Adam Tully bought his initial piece of art, a work by Jonah Jacobs, on his first date with John Farina at Spaces in 2006. From then on, the pair began going to galleries and talking to artists. Eventually, the couple, now engaged, had amassed more than 400 pieces that overflow from the rooms (including the bathroom) of their Collinwood home. To Tully, a musician, the artworks are keepers of memories.
"John and I walk through any room in our house and attribute where we got it, how we got it and why we got it," he says. "It's such a fulfilling experience."
They noticed that nearly 80 percent of their collection was Cleveland artists, many of whom weren't represented by a gallery. So they took it upon themselves to open the Maria Neil Art Project — first with pop-up exhibits in hair salons, businesses and restaurants in 2012 and then as a gallery in the Waterloo Arts District in 2013.
"We definitely started with our collection," says Farina.
The spot has hosted the first exhibit for Adam Charles Markanovic, a Cleveland Institute of Art graduate who paints male figures on reflective Mylar, and even showed fellow Collinwood resident, expressive photographer Eric Rippert.
As the executive director of ArtNeo and a board member of Spaces, Farina brings experience and leadership that makes the concept successful. He's reviewed the work of seminal Northeast Ohio artists and that's led to shows of offbeat icons such as Shirley Aley Campbell, an 88-year-old painter who depicts outcasts.
"She was on the forefront of painting the human figure in ways that were controversial or provocative," says Farina.
The cozy gallery plays with the concept of space when choosing the types of works it exhibits and their presentation. Libby Chaney: Seasons, which shows Nov. 6-22 and Dec. 4-6, was originally commissioned for the stately Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago.
"We're taking a large installation piece that should be seen in a grand setting, and we are putting it in this intimate gallery space where you are actually going to be a part of the installation once you walk into it," says Farina.
Such transformative experiences are what the Maria Neil Art Project hopes to provide.
At 48 feet long and 9 feet tall, Libby Chaney: Seasons is monstrous. But its bulk makes it immersive, cloaking the viewer in 500 square feet of scraps from dresses, curtains and tablecloths from thrift stores. When the art installation envelops the Maria Neil Art Project this month and next, it will allow viewers to fully experience all seasons at once. Chaney helps us stitch together the story behind the piece.
I have a lifetime collection of fabrics. I have things from all over the world. I really enjoy that it makes it feel like a collaboration — as if I am working with the designers of all these fabrics. I could not wait to see [Seasons] down on the ground, and my studio wasn't big enough. John Farina and Adam Tully said they would like to show it, and I just thought that was great. You can walk in the front door and be in the seasons. I think of it as a contemplative piece. I would love to see people just get quiet when they see it. That's what it is for me. I like to sit and think and see things I didn't see before. It is about the passage of time, not just tulips and trees. — as told to Andrew Orie