art21:blog interviews Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner about SAIC’s Summer Studio

September 6, 2010 · Print This Article

We’re back from vacay this week, and catching up on a few weeks’ worth of happenin’s and art chatter. Last week, Georgia Kotretsos of art21:blog posted an interview with Mary Jane Jacob, Michelle Grabner and Kate Zeller on the School of the Art Institute’s “Summer Studio” program (at which Bad at Sports happily pinged, ponged, and otherwise partook) as well as their recently published The Studio Reader, a critical anthology of writings on the artist’s studio. An excerpt from art:21′s interview is below; click on over for the full-length interview.

Georgia Kotretsos: Within the first few lines of The Studio Reader preface, your words speak of a condition that sum up the essence of the artist’s studio: “Even when the making is not so visible, it is always present.” Is it that “presence” that Tehching Hsieh is exhausting by keeping a studio space without having made any kind of art for over a decade as we read in Barry Schwabsky’s essay, The Symbolic Studio?

Mary Jane Jacob: When I said that “the studio is more than a physical place and even more than a mental space; it is a necessity of being,” I intended to convey that making art is an omnipresent thing; it works in consciously, semi-consciously, and in unconscious ways. It is always just below the surface, if not right there — in the head and hand. Yes, one can also think of this as non-studio practices that are less material and in The Studio Reader, we have such discussions of Tehching Hsieh or Kimsooja’s thought that her body is her studio. But it is also true for the painter, the sculptor, the printmaker, and we could go on with this list; it is not media specific.

How we locate an idea for art, a solution to an artistic problem, and especially the development of a work and of an ongoing practice is by living art — and this happens in the very being of being an artist. So when I speak of consciousness, I mean that we bring to our work a certain perception and mindset, and that also is present in our life. The relation of art and life is not just a 20th-century, modern, or avant-garde position; it is an essential art condition. Cultivating a deep and wide consciousness is important to many artists because, then, that just-below-the-surface state can be called into operation, seamlessly, and with this openness or permeability, a natural flow can occur that can contribute to the making of art in the studio that we take on our back.

GK: I appreciate an introduction that offers insight and a cohesive historicity on a subject, such as the one you wrote about the studio in The Studio Reader. Your closing sentence — “Critical, ironic, sentimental, and practical, the practiced place of the studio is no longer the fixed space of inspiration that Poussin laid eyes on four hundred years ago” — wisely makes room and gives reason for the rest of the book to unfold. So, what is the studio today? What does The Studio Reader tell us?

Michelle Grabner: I believe that the idea of the studio today is unambiguously foundational to the complications and contradictions of contemporary art practice.

At its most pragmatic, it is simply a necessary space of production and display. After researching the multitude of shapes and forms comprising the contemporary studio, they are no more fascinating than oil stick, video, clay, or canvas: the studio akin to a medium. However, the studio can also be a subject. And this is where it gets interesting and I hope The Studio Reader points to conditions in contemporary art production that can be sussed out through the lens of the studio.

For example, the many artist’s contributions to The Studio Reader are intriguing and insightful accounts into day-to-day studio engagement, yet it is only in their collectivity that one can start to assess how the space of production, invention, creativity, and meaning are being culled by artists today.

I think one of the most interesting disagreements in contemporary art exists between the totalizing embracement of the studio and art’s democratization: “People just make things. And so I don’t know whether it’s so necessary to ‘reveal’ anything anymore,” writes Cory Arcangel. With a swift retort, Houston-based critic Mary LeClere writes, “The question isn’t whether it’s art, but whether it needs to be. Why hold onto the name if it no longer refers to something that has a cultural, and therefore shared, meaning?”

So why the need for studios? Here within lies a complex web of contradictions that configure contemporary art and culture. The contemporary studio lays the foundation for new research into those long disparaged notions of authorship, talent, and métier.

Read the full post at art:21 blog here.




Episode 260: When I’m Five

August 22, 2010 · Print This Article

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Bad at Sports 5th Year

The five year behemoth is upon us! Episode 260 kicks off with a discussion with Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner about the artist and studio. Then we turn the camera on ourselves and have a discussion about where we are and where we are headed, if anywhere.

Thanks for listening! It has been a great five years!

P.S. Cauleen S. you are a sad, sad, petty whiner. Grow the hell up.




