New York’s A Snoozefest…

March 6, 2014 · Print This Article

Left to right: Richard, Duncan and Amanda are sleeping in at Volta.

Left to right: Richard, Duncan and Amanda are sleeping in at Volta NY.

But we ain’t napping! Instead, we’re working our smooth moves to get NYC into bed with us. Founding members Amanda Browder, Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie are leading by example as they keep the bed warm at the Volta NY fair, where they’re making/recording dreamy segments for our loyal listeners. If you’re in the big apple and you haven’t been in bed with us yet, get over here to Volta NY for some action immediately!

Bad at Sports booth/bed at Volta NY fair.

Bad at Sports booth/bed at Volta NY fair.

For all the readers out there, look for coverage of the festivities rolling out on the blog in the days and weeks to come. We’ll be giving mad props and nepotistic congratulations to the big Chicago presence at the fairs and the Whitney Biennial via slideshows, interviews and one-offs, while taking care to also bring in the thoughtful considerations and insightful reviews and breakdowns penned by our internationally-minded local and global correspondents.

 

Chicagoaxaca: An Interview with Iván Arenas

March 4, 2014 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Daniel Tucker

On February 12th, two new printmaking exhibitions opened at Art In These Times, an occasional exhibition venue in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood that is situated in the offices of the 35-year-old progressive news magazine In These Times.  The exhibits, Stainlessness and Chicagoaxaca, combined together both create a shared context addressing the transformative power of human labor in mobilizing for social justice. Stainlessness includes four original etched metal printing plates and a set of prints that tell the story of labor movements in North America as these have shaped Sudbury, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. Stainlessness was designed by Etienne Turpin with Captains of Industry, printed at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Design with artists Sara Dean and Marnie Briggs and installed with Ryan Griffis.

Folks listen in at Art In These Times. Image courtesy of Daniel Tucker.

Folks listen in at Art In These Times. Image courtesy of Daniel Tucker.

Chicagoaxaca: Gender, Indigeneity & Social Justice includes woodblock prints created by the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca (ASARO), a political street art group born during a grassroots social movement that shook Oaxaca, Mexico in 2006. Chicagoaxaca was curated by Iván Arenas, designed and installed with Jeremy Kreusch, and is brought to Art In These Times by the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This conversation with Iván Arenas focuses on the ongoing project of Chicagoaxaca. Arenas is a practicing artist and received his B.A. in Architecture and Anthropology at Columbia University and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from UC-Berkeley. He is currently working on articles and a book manuscript assessing how the art of protest from Oaxaca’s popular uprising of 2006 reconfigured conceptions of public space, rights to the city, and redefined political participation by questioning the role of democratic government in Mexico’s future.

Daniel Tucker (DT): Ivan, you have been and are continuing to tour this project throughout multiple sites within the city of Chicago – starting with the PUJA space that is a part of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Social Justice Initiative, for which you serve as a Visiting Scholar. The next spot is supposed to be the Centro Autonomo in Albany Park. It seems like a great idea, because as anyone working in cities is aware, spaces associated with certain neighborhoods or communities typically have a kind of pre-determined audience that may not overlap or draw people from throughout the city. Where did the idea for touring the exhibit locally come from and what are you learning from it about how audiences can be addressed or constructed throughout such a process?

Iván Arenas (IA): The idea to have the Chicagoaxaca exhibit occupy different sites came as a response to the fact that Chicago is a highly segregated city. An important part of Oaxaca’s social movement was the way in which it united a broad cross-section of society, from committed socialists to democratic liberals to steadfast anarchists. The need to negotiate the different political, economic, and social positions of movement participants through participatory assemblies was a powerful way in which the social movement transformed Oaxacan society in 2006. This is reflected in the political street art group whose work is on display in the exhibit. While attending an art space in a particular neighborhood is different from participating in an assembly, the hope is that holding the exhibit in different locations and breaking it up into different themes will encourage people to go to neighborhoods and spaces that they might otherwise not find themselves in.

