For the past year and a half, I’ve been teaching Foundations at Northern Arizona University. Recently I was invited to present at a session at the FATE Conference “Tectonic Shifts” in Indianapolis. (The whole #boycottindiana thing didn’t start until our last day there.) It was, among other things, an opportunity to reflect on what, exactly, Foundations is, as a subject, and what it could and should be.
Foundations programs typically include Drawing, 2D Design, and 3D Design. They often also include Color Theory, Figure Drawing, and (very occasionally) an introductory Digital Media class. This presupposes a certain set of priorities that influences students’ perceptions of what art is, and bear in mind that within a college or university setting, most students in a Foundations course will not necessarily be art majors.
The premise seems to be that most of the classes are set up to prepare a student to work in two-dimensional plastic arts, chiefly painting. And indeed, in the popular imagination, painting serves as the holotype for what art is. The combination of Drawing, 2D Design, and Color Theory is perfectly geared towards preparing a student for Painting I, or perhaps Printmaking. In my own studio practice I am a painter, and perhaps I was drawn into this medium by a similar set of assumptions. (What I thought I was attracted to, in my teens and early twenties, as “painting,” was in fact primarily illustration, albeit rendered in paint.) 3D Design is a nod to sculpture, and some departments have begun introducing various courses in Digital Media in an attempt to “contemporize” their departments.
I’m not particularly interested in reinventing Foundations, certainly not in the sense of being on some sort of crusade to throw out the traditional model. But I am interested in how and why we have formed our assumptions about what comprise the fundamental building blocks of an artistic practice. Certainly the type of Foundations that I learned when I was in college, that I used to build the technical skills that form the basis of my practice, and that I now teach to my students, have much more in common with the kind of art we saw before 1965 than since.
I should here also mention that I attended community college and then a four-year public state university, and now teach at a similar university, so my experience was and is very different from what one might have at an art school. The foundations curriculum at MICA, RISD, or SAIC might very well be very different from what I’m used to. If I were to look at a cross-section of contemporary art, and use that as my starting point to reverse engineer what a Foundations program should be, I would imagine that the first semester would consist of Introduction to Art Theory, Art History Since 1965, Digital Photography (probably camera phone based), and Writing For Artists. If there was a first-semester foundations studio course at all, it would probably be Found Object Assemblage.
I should be clear here that this isn’t some Swiftian “Modest Proposal” in which I argue that contemporary artists have no hand skill anymore, and that it’s all showmanship and networking and name dropping. Not that it’s not, just that I recognize that there’s no point in bemoaning the fact. Rather, I am saying that over the past few decades, the new work being produced has often (not always) emphasized concept over technique (I am under no illusions of this being a groundbreaking revalation), and that when contemporary work does require hand skill, that hand skill might have little or nothing to do with traditional plastic art skills of drawing, painting, carving, and casting. Rather we see cabinetmaking and welding, mechanics and electronic engineering, computer programming and choreography, each used as it suits the artist’s needs. Indeed, an art education that geared students to produce for the contemporary market might look something like two years of hardcore art history and theory, culminating in a “sophmore seminar” in which the student produces a written proposal for an ambitious thesis project. The following year is spent on exchange to a vocational trade school where the student learns whatever skills he or she needs to execute the project, whether that be horseback riding or taxidermy, mountaineering or tattooing, explosive demolition or flintknapping. The fourth year consists solely of guided studio time coupled with a class in professional practices. The thesis show is presented at the end of the fourth year, and the fifth year is devoted to developing a new, post-thesis body of work intended for submission to grad schools or galleries.
I don’t know if this would be any better or worse than what we have now. I, for one, would feel the loss of the traditional media in art programs. I’d certainly be out of a job. But if art education exists not as a sort of pyramid scheme in which we enlist the help of the next generation in taking our classes so that we can repay our student loans, in the hope that they will one day pass on this curse to students of their own (like the monstrous antagonist in It Follows), but as an actual service to our students, then it must prepare them for the world that they will actually face.
I’m left with the question of what role my beloved traditional media play in an ever-changing world. There are only so many hours in the day, indeed, only so many hours in a lifetime, and every new skill that is introduced must of necessity displace something else. Introduce Robotics, and a student never takes Lithography. Introduce Relational Aesthetics (which I’m currently teaching), and perhaps it’s Figure Drawing that gets left behind. Earlier today, a student was planning her schedule for the Fall, and had to choose between my Color Theory class and a 3D Printing class being offered at the same time.