Sh*tload of (Family) Money Awarded to Winners of the Inaugural “ArtPrize”

October 9, 2009 · Print This Article

The winner of the first annual edition of ArtPrize has been announced, and it’s Ran Ortner from Brooklyn, New York. The Prize is a contemporary art competition based in Grand Rapids, Michigan that has eschewed traditional expert juries in favor of a public vote on the winners. Ortner, 50, won the top prize of $250,000 for a painting titled “Open Water No. 24,” a dramatic, 6 x 19 foot oil painting depicting ocean waves in a realistic fashion.

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Taking the second prize and its $100,000 award was Chicago artist Tracy Van Duinen for his tile mural titled “Imagine That!” on the façade of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

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The $50,000 third prize went to artist Eric Daigh of Traverse City for his portraits made entirely from colored pushpins.

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The other artists in the Top Ten each received $7,500 prizes. All winners of the ArtPrize were determined by votes cast on the ArtPrize Web site or via text messages sent from cell phones. The winners were announced last night.

$449,000 — the total amount of prize money in the contest–is, as they say, a shitload of cash. This alone has made ArtPrize the most monetarily rewarding contemporary art competition in the world right now. Where did contest organizer and social media entrepreneur Rick de Vos (who established the website Spout.com, a social-networking site for film buffs) get it from? The Dick and Betsy De Vos Family Foundation (Rick De Vos’ parents), who is listed as ArtPrize’s primary sponsor (Rick De Vos is the grandson of Amway’s cofounder). Numerous other De Vos family relations were also top contributors to the contest funds (see here for the full list of ArtPrize sponsors). The Dick and Betsy De Vos Family Foundation’s mission, according to its 2006 funding guidelines, is

“to serve as faithful stewards of God’s blessings through a focus on 1) Christian Evangelism through church building, family building, and youth programming; 2) Education through programs that provide support for parental choices in determining where their elementary and secondary school-aged children attend school; 3) Public Policy that results in a freer, more virtuous, more prosperous society. The Foundation does not allocate funds to individuals, for-profit organizations, or candidates for political office.”

(If you’re interested, you can learn more about which groups and projects fall into the categories listed above by reading about the Foundation’s funding choices here and here).

Clearly, the material benefits to artists gained from winning the three top prizes and even the lesser amounts are tremendous. In terms of its financial benefits, winning a contest like this one far is better than winning a grant–at least in terms of how profitable it is. Rick De Vos told the Detroit Free Press that his goals in establishing the contest were to promote conversations about art and to create a hip cultural event for Grand Rapids, Michigan. And the contest succeeded in creating lots of buzz and tons of entries–1,262 artists entered the contest, and nearly 14,000 votes were counted in the final round (334,000 votes were cast for the initial pool of entrants). So not only did the contest offer the biggest monetary prize, it promised a democratization of the means of selection. Everyone who took the time to register in person at the ArtPrize event got to vote on the works of art hanging before them. And the results of their votes mattered – a lot.

But does ArtPrize offer a viable model for others to follow? Not really, as I see it. For one thing, it’s hardly a replicable format. If de Vos had rustled up that much cash in any other way other than tapping family money, I’d be more apt to sit up and pay attention. But the fact remains that this contest with its enormous prize would not have been possible without primary support from a single Foundation that, at least in its other funding efforts, has shown itself to have very specific social and political agendas.

Yes, the Grand Rapids audience was given the empowering opportunity to circumvent the critics and the curators and the other so-called gatekeepers to make their own statement about which artists are most deserving of recognition.  Lucky for everyone involved, it appears that none of the artists selected for voted the top three winners make the type of work that would prove to be embarrassing to the contest’s sponsors – no poop photographs, no naked ladies, no same-sex coupling. What would have happened, I wonder, if an unknown artist making photographs with subject matter similar to that of Catherine Opie’s “Domestic” series had won? Nothing, I’m sure – but it’s a good bet that if that happened, next year’s ArtPrize wouldn’t have mom and dad’s big money behind it. And probably not nearly the number of artists entering the contest. And audiences/voters caring about it.

Art21 contributor Nicole Carruth was asked by the ArtPrize organizers to reflect on the significance of the contest through a series of written essays that included an interview with Mary Jane Jacob, Professor and Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the interview, Jacob offers a pointed critique of the contest, which in part centers around her misgivings about the competition’s huge prize award. Notes Jacob:

“My real misgiving strategically, long-term, with the project is the huge disparity in the prize money in an art world where artists need a lot of support — art always does.