Perhaps the most important lesson gleaned from this process has been the way in which staging the exhibit in spaces that are not strictly or only art spaces offers encounters with an audience that does not realize it is about to come across the art. Much as a stencil found around a street corner, this has the possibility of interrupting our normative itinerary—producing what Walter Benjamin described as a kind of shock or what the Situationist International framed as a détournement, a spatial, temporal, political, and playful detour from a common, established course. Thus, while some might specifically seek out the exhibit, the audience that the exhibit engages is one that is more than likely one that has come to the exhibit by happenstance—even as the limits of this audience is most definitely framed by the parameters of the particular groups that typically work or participate in activities at the Social Justice Initiative’s Pop Up Just Art space, the offices of In These Times magazine, and Centro Autónomo.

"Woman Walking" by Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca (ASARO).

“Woman Walking” by ASARO.

DT: This question is relevant for both bodies of work on display at Art In These Times. Both take on the power of humans to transform the world around them, but with slightly different emphasis. While there is some recognizable leftist imagery in Stainlessness, it is also about the impact of industrial capitalism. On the other hand, Ivan documented the visual culture and art of a social movement that had massive repercussions in social reorganization in Oaxaca just a few years ago. Chicagoaxaca rests much more firmly in a leftist social movement documentarian mode. What do you think about the relationship between these two approaches to dealing with humans transforming the physical and the social world around them?

IA: Though perhaps more explicit in the artworks of Stainlessness, both exhibits share an interest in the transformative encounter between materiality and social processes. At a simple level, they share this in the fact that both exhibits showcase forms of printmaking, an aesthetic process that transforms particular materials (metal and wood in this case) into images. In each case the limits and possibilities of the media’s very materiality become part of the condition of possibility for artists to create their images. Having practiced as an architect, I was also very interested in Oaxaca in the way that the city’s physicality mattered in the social protests: for example in the way that the city center’s narrow streets and the region’s hills magnified the effect of the thousands of people that marched through them or the way in which the porous green stones that the city is known for absorbed a stencil’s spray-paint, rendering it nearly impossible to remove. The precarious and impoverished conditions of the majority of the city, where buildings are completed haphazardly as economic conditions allow, were also critical in framing the possibility of gathering the sandbags, cement, stones, logs, and other materials that went up to make the 1,500 or so neighborhood barricades that went up in the city nightly to guard against paramilitary forces in moving vehicles.

And, clearly, the material conditions resulting from the rise and fall of industrial capitalism have been critical forces in shaping the sites and cities that both exhibits look at (Sudbury, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Oaxaca). The backdrop of this material and economic history is inescapable in understanding the forces that have made Oaxaca one of the most impoverished states in all of Mexico. The struggle in Oaxaca to depose the authoritarian governor is framed by the history of these material conditions. Documenting and participating in the production of the social movement’s visual culture offers insights into ways in which people coming together can and do find ways to interrupt—if not entirely escape—the material conditions that constrain them.

"Crouching Woman" by ASARO.

“Crouching Woman” by ASARO.

DT: You have a lot of experience dealing with disseminating and distributing yours and others production. There are plans for this project to turn into a book, where are those plans right now and what are your hopes for circulating the final publication?

IA: Through their images, the street artists were seeking to continue to motivate the people who were taking part in the social movement as well as looking to include more people in the dialogue about the problems facing everyone in Oaxaca and the collective search for solutions. As an academic, much of my work consists of interpreting this effort in relation to theoretical and historical strands whose purview stretches beyond Oaxaca—this effort is important, but its highly specialized language often renders its insights opaque and available to a select few. As a curator of Chicagoaxaca, one of the goals has been to use social justice as a bridge to connect the streets of Oaxaca to those of Chicago. This work of translation is expansive, requiring a different vocabulary from the highly narrow one of academic specialization. Curating Chicagoaxaca has meant utilizing the power of the images and corresponding narratives about art, social mobilization, and efforts to contest marginalization to connect with a broad number of people who, in their own way, are also questioning their contemporary reality and searching for transformative futures. The final publication of the project will support the effort to reach ever greater audiences by including a full catalog of the woodblock prints in the exhibit, photographs that flesh out the stencils, paintings, silkscreens and the practices of protest that the street artists and social movement practiced. Beyond narratives explaining and illuminating the insights that Oaxacan art and protest practices engendered, the text will include a series of conversations with people and groups in Chicago actively working for positive change; I am hoping that there will be both a published presence and an online archive of this work in English and Spanish and that this will allow Oaxacans, Chicagoans, and others who are mobilized to learn from each other.

