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A home and a voice for contemporary art

Rochester Business Journal
November 22, 2013

Despite rumors to the contrary, gifted contemporary artists do live in Rochester, Margot Muto says.
In a corner of their converted factory workspace in the Neighborhood of the Arts, her parents, Rick and Robin Muto, opened Axom Gallery in March 2012 to give much-needed exposure to talented local contemporary artists.
Margot curates the shows and determines the aesthetics and mission of the gallery. And this year she launched her own business, Margot Muto Contemporary Art, to represent and handle business for local emerging and established artists.
With a background in art herself (she studied at Cleveland Institute of Art and graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA), Muto sees her role as a bridge, connecting contemporary artists to the public and to collectors-many of whom want to support local artists but don't know who they are.
Muto is convinced that Rochester's arts scene is much richer than people think. She suspects collectors have been going out of town to look for talent; few local venues highlight local contemporary artists, and the assumption has long been that nothing remarkable happens here, she says.
When Muto, 33, moved back to Rochester from Cleveland roughly a decade ago, she believed that too. For a while she tended bar and mixed paints at Mayer Hardware (a skill learned as a girl at her father's elbow).
It took opening the gallery to "kind of slap me in the face," she says. Talented, ambitious artists clamored to show their work. Enthusiastic crowds attended the shows.
Suddenly Muto-who grew up surrounded by her parents' artist friends-could see that Rochester artists were busy producing very good work. They just didn't have the exposure found in other cities.
Muto is hoping to change that. At Axom she has curated the shows of, among others, sculptor Gareth Barry, master photographer Carl Chiarenza, painter Paul Garland, mixed-media artist Henry Avignon, sculptor Susan Ferrari Rowley and painter Jim DeLucia.
In her management business she represents Avignon, whose work blends painting, photography and printmaking. He will be part of the Exposure exhibit series next week at the Ceres Gallery in New York's Chelsea district. She also represents Barry, whom she discovered, and Ferrari Rowley.
For nearly 40 years, Ferrari Rowley has had a prolific career in American studio craft. Her work is shown and collected around the country and yet, like many of her local peers, she has a low profile in her hometown because of a shortage of commercial galleries.
Muto has encountered this information gap in meetings with New York City gallery owners.
"A lot of them knew Rochester and they knew what had happened. Rochester just kind of fell off the map in the art scene," she says.
Muto sees a need not only to elevate the art scene but to make it more accessible. Arts and culture are the backbone of the community, she says.
She looks around and sees a movement in Rochester to bring art to the streets-and the streets into the gallery-citing Ian Wilson M.D. and Erich Lehman with Wall\Therapy and 1975 Gallery, Sarah Rutherford at the Yards, Bleu Cease at Rochester Contemporary Art Center and Shawn Dunwoody at Four Walls Gallery. Muto sees her role as owner of a commercial gallery that is equally involved in youth education and other types of activism.
"Art is what I know, so that's the way I move. It's about community building. ... I love being a part of a generation that's doing this," she says. "They are building the cultural context of our city. What (Rutherford) is doing with the Yards is how Chelsea was built. ... I am proud to say I'm a part of their generation."
Muto hopes to have a downtown location within five years. With a footing in contemporary visual art, she expects to expand into experiential art, her true passion. During college she discovered performance, conceptual and installation art at documenta XI, a massive exhibition of cutting-edge work in Germany. It blew her away.
"I had no idea that this was considered art," she says, laughing. "It changed my life."
Muto wants to bring opportunities to experience such art to Rochesterians, particularly young people. She has taught children at Cleveland Art Museum and the Memorial Art Gallery and has made art with incarcerated youths in Rochester. Muto wants to create experiences that draw on the artistic strengths of young people, citing Dunwoody's work with city youths in a space in the Sibley Building.
"I would like to see my career become more and more involved in the community," she says. "What's the not-so-obvious collaboration? I'm always thinking of the not-so-obvious, the breaking tradition." 
Muto leaves Sunday for New York City, where she'll spend a month promoting Avignon's work. She will meet with gallery owners and art aficionados, spreading the word on what's good about art in Rochester.

11/22/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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