In some cases, the progression seems natural: that digital photography has relegated the entire darkroom to the role of alternative process makes sense, for the same reason that wet collodion printing isn’t taught in Beginning Photo. The technology has evolved. (I love oil painting, but for me, Beginning Painting makes more sense in acrylics.) But the kind of theory-driven, technique-thin program I hypothetically described above sacrifices some of the most important elements of artmaking. The “wow, I made that!” satisfaction of a well-executed representational drawing can be what inspires a student to pursue art as a degree, a career, a life. For all the practicality of digital photography, there is an alchemical magic to the darkroom that can never be rendered in pixels. And as any observational painter or drawing teaching will tell you, you’ve never really seen something until you’ve tried to draw it. This is the magic, the power to inspire, that we must preserve at all costs as we chase the spotlight of new technologies and ideas through the prison yard of the art world.
It is intriguing to wonder if, given a hundred year’s worth of hindsight, there are dealers working today who might earn, by way of tribute, a major show at the National Gallery. Such has been the case for Paul Durand-Ruel (1981-1922), the Parisian art mogul who brought Impressionism to the notice of the world.
NG visitors can see for themselves how Durand-Ruel not only ‘invented’ Impressionism, but arguably did the same for the art market as we know it today. The dealer was responsible for innovations in marketing and market manipulation. It is even said that he invented the solo retrospective. Today we wouldn’t think twice about seeing a Monet show, but when the French painter was still alive, it was harder for some to countenance.
Along with Monet, the dealer can lay claim to have discovered Pissarro, Renoir and Degas. And he once lamented that he lacked the funds to buy up every last piece by Manet (haven’t we all), firmly confident that this shocking new painter would repay his investment: “In fifty years they will sell for fifteen or twenty times more,” said the oft-called prophet of Impressionism.
Numbers alone tell a story. In his custody at one time or another were some 1,500 Renoirs, 1,000 Monets and 800 paintings by Pissarro. The Musée d’Orsay owes nearly 100 of its Impressionist stock to the dealings of Durand-Ruel and the National Gallery in London owns 40 of his previous sales. In the US, meanwhile, renowned collector Albert Barnes wrote to the French dealer with the words, “My collection is practically an annex of your business”.
The current show is well staged with a lot more drama than you might expect from a dry lesson in art history. Visitors can enter by way of the dealer’s New York branch, a black and white photo of which fills the lobby. Then once inside he or she will find a partial recreation of Durand-Ruel’s well-populated sitting room. Later in the exhibition is a room devoted to the innovative Monet show and another which takes a major London show as its theme.
So what of the artwork? Well, sexed up by the wheeling and dealing, it is more fresh and exciting than any show about a 19th century moment has any right to be. There are family portraits by Renoir, pastoral scenes by Pissarro and trademark poplars by Monet. In one especially thrilling corner, one finds an oil sketch for Manet’s great masterpiece Bar at the Folies-Bergère.
Manet is well represented, a still life here, a portrait there. But what’s this… a naval battle? In 1864 the French master painted a duel between the U.S.S. Kearsage and the C.S.S. Alabama. As most will be aware this was a moment from the American civil war. But curiously, these ships engaged off the coast of Normandy in North France. In 1886 A New York critic commented that it was “so grand in its treatment of the water that it makes us forget the ships”.
If that scene appears off kilter, it is next to nothing compared with those of the dealer’s other great investment, Edgar Degas. Whether of ballerinas or race horses, these works might just have been the toughest sell of all. Paintings with no central focus still challenge the eye today. Yet somehow, thanks to that, and to the generally polite picture making of the time, we know we gaze upon genius. But what is most remarkable is that Ruel-Durand knew it as well so long ago.
So yes, it makes you wonder if we’ll see his like again. An even better question might be to ask, when faced with today’s market, what would Ruel-Durand do?
Inventing Impressionism is at National Gallery, London, until May 31. The show travels to Philadelphia Museum of Art from June 24 – September 13 2015.
It was dead on all accounts. Dead–curled in a forever pose on the patio chair. Silent. Breathless. Still. It was an omen. It was a sign. It was a memory. It was a haunting. It could be anything that my consciousness willed it to be.
It was a trying winter–one that tested us all. In the early days of spring, the yard came to life. The grass emerged from the hundred day’s winter frost with a new partner–the purple crab grass flower–a weed with a pretty face. The softest limbs of the old oak trees indent the soil of the ground–strewn about the yard by the winds of winter and pushed into the earth by the weight of snow and ice. All that remained, deserved this spring. This rebirth. This chance to live when survival is seemingly easier.