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Daniel Tucker is a Chicago-based artist, writer, and organizer. He works on the Never The Same oral history and archive project with Rebecca Zorach, and is currently editing the book Immersive Life Practices, and producing a new video/writing project about self-sufficiency and the right-wing imagination while in residence at Grand Central Art Center.

Goodbye Frances “Frannie” Dittmer

February 14, 2014 · Print This Article

Frannie Dittmer

Frannie Dittmer

It is our sad duty to report the untimely passing of Frances “Frannie” (nee Ronshausen) Dittmer, a giant in the world of art, philanthropy, and living life. Ms. Dittmer died when the airplane she was in went down over Puerta Vallarta, Mexico last week. Bad at Sports Co-Founder Richard Holland writes, “I had the pleasure to meet her several times, a long, long time ago and remember her as being a giant of both personality and intelligence.” Ms. Dittmer was 72 and will be missed by two daughters, a son and four grandchildren, among many other loyal family and friends.

An obituary for Ms. Dittmer can be read in full in The Aspen Times:

A longtime former resident of Chicago and latterly of Aspen, Colorado, Mrs.Dittmer was a philanthropist and collector admired in preeminent art circles and beloved by family and friends of all stripes. “She was a force behind some of the most important institutions in this country,” said Philippe Vergne, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. “Frannie’s impact on our museum and museums across the country has been profound,” said Aspen Art Museum Co-Presidents John Phelan and Paul Schoor. “We could count on Frannie to speak her mind and make sure we took the right direction. Her leadership, vision, and friendship will always be treasured, and we already miss her and her infectious laugh.” And said James Rondeau, Dittmer Chair and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, “She was incisive and discerning, generous and glamorous, a radiant personality with a devilish sense of humor.” Blonde and statuesque, Frannie was stylishly self-possessed, plainspoken, and prone to call a spade a shovel. She talked and laughed with a lilting twang that she never tried to lose, but it was the laugh that was her trademark. An exuberant and unmistakable chortle, it was audible from astonishing distances and once heard, was not forgotten. Born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, she was a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a Kappa Kappa Gamma. From 1964 to 66 she worked on Capitol Hill as personal secretary to Democratic Texas Senator “Smilin” Ralph Yarborough, an extraordinary responsibility for someone in her early 20s. In Washington she caught the eye of Thomas Dittmer, a young lieutenant in the fabled Third Infantry and a White House Social Aide. In 1966, Frannie and Tom married and moved to Chicago, where they raised a family, built a business, and collected art. When Tom and stepfather founded R.E. Friedman commodities firm Refco in 1969, Frannie became one of the company’s first five employees. Refco’s success grew exponentially, and Frannie cultivated her passion and keen eye for art. In 1979 she met Sotheby’s Vice Chairman Anthony Grant, then a young associate in contemporary art, and the two began a lifelong journey. Through the years the collection evolved and changed from Modern masters such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger, to post war giants Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollock, to the art of our time by Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, and Christoper Wool. Concurrently Frannie also built a world class portfolio at Refco, with Adam Brooks as curator. Grounded in contemporary photography and in the works of master printmakers such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, the collection was preserved after Tom sold the company to private shareholders in 1999. The Dittmers were involved in numerous Chicago civic and arts organizations, including the Chicago Lyric Opera and Providence St. Mel School, but Frannie’s heart lay most fondly with the visual arts. In addition to her AIC trusteeship, she and Tom endowed there the Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art. She was also a life trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago where, together with Tom, she was one of six board members seminal to fundraising for that institution’s expansion in 1991, leading to the first major museum building in Chicago in 65 years. Throughout her life, Frannie participated substantively in many of the nation’s most prestigious arts organizations, including in New York the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Drawing Center, Dia Art Foundation, the Menil collection in Houston, and the Aspen Art Museum. Her magnanimity extended to animals, dogs in particular, and she supported a number of shelters and rescue organizations. Her cherished Chihuahuas once graced the cover of the Aspen Animal Shelter calendar, which made her immensely proud. Generous as well in their spirited entertaining of friends and associates, the Dittmers hosted famously creative and occasionally lavish parties. Her houses were always comfortable and beautifully designed, befitting her longtime collaboration and friendship and with designer David Easton. Not everyone knew she had her pilot’s license and played the piano by ear, but her reputation as a football aficionada and Bears fan was well established. In the early days she and Tom played flag football with friends, and she was invariably the first one picked. “She was a master of the quick kick,” Tom boasts. “And hell, she could throw the ball 50 yards.” More recently her children recall their fashionably clad mother loping across the lawn in Hermes sandals, manicured nails rasping on the pigskin as she threw perfectly spiraling passes to her grandsons. In 1994, as winds of business and finance shifted, the Dittmers left Chicago for New York, and after 33 years of marriage the formidable couple went their separate ways, divorcing amicably in 1999. Frannie moved permanently to Aspen, where they had long had a second home and where she was, not surprisingly, active in the community. The family nonetheless remained close and often spent holidays together. Surviving are son Jason and his wife Allison of Park City, Utah; grandsons Casey and Jesse; daughter Alexis Gaughan and her husband Chris of Santa Monica, California; and Chris’s daughters Casey and Peyton. A sister, Marilyn, and her husband Warren “Dutch” Holland, live in Durango, Colorado. Frannie also counted as family Matthew Morris, who for 25 years faithfully headed her household staff. The family respectfully suggests that gifts in Frannie’s memory go to a charity of the giver’s choice. Afternoon services will be held both in Aspen on Wednesday, February 19, in Aspen, and in Chicago on Friday, February 21, details to be announced.

