What if you can't show your work at your work?
That's the conundrum facing curator-artists, who are bound by ethical rules from showing their art in the museums they curate.
So this First Friday, you can find senior curator Brandon Reintjes' paintings a few blocks away from his workplace, the Missoula Art Museum, at the Railroad Street office of PureWest Christie's International Real Estate.
He and his friend, the found-object artist Susan Carlson, teamed up for a show with painter Peggy Wen, a University of Montana MFA candidate.
Instead of working toward a theme in their pieces, they opted for the more fun route: "Let's make them as different as we can," Reintjes said.
Carlson, who is represented at the Radius Gallery, was lining up the show and wanted to see more of Reintjes' work displayed.
The two used to work together at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture, and while their art looks very different, Reintjes said there's a "kindred spirit" at work. He favors geometry and patterns and likes to paint on the "ready-made canvases" of vintage cigar boxes. Carlson constructs boxes, in the fashion of Joseph Cornell, that contain cryptic and engrossing arrangements of found objects: figurines, tins, fragments of text, seashells and bones.
"They kind of tell the story, or tell me where to place them. It's all about the materials for me," she said. She frequents second-hand stores, and friends give her things they know she could use, since she likes "discarded things, given another life."
In Wen's oil painting, "Can you just relax?", an elaborate patterned floor recedes into a shrouded mint-green fog, while a brown leather chair recedes and emerges through layers. Ever in analytical mode, Reintjes admired the way it can "hover between observation and some sort of narrative."
Reintjes studied for his bachelor's in painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. You wouldn't know it from the work he's showing today, but he was a serious about drawing and painting the figure as an undergraduate. Toward the end of his time there, he reached a "crisis point where I couldn't paint the figure anymore," he said. He eventually segued into abstract works, although to this day he's serious about landscape painting and figure studies.
His paintings in the show are based on grids, with colorful painting and underpainting.
"I've been thinking a lot about screens as partitions and dividers, but also these things we project on to, first in cinema and then with computers," he said. He thinks of the grid as "a way to create a space or an arena where action takes place, where we project our ideas or fantasies and things like that."
One of his "screen" series was based on a square grid game. He painted and removed text, although some is still visible underneath — a quality he admires. Another piece has zigzag lines that remind him of the switchback trails on Mount Sentinel. Those are laid atop a diamond-like pattern that he painted and then partially buried with brushes and marks.
"You always have the vestiges of what's there; it's an accumulation of visual information," he said.
Reintjes has been somewhat in "survivalist mode" when it comes to producing his own art due to myriad commitments.
In 2015, he left his curator job at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture and moved to the Missoula Art Museum.
During the past several years, he and his wife Alison Reintjes, a ceramic artist, renovated a home and then sold it and moved into a new one. The two also have twins, now 10 years old. (The kids have their own space in the parents' studio so they can work, too.)
The curator post means that he has to be careful about ethics and undue influence. He isn't represented by any galleries, and lately has donated pieces to auctions by arts nonprofits.
He pursued curating, including a master's from the University of Louisville, rather than solely pursuing his own work.
"I wanted to be surrounded by art all the time. I wanted to be able to think about art constantly, and artists and what they do, and what artists do in society," he said. This gives him some time for himself, yet "at the same time I think when you're engaged in a community and you're thinking about it from the perspective of a community, it's really satisfying."