The paradox that its death suggests is timely. It arrives at a time of life–at a time where all things thrive and multiply. In this moment, the conditions may have made it brave. It may have disrupted its good reason that had helped it survive the winter. The conditions may have made it careless. With its belly full and its mind aloof, dying was easy.
It lay peacefully dead on my chair–the one that I had moved just slightly over so that I could be more comfortable when I was sitting on the deck a few days prior. My instincts told me to place blame. To find fault. To develop reason. To retrace its death so that I could find comfort in whatever loss I felt I had sustained through its death.
I proposed, to myself, that it had fallen from the tree–that it missed its mark on a leap of faith. There were no broken branches to suggest a failure of a known bridge to the neighboring tree and no remnants of the nest to suggest a struggle. Directly below its home in the listing limb it lay, until another force moved it.
Its position on the chair gave me pause and the impetus to take a picture. It looked comfortable. Settled. Dreaming. I felt the need to document the scene. The tree. The squirrel. The chair. The yard. I knew I had to remove it from its final resting place. I had to feel its weight on the end of a shovel–I felt it in my wrist and forearm. It became an extension of me–an alien prosthetic, if only for a moment, that forced me to consider my position.
As I walked the carcass to the front of the house where I intended to put it in the trash, I discovered another dead squirrel next to the curb–a bizarre synchronism. It too remained in a peculiar position–leaving the world in a bed of fallen leaves–a metaphor within a metaphor. Its location relative to a splash of white paint on the yellow curb made the scene appear composed–a work of art. A balanced image in every sense of the word. Diagonals. Space. Bands of color. Range in scale and marks. I could see the paint making this painting. I could see the process of its painted life beginning very much like its birth–thin, hesitant, bare, and vulnerable.
My intuition told me to build this narrative. To find a purpose or lesson in this trauma–in this coincidental ether I am allowing to be the center of my attention. What became glaringly apparent was that I was looking for a profane image from which I would base my thoughts–from which I would create an abstraction worth excavating.
To create anything that conjures abstract thinking is to allow oneself to take their eyes off the ball. To swing at something in the periphery. To focus ones attention away from the center of the mandala is to drift into the unconscious consciously. This is where the waves of casuistry begin to carry you to a composition of your own design. This is where the world resembles a place painted by yourself for yourself.
When you close your eyes, and open them behind the lids, you will not see nothing. You see light. Patterns emerge. If you focus your eyes on one pattern, the others will dissipate and the image you have created takes motion. It will attempt to flee your field of vision and the only thing that will wrangle it back to center, is your focus–your undivided attention to it. This exercise is both a testable experiment and an apt metaphor for the attention we pay to the seemingly pivotal moments in our lives that are, in reality, a portion of something infinite and perpetually moving in and out of focus. Though our individual roles may be finite, we all carry potential–potentials realized through pursuits chosen.
The Latin phrase, omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis–all things change and we change in them–seems useful here to describe our relationship to the incidentals concurrent with our pursuit of what we consider primary objectives. I certainly wasn’t looking for dead squirrels. I am not a photographer. I was drawn into this essay by allowing myself to be–by knowing it would be somehow useful. I took the photos last spring, because I wanted to recognize anomalies of my experience. I wanted to chase a pattern that caught my eye. I wanted to recognize a possibility. I wanted to identify myself in the visual world and reveal myself to myself.
In the words of a great man, “ATTN FASHION CLUB”. This seasons’ looks are something to get worked up about. Here’s a rundown of some favorites:
A vote for Chuy is a vote for classy button wear.
Chuy buttons are totes trending. This rainbow version is particularly stylin’, but will Chuy stay en vogue post April 7th?
Hickson’s suit design.
[Fashion] Designer Clay Hickson with his intern, Wylie.
Friend of WTT? and riso printers alike, Clay Hickson, is exploding the apparel game. Nothing is making me more excited for Summer than these hottie bathing suits by Clay Hickson for Leilanni swimwear. On the more affordable end, Editorial Magazine also recently released a t-shirt and sweater designed by Hickson. If you’re like me and can’t get enough Clay, the Tan & Loose proprietor is opening the third edition of Tan Lines on April 17th at Solid State.
Goyanes and Castillo’s personality photo.