 

Exit Interview: Carolina Garcia Jayaram

February 6, 2014 · Print This Article

Carolina Garcia Jayaram leaves Chicago Artists Coalition to take over United States Artists as Chief Executive Officer.

Carolina Garcia Jayaram leaves Chicago Artists Coalition to take over United States Artists. Photo by Jacob Boll.

Last week, it was announced that Carolina Garcia Jayaram, Executive Director of Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC) for nearly four years, is leaving her post at CAC for the position of Chief Executive Officer of United States Artists, one of the nation’s largest grant-making and advocacy organizations supporting performing, visual, media, and literary artists. Establishing herself as a formidable force for change and opportunity in the Chicago art world in such a short time period, Jayaram has transformed CAC from an organization that had seen better days to one that is now flocked to by contemporary artists of all kinds. Checking in before she steps into her new role at United States Artists, Bad at Sports conducted this “Exit Interview” with Jayaram:

Bad at Sports: Carolina, you had notable success founding and leading LegalArt (now Cannonball) in Miami. What convinced you to come to Chicago to take up the Executive Director position at CAC?

Carolina Garcia Jayaram: I’d like to say it was some benevolent altruistic force, but it was actually love. My husband is from here and longed to return, so we did, and it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Once I arrived, I worked at the Arts Alliance Illinois, doing arts education policy work, which was truly important work but didn’t bring the creative challenge I was looking for and so I sought out something new and CAC was looking for a new Executive Director.

BaS: What was the state of CAC when you inherited it? And now, how would describe the organization?

CGJ: To say it was chaotic and rudderless is an understatement. There were a few loyal and vital board members keeping the frayed ends together, but really, I came in at a time when a few more months would have meant the total demise of the organization. It was a challenge I found exciting and felt prepared to take on largely because I was ignorant to the state of things. That’s often the best way to go in for someone like me, who likes making order of the chaos. The bones were there, though, meaning a significant history, a dwindling but loyal cohort of members, funders who reengaged very quickly and a larger artist community that was definitely skeptical, to put it mildly, but welcoming once they realized we were in it for them.

