Archive for May, 2012
As a university art museum, we benefit enormously from the presence of talented and committed ASU faculty. To help curate the exhibition Performing for the Camera, for example, a stunner that the Arizona Republic calls “delicious,” Senior Curator and Associate Director Heather Sealy Lineberry called upon artists and faculty members Betsy Schneider and Julie Anand, who worked with her and Ann Sanchez, curator of Stéphane Janssen’s extraordinary collection.
In this post, Anand, who is a Senior Sustainability Scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability as well as an assistant professor in the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, writes about the experience of co-curating Performing for the Camera.
The exhibition closes this Saturday — if you haven’t seen it yet, make a point of stopping by this week. The Museum is open from 11 a.m. til 5 p.m. every day except Sunday and Monday.
Last fall I was invited by Senior Curator Heather Sealy Lineberry of the ASU Art Museum to help curate images from Stéphane Janssen’s collection for the exhibition Performing for the Camera, which brought 50 works to the public.
As a teacher, I was thrilled to give access to the immediacy of objects that my students typically encounter as digital projections or small reproductions in textbooks. Artists creating imagery with such labor-rich and elaborate processes expand students’ expectations of photography in important and healthy ways. As an artist myself, being a curatorial consultant offered a window to see into both a collector’s passion and service, as well as the vital skill sets and perhaps best part of a day in the life of a curator.
The ASU curatorial team arrived at the warehouse, greeted by the insightful and gracious curator of the Stéphane Janssen collection. Surrounded by racks of crated works, we sat around a table poring over massive six-inch thick binders of small thumbnails of photographic artworks. The collection is particularly deep in terms of work that can be described by several terms — tableaux, staged, directorial mode and constructed. Often there were several pieces by a single artist/collective to choose from.
We each took notes as we moved through the binders individually, noting relevant artists, considering which works by those artists were most powerful and or thematically appropriate, and whether singular or multiple works, if available, were needed to represent projects. Conversation organically bubbled to the surface during this process as we couldn’t contain our excitement over discoveries, and as larger questions of thematic scope emerged through the details. We were also spontaneously treated to the unwrapping of Liu Bolin’s Roadblock image, which had arrived just days earlier. I appreciated for a moment the demonstration of direct support for artists this purchase represented and the creativity involved in pooling together artworks over the course of a lifetime for the ways that they make the heart quicken.
As curator, Heather described her goal of having the exhibition’s thematic premise be clear, but not airtight, allowing room for conversation. We agreed to attempt to distinguish gleaned photographs connected to the documentary tradition from crafted cinematically charged imagery — a distinction that artist Jeff Wall calls “hunted” and “farmed” imagery. Yet given that images are heavily influenced by their makers whether they appear to be so or not, and most image-makers’ processes function somewhere between these false dichotomies, this distinction was occasionally provocatively murky. Work by the artist Sally Mann, for example, though she directs her children as subjects, was deemed closer to the vernacular traditions of photography than to the staged end of the spectrum for the purposes of this exhibition.
We also agreed that we wanted to distinguish works created as art for the camera from primarily live art performances or embodied installations that had a secondary gallery life as photographic documents. In some cases, that distinction was somewhat nebulous in interesting ways; for example, both Shirin Neshat and collaborators Birchler and Hubbard make large-format still images that interpret their own video works.
Finally, as a variety of strategies within the staged theme emerged, we entertained the question of whether certain artists’ processes were so elaborate as to constitute performance outright in the absence of narrative, costumes, characters or pictured performers. The art practice of Vic Muniz, with his elaborate collaborative portraits made of garbage seen from far above, raised this “process as performance” question and was ultimately considered an outlier for the edit — although, like documented performance art, Muniz’s work may have raised interesting questions about where the “art” in artworks lives.
At the end of hours of thumbnail browsing and discussions around photographic cultures, I felt sated and fat as a tick, as when one leaves a museum surprised by the complete exhaustion that results from so much seeing.
These conversations eventually became the show, through Heather Sealy Lineberry and her museum team’s logistical feats and vitally sensitive placement decisions. The show includes works by artists from China, Brazil, the Netherlands, Russia, France, Australia, Japan, Iran, Norway, Germany and the United States, covering a wonderful international scope. Most of the objects are printed in saturated color, quite large with shiny finishes, a sumptuous visual feast that puts the viewer’s body in a 1:1 relationship with the crafted illusions.