Boys from Miami (and their strange apparel choices) just make my heart melt. Domingo Castillo and Rob Goyanes are a modern day Don and Pancho, Sacco and Vanzetti, Ru and Michelle. Fashion is all about attitude, man. Scope the cuties and their adventures Goyanes’ piece for the Miami Rail.
Dressing the Future in My Humility by Joshua McGarvey at dfbrl8r.
As die-hard anti-pajamas-in-public advocates, we hate to admit that sweatpants are having their day in the sun. We couldn’t deny it anymore after attending Joshua McGarvey’s opening at dfbrl8r on the evening of March 14th. McGarvey greeted each person who entered the space with a child sized pair of blue sweatpants, while the rest of the gallery space was strewn with piles of pants and the vestiges of their making. Wake us up when this sweatpant nightmare is over.
Reading is Fundamental
ICYMI: A selection of recent posts from Bad at Sports.
Think of this as your month in review.
Why Do I Give a Shit about Art
Can’t get this thought piece from resident writer, Jacob Wick, out of our collective hive mind. Please send any and all answers to email@example.com. CC Wick.
Echo: Jackie Saccoccio at C v. D
Kevin Blake’s poetic and effervescent review of Saccoccio’s opening muses echos themselves and on the paintings as dialogue between the artist, the viewer and the artists again.
Double Duty in Atlanta:
Eric Asobe asks “If someone slips on a banana peel in a forest and no one sees it, does anyone laugh?” in his review of Pratfal Tramps at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. Meanwhile, Meredith Kooi got “Lifted” in her interview with community organizers Clint Fluker, Nasim Mahboubi Fluker, Miriam Denard.
Header image features work by our newest most favorite artist, Mika Horibuchi, in her exhibition View with a Room with work by Dan Rizzo-Orr at Heaven Gallery. Killer exhibition. On view through May 3rd.
Seriously! We want to hear from you now more than ever as we transition into managing the Bad at Sports blog!
The Weatherman Report
Pond Weeds #34, 2014, unique color photograph, frame, 38 x 30 inches, Ed. 1 of 1 + 1AP by Jessica Labatte. On view at Western Exhibitions until April 25th.
Local Art Org Experiencing Seriously Major News Week
Do you want the good or bad first?
How will Chicago deal? After 15 years in Chicago, with 12 at the helm of Chicago’s beloved Threewalls, Chi’s favorite bespectacled Canadian (sore-ry Duncan), Shannon Stratton has finally caught the NYC bug. As that Yankee outlet reported last week, Stratton will join the Museum of Art and Design as their Chief Curator in June. On the bright side, her departure is probably the most simultaneous exposure Chicago’s had in major art news outlets like ever.
Of course, it’s not Stratton’s style to just up and leave in the middle of the night one night stand style. Her outgoing initiatives at Threewalls are some of the organization’s most ambitious to date. In particular, a fundraiser for the fourth edition of PHONEBOOK (a biennial-ish directory of independent and noncommercial art spaces, programming, and projects throughout the United States) just launched this week. New this year is a stretch goal to create the Phonebook App, which I really REALLY hope gets funded (in other words, give it $ up y’all!). To us, the app seems like the natural expression of the PHONEBOOK project, and would enable users to find and add alternative art venues in real time and space via their smart phone. But, y’know, don’t take my word for it, Stratton and now-Interim Director, Abby Statinsky, make a much more compelling case in their promo video:
As if that wasn’t enough to hold you over, Stratton also recently announced her final mega-event with Threewalls, NEON DREAMS, on May 29th. Everyone within earshot of this blog is already very aware of Threewalls ability to throw a bangin party, but we can’t help but mention the triumphant return of Patti Spliff (aka the most gorgeous Sailor Moon-esque queen we’ve ever seen). We challenge you to plan a more exciting going away party than this one.
Stratton’s last curatorial effort at Threewalls, Fraser Taylor’s Orchid/Dirge, opens this Friday evening from 6-9PM.
T around Town
That feeling when we stopped caring about how you feel.
Taking on the editorship of Bad at Sports has been interesting (to say the least) it’s also led us to neglect this little ole column, but like suburbanites on St. Paddy’s Day, WTT? is back! Between Kanye, Chuy and Shannon, shit has just been too OOC lately. We couldn’t help ourselves.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been work to talk about in the meantime. A few moments stick out: EJ Hills’ Form Fit lecture at Gallery 400 in January, Meghan Moe Beitiks’s exhibition on the Fermilab at Water Street Studios, and Third Object’s Mossy Cloak at Roots & Culture. With the beginning of Spring flirtations and the 500th episode of the B@S podcast in the can (miss you already, Rich), we’re looking forward to catching up and walking outside with less than 6 layers on! Here are some of our more recent spring awakenings:
Visitors at the opening of the Smart Museum’s Objects and Voices around Antony Gormley’s Infinite Cube (2014)
Kayla Guthrie performs songs from her album Blue inside the Contemporary Art Daily offices on March 16th.
