by Jessica Carreras
Listen up, Michigan: This may be the last chance you have to see the work of local artist Barry Avedon.
The Ann Arbor resident and openly gay professor of art at Eastern Michigan University is retiring and splitting his time between Saugatuck and Tampa, Fla. – but not before going out with a bang. The River Gallery of Fine Art, located in Chelsea, will be hosting a solo show of Avedon’s work until Jan. 9, along with guest artists on the second level: Margaret Davis, Karen Izenberg, Michael Reedy and Richard Washington.
Avedon has shown several times before at the River Gallery, as well as Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham, the Water Street Gallery in Saugatuck and in several venues in Provincetown, Mass., and Brooklyn, N.Y., where he grew up.
Between The Lines chatted with Avedon from his home in Saugatuck he shares with his partner about his upcoming show, being a gay professor and why technology persuaded him to retire.
Congratulations on your upcoming retirement. How long have you been teaching at Eastern?
I’m just going to be retiring at the end of this term and I’ve been there 44 years – since 1966. I’ve taught many different levels.
Are there any other openly gay professors in your department?
We’ve had quite a few gay professors and it’s funny because right at this point, I’ll be retiring and several of the others have retired. But like any department, we have 30-plus faculty, so you’re bound to have some gay people, and lesbians.
And are the department and the school pretty open about it?
Well, I would say when I moved there in 1966, things weren’t quite as open as they are now, but eventually an organization was formed that was faculty and staff – gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. – and I was one of the founding members of that. So that was, you might say, more official, but I never really kept it a secret. Anybody who knew me in the department knew I was gay, but that organization made it very official because we had our pictures in the newspaper and all of that.
Were you out when you started working there?
Well, it’s funny, you’re out to the people who know you and certainly, in 1966, I don’t recall anybody – not just in our department but in the entire university – people didn’t make a grand announcement about it. But I was out to family and friends, and I doubt if there were many students who didn’t know. And in fact, when I joined the faculty, there was a gay couple who taught in my department and everybody knew they were a gay couple.
Have many things changed working for the university?
It has changed in many concrete ways. My partner for many years now, David, has gotten domestic partner benefits. Well, that was just about unheard of. I’m sure in 1966 if I had said ‘domestic partnership benefits,’ nobody would have even known what I was speaking about. So things at Eastern, I’d say, are as open as most of the universities in Michigan.
Tell me about your upcoming exhibit at the River Gallery.
Since I moved here, I’ve been with different galleries and exhibited at different museums in the state and the Midwest. But this particular gallery in Chelsea has been in existence many eight years and I’ve been with them about five or six. They’ve given me previous exhibitions – they gave me a retrospective exhibition about three years ago. But now, this year, because I am retiring and we’re leaving Ann Arbor, so they decided to give me this farewell exhibition.
The two women who own this gallery have been two of my best experiences as far as showing in a commercial gallery – and believe me, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong – so they are always thinking of ways to present the show. The fact that I am retiring, they decided that this was a nice way to present the show, as a farewell exhibition. Once I leave Ann Arbor, my paintings are very large – they could be six or seven feet – it’s very difficult to drag something like that around. So chances are, I won’t show very much at that River Gallery once we leave.
So once you retire, will you spend more time relaxing or still create and show art?
Well, this coming January, I’ll be turning 69. Most people retire before that, and the fact that I’ve been doing the same kind of work, but you know, it’s many, many years. There reaches a certain point where you just feel it’s the right time to retire. So what it will be like, I’ll know after December (laughs).
How did you know it was time?
I’ve enjoyed my years there greatly and I’ve had a great relationship with a lot of wonderful students, but if I had to say one thing that’s been difficult for me and other older faculty, it’s the age of technology. So much has become so technological – and younger people, for them, the Internet is something they grew up with – but for people like myself, that’s been a struggle. All my grading has to be done online and communication. I’ve tried to get with it, but it hasn’t been easy, really. That has made me feel a bit like it’s time to retire.
Something About Barry
Dec. 2 – Jan. 9
River Gallery of Fine Art, 120 S. Main, Chelsea
Gallery hours: Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 12-4 p.m.