We’re at the 48th anniversary of the Calder, which was a high point of public motivation of art, and the NEA’s flowering, and so forth. We’ve seen the demise of the individual artist grant program and we’re still suffering from that. Some grant programs were out there already, some ramped up further, like Pew in Philadelphia or Bush in Minneapolis. But then other ones with a lot less resources and smaller amounts have done volumes of work, like Creative Capital and Artadia. And nobody in any of those is getting $250,000. I think we’re not looking at $250,000 artists here. I have a problem with the division it creates when that amount of money, $500,000, could be spread in equal or on more egalitarian ways.  That could support 10 or more artists.

… That confrontation, that nexus between the aspiring artist, emerging artist, overlooked artist and the broader public is a great conversation. We see it enacted here and it’s a great success, I think, on that level. But then when the final result becomes something that then shifts to a paradigm that is more like American Idol or winning the lottery, it doesn’t necessarily sustain either that individual or this system or the art world. I even find it problematic with colleagues from those institutions that I’ve named who are struggling to have something that doesn’t join the conversation of [artist] development, sustainability and support…To see that supporting artists is a positive and necessary endeavor has a great ripple effect.”

Jacob’s critique offers us an invaluable framework for considering the true value of big-money contests such as this one and, even more importantly in my mind, for putting the “generosity” of sponsors like the de Vos Family into its proper context. Many people from various points on the political spectrum are troubled by government funding of artists, and to be sure there are a  number of valid reasons for their discomfort. But we should think twice about investing too heavily in the contest model offered by ArtPrize.

To my mind, the “democracy” of choice promised by ArtPrize masks a more distrubing desire on the part of its major sponsors to do away with government support of the arts advocated by those who they imply are “cultural elites.” But as Jacob points out, not everyone can win the lottery, and not all artists will win an ArtPrize. ArtPrize makes for some razzle-dazzle regional publicity, sure–but it doesn’t present any real alternatives that the rest of us can run with.




Episode 209: Mary Jane Jacob

August 30, 2009 · Print This Article

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Mary jane Jacob
This week Duncan sneaks into The School of the Art Institute of
Chicago to interview Mary Jane Jacob, Professor and Executive Director of Exhibitions. Mary Jane Jacob’s name is synonymous with the phrase “art as social practice” or the field of art that is now more widely known as “Relational Aesthetics.” Jacob was at the center of the nineties debate about what was and could be considered an art object/experience and was putting on festivals, exhibitions, and public art programming that expanded our art consciousness long before Bourriaud “sexy-ed” up the field with his now seminal book.

Aside from being a former Chief Curator at the MCA Chicago and LA MoCA, Jacob was also the person behind “Culture in Action,” Chicago’s progressive, but widely debated 90′s public arts program. She is the author/co-author of several books including, “Learning Mind: Experience into Art,” “Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art,” “Culture in Action: A Public Art Program of Sculpture Chicago,” “Conversations at The Castle: Changing Audiences and Contemporary Art,” and “On the Being of Being an Artist.” She is the recipient of many grants, awards, fellowships and residencies, amongst the most notable are the Peter Norton Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio Study Center Residency, and the Getty Residency Program. Read more




Art Chicago Wrapup: Special Exhibitions Edition

May 6, 2009 · Print This Article

Today I’ll be posting some images and brief commentary on this past weekend’s Artropolis/Art Chicago/NEXT fairs. There was a lot to see and unfortunately I couldn’t adequately document it all, so consider these posts in terms of what they’re meant to be:  snapshot images of work that intrigued me, some of which has stayed with me long enough to want to find out more about the artist in the future. In a number of instances the pictures I took were poorly lit or otherwise crappy, and it would have been a disservice to the artist to post them,  so take this as a partial and anecdotal summation, not as some sort of Top 10 -type list which I pretty much detest anyway.
All of the Special Exhibitions were very well done, although I think calling out certain works in the booths as part of the Fair’s so-called “Salute to Realism” was a bit strange. As I mentioned in a previous post, I personally liked Lynn Warren’s Hairy Who presentations the best, but I learned something from every exhibition on view and in general thought they all worked pretty well in an art fair context. There was a lot to see, and my picture-taking skills are at level zero, but here’s what I was able to capture while on the 12th floor.
New Insight (I think this was actually at NEXT, on the 7th floor, but whatever): This was an exhibition of  MFA students from some of the country’s top graduate art programs, curated by Renaissance Society director Susanne Ghez. The pool of art schools included Cal Arts, Carnegie Mellon, Cranbrook, Hunter, Maryland Institute College of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Art Institute, UCLA, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana, and Yale. Some interesting work here; ironically I never got a photo of Jesse Mclean’s 6 min. video of reality show losers “Somewhere Only We Know,” although I think it was probably the best work in that show.
Ryan Sluggett (UCLA), Untitled 2008, acrylic, solvent transfer on canvas.