BaS: If at all, how have you worked through the organization’s history while developing programming aligned with your own vision?

CGJ: In addressing the history [of CAC], or evolving past it, I found the biggest challenges. The majority of people are averse to change and so my initial push to make broad and sweeping changes was definitely met with resistance. For instance, one of the fist things to go was a printed newspaper that hundreds of artists still subscribed to and relied on for Chicago arts news. I had angry calls for months, but it was time to move on from that. It was a strategy embedded in the belief that our history was about advocacy and advocacy had changed from the early days of CAC. My vision was and remains one aligned with economic prosperity for artists, which is directly linked with artistic and creative freedom. I felt that this approach honored CAC’s history but shifted it in a way to become a lot more relevant for artists working today.

BaS: In your mind, how has CAC best contributed to the growth and sustainability of the arts in Chicago?

CGJ: One of the things I’m most proud of is creating an environment that welcomes partnership. I owe a great deal of our early successes to the partners who took a chance on me and CAC when they knew little or nothing of us, like the Chicago Loop Alliance (our partner in Pop Up Art Loop & Art Loop Open), Groupon, Gensler, The Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (by giving us Chicago Artists Resource), Pitchfork, Audience Architects, 1871, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Other People’s Pixels, Creative Capital, and many, many individuals who were instrumental in building BOLT, HATCH, A.B.C., Starving Artist and EDITION Chicago into critical and commercial successes. Each of these endeavors have played a role in helping build a sustainable economic marketplace for Chicago’s creative community, which I hope is my legacy in the early development of CAC’s latest chapter.

BaS: What do you think has been your most important success as executive director?

Convincing hundreds of artists that they are capable of more than they believed possible.

BaS: What aspect(s) of Chicago’s arts community has had the greatest impact on you—both personally and professionally? And what aspect(s) have most impressed you?

Professionally, it has been to work in a city that knows the importance of art and artists in a way largely foreign to me before coming here. The level of awareness about the arts here is unusual, and even those who may know less are still convinced of its importance and are usually looking for ways to know and experience more. Personally, the arts community has embraced my ideas and allowed me to take risks and to be creative, which has been deeply rewarding and stimulating. I definitely haven’t gotten it all right, but I’ve always felt I could count on honest and constructive feedback from the many artists who have been a part of CAC’s growth.

BaS: Let’s wrap up with a look ahead: United States Artists. Tell us about this organization. What excites you most about this new position? And though it may be a bit premature to ask, we still want to know, what are some of your plans for USA?

CGJ: United States Artists is driven by a very simple yet revolutionary premise: to best support artists we must first provide unrestricted funding in order for them to have the space and freedom to create work ([which is] wonderful) and second, we must create an environment where the larger public understands the importance of the artist in the world around them ([which is also] wonderful, but harder to attain). I am excited to grow USA’s presence, to reengage with hundreds of alumni who, I do not exaggerate, are our county’s finest artists across eight disciplines. I plan to take what we do well, with a fellowship program that has to date invested nearly $18 million directly into artists and their work, and do it better, by working with alumni and future fellows to determine how we can make a deeper impact in not only their lives as artists but in their community’s lives, which I believe is a desire many artists have but are seeking tools to do better. But, first, we are going to get the 2014 fellowship underway and by year’s end, have a new class of fellows, which is the most exciting.

United States Artists is indeed a granting powerhouse that, at $50,000 a pop, has funded and led to the success of a number of household names, including Chicagoans like Douglas Garofalo (architecture), Theaster Gates (visual arts), Aleksander Hemon (literature), and Steven James (film), among others. Though the organization grants to artists living and working all over the country, a majority number of grants go to those based in New York and California. As far as we can tell, Jayaram will conduct her work as CEO from Chicago. If that’s the case, the fact that Chicagoans will be better informed about this national funding opportunity and the possibility that they and other Midwestern artists will be better represented is pretty darned exciting.

Congratulations, Ms. Jayaram.