – many thanks!

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

October 15, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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