Ryan Sluggett (UCLA), Untitled 2008, acrylic, solvent transfer on canvas.

Nery Gabriel Lemus (California Institute of Art), Praxis within the politicization of my formative years, 2009, installation shot.

Nery Gabriel Lemus (California Institute of Art), Praxis within the politicization of my formative years, 2009, installation shot.

Im Schafer, (Cranbrook), Area Codes, 2008, slipcast ceramics, automotive paint, chrome, neoprene, wood

Im Schafer, (Cranbrook), Area Codes, 2008, slipcast ceramics, automotive paint, chrome, neoprene, wood.

Kristof Wickman (Hunter College), Untitled, 2008, laminate, mixed media.

Kristof Wickman (Hunter College), Untitled, 2008, laminate, mixed media.

Kristof Wickman (Hunter College), Untitled, 2008, laminate, mixed media.

Kristof Wickman (Hunter College), Untitled, 2008, laminate, mixed media.

Society for Contemporary Art’s Acquisition Selection for 2009
Members of the Society for Contemporary Art of Chicago met last Sunday to choose from works by Paul Chan, Rebecca Morris, Nancy Spero, Matt Mullican, and Martin Barre. Apologies, but I could not get a half-way decent shot of Barre’s “76-77-C,” oil on canvas painting, nor could I find an image of it online.
Matt Mullican, Untitled (Before Birth), Untitled (Death), Untitled (Sign), Untitled (Heaven), 1980, sign paint on paper. A Society for Contemporary Art Acquisition Selection

Matt Mullican, Untitled (Before Birth), Untitled (Death), Untitled (Sign), Untitled (Heaven), 1980, sign paint on paper. A Society for Contemporary Art Acquisition Selection.

Paul Chan, a Society for Contemporary Art Acquisition Selection

Paul Chan, 6th Light, from the series 7 Lights, 2007, digital video projection. A Society for Contemporary Art Acquisition Selection.

Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#15-07), 2007, a Society for Contemporary Art Acquisitions Selection

Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#15-07), 2007, oil on canvas. A Society for Contemporary Art Acquisitions Selection.

Nancy Spero, Woman Breathing, 1978, hand print on paper, a Society for Contemporary Art acquisitions selection

Nancy Spero, Woman Breathing, 1978, hand print on paper. A Society for Contemporary Art acquisitions selection.

Partisan: Another special exhibition was the Mary Jane Jacob-curated Partisan, a group show of work selected from galleries exhibiting at Art Chicago “dedicated to the artistic exploration of social and political ideas.” You know, take what you will from a show of political art at an art fair. It’s a brave thing to attempt and I respect the effort, I’m just not sure how much attention viewers are willing to pay to a show like this one when there’s so much distraction surrounding them.
Partisan at Art Chicago

Partisan at Art Chicago.

Peter Drake, Horn, 2008, acrylic on canvas, at Partisan/Art Chicago.

Peter Drake, Horn, 2008, acrylic on canvas, at Partisan/Art Chicago. (Photo from Linda Warren Gallery)

Partisan at Art Chicago

Partisan at Art Chicago.

Dinh Q. Le, Untitled from the Hill of Poisonous Trees (two men), at Partisan/Art Chicago

Dinh Q. Le, Untitled from the Hill of Poisonous Trees (two men), at Partisan/Art Chicago. Photo from Artnet; PPOW Gallery.

Dinh Q. Le at Partisan / Art Chicago

Dinh Q. Le at Partisan / Art Chicago.

Tania Bruguera, San Titulo (Habana, 2000), 2006, lambda print

Tania Bruguera, San Titulo (Habana, 2000), 2006, lambda print, at Partisan/Art Chicago.