The thing about beauty is it’s only beautiful outside of itself.
– Ocean Vuong
To the left of the door hangs Oculus, smoke, a painting by Dozier Bell, one of six artists included in the Sarah Bouchard Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, A Gathering of Aces. The painting (stunningly detailed, like Bell’s other five works in the show) revels in sky and light, cloud and smoke – a vision majestic and mysterious; as romantic as the full moon implied by the rendered oculus of the painting’s title.
In some ways, it’s a painting about how framing focuses our attention, allowing art’s luminescence to shine from within, distraction elided by careful consideration of what lies outside the bounding edge: us on that other side, looking in at art’s beauty.
And for Sarah Bouchard, it’s all about the door.
“The photo of Oculus, smoke next to the door may be my favorite,” she says, referring to one of several images of the exhibition she offered to illustrate this article. “When sorting through the initial concept and values and mission of the gallery, I thought a lot about portals… taking one into another realm – emotionally, physically and psychologically. The door is the gateway. It’s so important to me.”
As a gallery owner, Sarah is adamant that her job is to provide that door: to facilitate the art being seen, and then get out of the way.
“I’m making a space that is designed to highlight and focus and genuinely center the art. It’s not about me – it’s designed to not be about me.”
Prior to creating her own gallery, Sarah had worked as director and curator at the Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells, Maine, for seven years. In April 2020, with the onset of the Covid pandemic and due to differences with the gallery’s owner, she left that position without a notion of what would come next.
Sarah viewed the moment as more of an opportunity than a crisis.
“I spent much of the first months of the pandemic out in my garden cutting limbs and wondering what my next step would be. Having a gallery of my own had been a dream of mine for 20 years, and then when it came to it I had to ask, what do I really want?”
She reckoned with a variety of possibilities: working as an art dealer without a gallery at all; accepting the invitation of a friend to run a gallery in Europe; repurposing her art studio over the garage to be a studio/gallery hybrid.
None of these ideas stuck.
“Thinking about the artists who were willing to work with me, the caliber of their work, I knew I needed to go all-in. I needed to honor the integrity of their work, which meant creating a gallery. I wanted to create a destination for people to experience the art deeply.”
The vision for the Sarah Bouchard Gallery was born.
What Sarah understands about running a gallery is something she first learned as an artist.
“I recall walking into the first juried show I got into. It was devastating to see how my painting was placed – it felt like everything present in the work was drained; it was dead. Whatever I’d put into my work was not honored.”
That experience stuck with her: presentation always matters.
Becoming an independent curator, however, was anything but a straightforward path for Sarah.
Born and raised in Brunswick, Maine, she attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she quickly switched her focus of study from chemical engineering to writing (“I didn’t have the stamina for all that computer lab time”). Shortly after graduating in 1998, she turned her focus to making visual art (“words were too confining”), enrolling in a handful of studio courses at Baltimore Community College. She returned to Maine to pursue a second undergraduate degree, this time a BFA from the University of Maine Farmington (UMF), where she had her first taste of curatorial work.
“I was an intern with Sarah Maline, the Gallery Director at UMF. She was a great mentor, and seeing the way she focused on detail and the way she ran the gallery was so inspiring to me. I asked her if I could curate a show.”
She did – and has continued doing so.
“I love working with artists, I love placing things in space. The way things are hung in spaces is crucial – the way art is laid out is essential to understanding it. I don’t think people are paying enough attention to that.”
That Sarah does pay attention to that perhaps explains why the artists featured in A Gathering of Aces were drawn to her in the first place, and she’s grateful.
“They were with me when I had no plans – nothing,” she says. “The show is a massive thank you to them because I’m so grateful they took a chance to work with me.”
Nestled in pines in a light-filled space off a quiet country road, the Sarah Bouchard Gallery officially opened on April 9th. The day was wet and cold, but that did not keep people from coming to the reception: collectors and artists, guests and friends, mingling and conversing, connecting with one another exactly as Sarah might wish – had envisioned as possible.
“It was beautiful,” she recalls. “It was lovely and no one wanted to leave. It was a beautiful experience.”
For the event, she provided drinks and light fare on the deck. People passed in and out through her gallery’s door all evening, seeing the art in all its beauty framed within. Easy fellowship abided.
Sarah remained outside on the deck the entire reception, out of the way of the art: she provided the door, and that was enough.
Indeed: that is the point.