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Aging & Society

This New York City Gallery Only Shows Artists 60 and Older

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Since it was founded in 2009, the Carter Burden Gallery has shown art of every imaginable stripe: sculpture, paintings, drawings and collage; watercolor, oils, photography and mixed media; figurative and abstract.

But, diverse as they are, the more than 150 artists who have exhibited here do share one thing in common: they are all 60 or older.

The New York City art gallery is a project of the Carter Burden Network. A decades-old nonprofit, the organization provides a wide range of services for seniors, from meal programs to music lessons, a “happiness at any age” discussion group, support resources for caregivers, Tai Chi classes and a program to combat elder abuse.

Beyond providing a platform and community for older professional artists, the Carter Burden Gallery has an important message, says Marlena Vaccaro, the gallery’s curator and a painter/printmaker herself. “Our artists are important peer role models for the whole Burden network,” she says. “They demonstrate that you don’t stop being who you are at 60, 70, 80 or 90,” she says. “If anything you become more of who you are. You don’t stop loving opera, you don’t stop loving margaritas and, if you’re an artist, you still get up every morning, just like you did at 20, and work. We’re not showing art that was made in 1975; we’re showing art that was created this year.”

A prime example is Robert Ludwig, a 93-year-old artist who works in charcoal, paint, pastels and graphite and is experimenting with making the largest pieces of his career. “Art has no age,” says Vaccaro. “People’s talent, passion and creativity has no age.”  

There’s no sign announcing Carter Burden’s mission to give visibility to older, lesser-known artists. So, when gallery-goers stroll in, the work they see on the walls is “so vibrant, so alive and so cutting-edge,” says Vaccaro, “they have no way of knowing the age of the artists. The old stereotypes don’t hold.” 

While Carter Burden’s exhibit space is reserved for re-emerging professional artists, Vaccaro points out that the deeply satisfying experience of creating art is open to everyone. “It’s not about the results,” Vaccaro says, “it’s about immersing yourself in the process for an hour or two. When you’re creating art you go into a zone that’s really good for your heart and mind and soul. And if you don’t like what you’ve make, tear it up and throw it away. That’s what artists do.”

Take an art class at a senior or community center. Or, if you want to make your art privately, Vaccaro suggests buying a big roll of paper and a set of colored markers. “Forget about making something that looks like something in real life,” she says. “That’s really limiting and the very smallest part of being an artist. Just have fun. You might discover that you’re so in love with color, all you want to do is make gigantic areas of color.”

For inspiration, visit museums and galleries, online or in real life; check out art books at a bookstore or library. “’Art’ is the biggest three-letter word there is,” Vaccaro says. “It’s incredibly broad and encompassing. Cave paintings go back 40,000 years. Those images were very simple and crudely drawn, but nothing has ever been more powerful. Just be true to yourself. Making art is something you do for yourself, not for outward approval.”

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