Mary Sherman of TransCultural Exchange

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by Christian Holland

Mary Sherman 2 web
Mary Sherman, director of TransCultural Exchange.
Photo: Emily Sypher.

It was the late ‘80s. It was Chicago. An emerging artist named Mary Sherman had just met a couple of young Austrian architects who traveled to the city to study its architecture. They needed a place to stay, and Mary offered.

The architects, to whom Mary had been connected through Viennese friends she made while studying abroad, happened to like Sherman’s work, and several months later she was showing at Vienna’s WUK Kunsthalle with other Chicago-based artists. That show was the first of a two-part exhibition entitled Reverse Angle in 1989–1990, with the second part, composed of Vienna-based artists, taking place at the Ludwig Drum Factory building in Chicago.

What was happening during the architects’ trip to Chicago and Sherman’s subsequent exhibition in Vienna was an exchange of ideas and resources, but it couldn’t have happened if Sherman wasn’t one of those rare specimens of artist who was also an organizer.

“There are not so many people who know, like Sherman, all the sides of the game: the making of art, the teaching of art, the logic and strength of the art critic, the institutional level, the game with networking activities,” Jean-Baptiste Joly, the founder and director of the Stuttgart-based foundation Akademie Schloss Solitude, told me. “Sherman is just magic and inspires all the people around her with her enthusiasm and her generosity,” he said.

Joly is now on the advisory board of the organization that evolved from the exchange that took place in Chicago and Vienna. That organization now programs international exhibitions, provides professional guidance to a global community of artists, and holds a biennial conference in Boston. That organization is the TransCultural Exchange and Sherman is its founder and director.

When she was in Chicago, Sherman was showing with the Oskar Friedl Gallery, but had wanted to seek exhibition opportunities outside the United States. She wanted to become an international artist. In order to get there she created her own opportunities, but not without involving those around her. “Sometimes you just need to do things yourself,” she told me, and TCE went on to produce exhibitions at Trans Hudson Gallery in New York City, Kwanhoon Gallery in Seoul, South Korea, and has three times worked with the London Biennale.

Many American artists may take for granted their proximity to commercial centers like New York, Los Angeles, or even Boston, but the opportunity to show internationally is a chance for them to reach new markets and, more importantly, dramatically increase the number of people exposed to their work.

Mary Sherman 1 web
Mary Sherman, director of TransCultural Exchange.
Photo: Emily Sypher.

TSE exists “to help artists become global citizens,” Sherman told me. “We live in 2012, and 2012 is global, and if artists are going to be able to reflect on the times in which they live, they must become global as well,” she said.

Xinxin Guo, Beijing Studio Center’s co-founder and executive director, who met Sherman for the first time at TCE’s first conference in 2009, is planning to bring a group of Chinese artists to the Art Farm residency in Nebraska. She touted the TCE conference not only for its intercultural engagement, but also its professional opportunities tailored for artists. “Artists are not like ordinary people who work in companies, who meet every day and collaborate… However, artists need a community to share, exchange, and collaborate.” That’s why they find friends when they are in residency, but “at the same time find themselves,” she told me.

Residencies, according to both Sherman and Guo, are more often than not an artist’s first steps into a new country, whether you’re an Austrian architect looking for a couch to surf or an exchange student, like Sherman in her junior year at Boston College, making friends—or building a network—in Vienna and beyond.

The next TransCultural Exchange conference will take place in 2013 on the campus of Boston University, TSE’s new partner.


Outstanding conference. There is nothing like this way of getting together as working artists, desiring collaboration in general and specific ways, and making connections. Mary Sherman is a one-of-a-kind organizer who is also a working artist.
Posted by: Barbara Trachtenberg    On: May 2, 2012 7:25 pm

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