If you haven’t seen this little gem of an exhibition, go see Gordon Matta-Clark’s Circus at Rhona Hoffman, before the show closes April 18th. The images are from Matta-Clark’s last sculptural building cutting before his untimely death in 1978. Oh yeah, and it just happens to be the old MCA building on Ontario, NBD (wait, YBD).
Really enjoyed Alfredo Salazar-Caro’s Border Crossing Simulator Beta in the recently closed EXODUS exhibition at the Arts Incubator in Hyde Park.
If loving camouflage is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. If you missed Mossy Cloak curated by up-and-coming collective Third Object, well shame on you. You can make it up at the opening of the collabo’s newest exhibition, Were the Eye Not Sunlike, this Friday night (4/3) at Fernway Gallery. The exhibition continues online at ACREtv.org, so there’s really no excuse this time.
Kind of really feeling these dyed worked by Cody Tumblin (best name or what?) on view now at Devening Projects. His and Angharad Davies (also very worthwhile, but difficult to photograph) work is also on view through April 18th.
Was really excited to get a glimpse into what Alberto Aguilar is cooking up with Laura Shaeffer at her new art space in the former O’Gara and Wilson book store in Hyde Park. We shared a lovely afternoon over lunch talking about the possibilities and history of the space. And heard Regin Igloria is already hosting book binding classes in the space.
USA Fellows Gather at the W Hotel in Chicago
Stars Align for Artists Assembly
Have you ever thought about how much cooler art panels would be if you were sitting elbow to elbow with acclaimed artists like Ann Hamilton and Wangechi Mutu? Sounds like some sort of weird art historian dream, but that pretty much sums up our experience last Tuesday at the Artists Assembly, hosted by United States Artists at the W Hotel on Lakeshore. The Assembly had everything we needed for a day of arts engagement. The space was impeccable, coffee was readily available, and USA’s gorgeous program schedule featured a very useful facebook (the analog kind). We were impressed to see our good friend Todd King’s name listed as its designer.
Mark Bradford fields a question during the morning’s “Creative Conversation”.
Tuesday morning started off with an introduction from USA Director, Carolina García Jayaram, and a conversation on Artists and Developers as Community Stabilizers, featuring USA Fellow and Trustee Mark Bradford who spoke on his newly opened Art + Practice Foundation in LA. As you might expect, Bradford was charming and droll, and along with Mitch Cope of Power House Productions, an interesting counterpoint to USA Board Chair, Steve Oliver, a San Francisco Developer.
The rest of the day was filled with panels interspersed with PechaKucha presentations by USA’s extremely diverse group of fellows. I fell in love with the work of Deanna Dikeman, a photographer and ballroom dancer, who showed gripping images of her Midwestern family. Other memorable presentations included 2014 USA Rockefeller Dance Fellow, d. Sabela Grimes’ rousing afro-futurist one man show, and home team heroes, Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson, presentation of a usually unusual telling of the collaborative work of Every house has a door.
Ann Hamilton and Candida Alvarez at the Artists Assembly closing event.
Weirdly (or maybe no so weirdly) our favorite moments of the conference took place in between presentations in hallways, bathrooms and the like. Elevator conversations with Visual Arts Fellows Willie Birch and Ann Hamilton (who also serves on USA’s Board) were major highlights. We had a splendid time discussing Kansas City with Deanna Dikeman (of ballroom fame) and Esther Park (of Youngarts in Miami) over lunch. Meeting Darryl Montana (aka Big Chief Yellow Pocahontas) of New Orleans at the end of the days program was beyond major. The Chief gave us a short primer on the history of the Black Indians, and his family’s involvement going back six (!) generations. His latest costume, a white triple crowned ensemble that would put any drag queen to shame, was nothing sort of immaculate.
USA CEO Carolina García Jayaram and Kristen Kaza of No Small Plans looking way too fab at the AA closing event.
Due to prior obligations, we unfortunately had to miss the tours of the Poetry and Rebuild Foundations and the closing party (which social media tells us featured MANY disco balls), but we’re already planning our outfits for next years’ Artists Assembly in Miami!