Beyond providing sensual delight and exposing a range of directorial photographic art strategies from the 1970’s through the present, a rich subtext of the resulting exhibition is the fluid potential of identities and the body as a site of agency. We find Shirin Neshat’s image of a large group of Iranian women “searching for their own nature” near the deceptively seductive while entrapped Bride images of artist Kimiko Yoshida, who left her native Japan because of its “mortifying voluntary servitude.”
On the same floor, Yasumasa Morimura playfully and with absolute veracity becomes icon Brigitte Bardot, slipping into another gender, Western popular and fine art cultures like so many soap suds. Arno Minkkinen and Liu Bolin enact durational performances that dissolve their figures into charged landscapes — the former becoming buds and rock arches like a Nordic god; the latter, a yogi of non-violent protest under a repressive regime.
Upstairs, works by Zhang Huan and by Kwong Chi Tseng explore the artists’ own bodies in relation to globalization. Charlie White sublimates male insecurity through his character Joshua, while adjacent Pierre et Gilles ejaculate spectacle with fanfare. Their glitter-framed portrait mash-ups of religiosity and soft porn create a world where the Carlson twins and Saint John the Baptist occupy the same place and time. The exhibition beautifully illustrates Yoshida’s poignant statement that “art is above all the experience of transformation.”
Images, top to bottom:
Installation shot of the exhibition Performing for the Camera. Photo by Craig Smith.
Liu Bolin (b. 1973), Hiding in the City #51, Roadblock, 2007. C-print, 49 ½ x 61 ½”. Courtesy of Stéphane Janssen.
Kimiko Yoshida (b. 1963), The Silver Berber Bride, Morocco, early XXth Century, 2005. C-print on diabond and diasec, 47 ¼ x 47 ¼”. Courtesy of Stéphane Janssen.
Installation shot of works by Pierre et Gilles in the exhibition Performing for the Camera. Photo by Craig Smith.
From March 1-3, ASU hosted Emerge: Artists and Scientists Redesign the Future. This spectacular campus-wide event combined the disciplines of art and science to explore the impact of technological evolution on the potential futures we are creating. The advancement of humanity and the advancement of technology have become inextricably intertwined. Participants in Emerge investigated the effect of this symbiotic evolution, addressing the transformations in our lifestyles, the landscapes we inhabit, and even how we define ourselves as humans resulting from the increasing prevalence of technologies in our lives. For more information about the event, read about it from these people in some of the great blog posts I’ve linked below.
We Alone on Earth
Julian Does Stuff
An interview with keynote speaker Bruce Sterling as he explains the concept of design fiction
Now if after reading all this you’re hooked, but you’re sad that you missed it, don’t be too sad. For anybody interested in experiencing this event, some of its fascinating projects are now housed in the Top Gallery of the ASU Art Museum.
I’ve experienced a significant number of the exhibitions featured at the museum, but nothing ever like this before.
Simultaneously eerie and poignant, the interactive exhibition is a beautiful, visually striking hybrid between a science center and an art gallery. The gallery is washed a sterile white onto which florescence glows. Texts in an assortment of bold, vivid colors are stamped throughout the exhibition space, glaringly obvious, almost lurid against the florescent white. The ambience is fascinating and somewhat unearthly. Entering the gallery feels like stepping into a world far removed from the one you inhabit daily. It sounds a little intimidating, but any first impressions of unease are quickly removed by all the gadgets to play with. These cool inventions and imaginings all present answers to the question of what our future might hold.
At one end of the gallery, a collection of View-Masters sits on display (I’ve included a picture below in case you’re not familiar with the View-Master). Clicking through the slides presents different views of the future as it pertains to Arizona. Having grown up in the 1990s I personally love this part of the exhibition. I remember these toys from my childhood, and really appreciate the irony of using them to ‘view’ the future.
An adjoining room showcases the vibrant headdresses created for Immerge a ‘unique interactive performance’ that occurred at the end of the event on the plaza behind the Museum. Scenes from the performance with the actors in full costume are projected onto the gallery wall. Truly elaborate works of art, these headdresses are a sophisticated combination of feathers, wire and lights. Each seems so fragile a single breath could destroy it. Quirky descriptions of the characters represented by each headdress accompany the display, conveying impish, childlike personalities despite the artistic and technical intricacy.
