Curating What’s Compelling
Throughout his career in the arts, Michael Burmeister, Director of the Button Gallery, has aimed to create artistic experiences that are compelling rather than commercial. Here, he shares how he strives for authenticity in his life and work.
The Button Gallery in downtown Douglas has a rich history, beginning in London over 200 years ago. After relocations first to Chicago and then to Douglas in 1966, the gallery now resides in a historic building with over 2,500 square feet of exhibition space and an idyllic outdoor sculpture garden. Burmeister, an abstract painter and ceramicist in his own right, wants these settings to feel “well-curated but radically unpretentious.” The result is an eclectic, approachable, and inspiring gallery.
What’s your approach to curating the gallery?
I try to find artists who are just compelled to make things. It probably goes back to my time as an art teacher and trying to get my students to a place where they feel passionate and have their own voice. I also try to mix art from different mediums and perspectives, including work from local and Midwestern artists. I think this is important because it gives my clients a chance to connect with the artists.
Are there certain types of work that you’re most excited about showcasing?
I’m always on the lookout for what’s interesting and new. The gallery features a lot of large-scale work, and I’m interested in ceramicists doing more textural and sculptural things—like glazes that bubble, pop, and crawl. We also show a lot of work from Mark Chatterley, a Michigan-based sculptor. I love the scale of his work, which includes life-sized and larger-than-life blue dogs with a distinctive texture.
Do you have regular events for visitors and potential clients to attend?
We host a lot of live demos in the summer, where I’ll have three to four artists working in the gallery at the same time. This seems to make gallery visitors more comfortable and willing to get up close to observe their process or ask questions. I also try to coordinate shows with other galleries in the area, including our yearly Fall Gallery Stroll.
What do you love about being an artist in the Saugatuck/Douglas area?
When I moved here with my wife and two daughters in 2015, we immediately learned that it’s a friendly community. Especially when it comes to the artists who live and work here. People want to be collaborative and make their work better. There’s a generous spirit, too, with people willing to share kilns, wheels, and other tools. Also, meeting and interacting with these artists personally is pretty extraordinary and wouldn’t be possible in a bigger city.
When family or friends visit, what’s on your must-do list?
Hiking the Livingston Trail at the Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and I also tell them to check out the Crow’s Nest Trail in Tallmadge Woods. Pier Cove Beach or West Side County Park are great, too, especially if you are a texture nerd like me. They have so many more rocks to look at than the other parks.
I also tell people to avoid the pools and get to the lake as much as possible. It gives you a chance to find those moments of awe that are so important to our physical and mental health. I really believe that the lake has some sort of power that’s unbelievable and fantastic—like when you swim out to that second sandbar and feel totally in awe.