While the exhibition is undeniably visually and technically just cool, it’s the interactive features that make it touching and memorable. The exhibition recognizes the importance of everyone’s input. We all have a stake in the future. It involves us beyond allowing us to just see ‘the experts’ (Emerge participants) ideas of the future by encouraging personal contributions. A table containing labeled glass tubes and marbles lets visitors vote on the topic they consider most important for a sustainable future. Clay for molding future inventions is supplied at a table in the center of the gallery. Alcoves along one wall house the imaginings of previous visitors. Colorful Post-its provided at one end of the gallery invite visitors to share their thoughts. The response is overwhelming; hundreds of these colorful paper squares adorn the walls around the gallery’s entrance.
While upon first glance the exhibition may seem cold and intimidating, closer inspection reveals how truly emotive and human it actually is. While some parts of the exhibition are undeniably rather dystopic (synthetic panda jerky anyone?) the contributions left behind speak of hope.
Some are funny:
Some are heartfelt:
Some are calls to action:
No matter their content, each and every one represents something someone was prompted to think and then cared enough to share. The quality and sheer volume of responses illustrates a prevailing mentality of ‘our future’ rather than ‘my future.’ Whatever future may unfold, this exhibition makes it evident that it will be one we create, share and face together.
–Karen Enters, Intern
Below: Gordon Knox (Director, ASU Art Museum) looks on curiously as Julie Thies, left, performs one of her TMS training sessions. Heather Sealy Lineberry (Senior Curator and Associate Director) also attends. Photo by Stu Mitnik.
Transitions are happening everywhere, from the changing seasons (which in Phoenix we call “hot” and “really, really hot”), to the updated layout on Facebook that caused millions to panic. The Arizona State University Art Museum is no exception to these recent shifts.
The art museum has recently made a transition from an unwieldy Access Database to The Museum System (TMS), a super sleek and powerful database, software which also graces the collections of such prestigious institutions as the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and the Metropolitan in New York City. The Museum System combines user-friendly features with a multi-faceted, innovative approach to adding in-depth details to collections and records. With TMS, the simplest aspects of an artwork are easily accessible, such as an artist’s birthplace or the year a piece was made, yet it also allows for users to find pieces using ambiguous terms, dates and locations, because of its extensive database.
Julie Thies, an independent consultant who has worked with TMS for 12 years, says, “If I didn’t have TMS, there are some questions I would have a hard time answering.” She recollects an instance in which a museum goer called about a piece he had seen several years prior: “With TMS, I didn’t have to hunt through tons of filing drawers to try to find the answer. And I don’t think the answer was anywhere in a drawer.”
Julie, who was the collections database manager at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky for 10 years and who got her start using TMS as an intern at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Sackler Gallery, both of which are part of the Smithsonian Institution, came to the ASU Art Museum in December as an independent consultant to assist with the launch of The Museum System. Without Julie’s expertise, the switch to TMS would have seemed almost impossible, as she was a beacon of hope and calm when we were caught in the tumultuous and dark seas of database conversion.
The breadth and intensity of the switch to TMS is almost hard to describe, but mentioning the numbers — a migration of close to 14, 000 objects as well as 14, 000 object images — it’s a bit easier to understand the magnitude of such an undertaking. Regardless of the time, energy and potential loss of sanity, however, the database conversion is a welcome and much needed improvement to the museum collection, one that is incredibly valuable, time-saving, in-depth, and a rescuer of busy museum professionals.
Each user of The Museum System is bound to have a favorite feature that makes their life easier. For Julie Thies, the Wisest of All Who Use TMS, it’s the endless possibilities that rank number one for her. “You can track anything about an object, where it has been, where it is and where it is going. You can manage exhibitions, images and artist information. Over the years it is nice to watch the information grow and develop, and you can see a real history of an object within the institution.”
A conversion to a new database system not only eases the collection process but helps people to better understand a collection as a whole, in parts, or as singular objects. With this understanding, our museum then becomes a more accessible platform from which to be involved in a dialogue about art. And in the end, isn’t that what a collection should do?
- Aubree Jacobs, Assistant to the Registrar, True TMS believer.
Above, left to right, Gordon Knox, Heather Sealy Lineberry and ASU Art Museum Registrar Anne Sullivan take in a TMS training session. Photo by Stu Mitnik.