Episode #120: Filmed in his Brooklyn studio, Allan McCollum discusses his Surrogate Paintings (begun in 1978) and Plaster Surrogates (begun in 1982). Wanting to “construct an emblem” for what an artist does and demystify what it means to be an artist, McCollum’s symbolic works reveal the social game of looking at, selling, and making art through theatrical installations of mass-produced objects. McCollum’s Surrogates are on view in two exhibitions in New York City: the exhibition The Space Between Reference and Regret at Friedrich Petzel Gallery (through October 23rd), and the exhibition Seriality at Armand Bartos Fine Art (September 22nd through October 22nd).
Applying strategies of mass production to hand-made objects, Allan McCollum’s labor-intensive practice questions the intrinsic value of the unique work of art. McCollum’s installations—fields of vast numbers of small-scale works, systematically arranged—are the product of many tiny gestures, built up over time. Viewing his work often produces a sublime effect as one slowly realizes that the dizzying array of thousands of identical-looking shapes is, in fact, comprised of subtly different, distinct things. Engaging assistants, scientists, and local craftspeople in his process, McCollum embraces a collaborative and democratic form of creativity.
Allan McCollum is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Systems of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Watch full episodes online via PBS Video or download to own via iTunes (link opens application).
Why art school? Why now? Why does it matter?
“It wasn’t till I got to art school that I really understood how art can connect you through human history and the type of reservoir that it could be.” (Jeff Koons)
“I wanted to cause trouble. And that caused me trouble in graduate school, because by that time I had figured out that I wanted to be on the edge, original, avant-garde. And that meant going against the status quo.” (Mary Heilmann)
Open Enrollment chronicles the experience of graduate school via the perspective of current students. As MA and MFA degrees become ever more the norm for the professional training of artists, educators, and administrators alike, Open Enrollment functions as a time-sensitive journal, offering readers a bird’s eye view of the challenges, rewards, puzzles, and ontological questioning that a graduate education engenders.
Art21 seeks to expand its current roster of student writers. We invite students from accredited graduate programs, as well as those studying at non-traditional institutions (temporary schools, artist’s educational projects, intensive residency programs, etc.), to apply to take up residence on the Art21 Blog. The roster of contributors grows over time, providing a cross-section of international venues and pedagogical approaches. While chronicling one’s own practice is encouraged in the context of larger concerns, this column is not a forum or vehicle for narrowly promoting one’s own work. It is intended to portray, through both personal examples and larger inquiries about the pursuit of higher education, the diversity of studio and critical academic experiences in art school today.
Candidates must be:
- currently enrolled in an accredited art school at the graduate level in one of the following disciplines: studio (painting/drawing, film/video, sculpture, photography, new forms, etc.), art history, arts administration, curatorial studies, visual and critical studies, or equivalent; OR…
- currently studying in a non-traditional academic environment (in the spirit of The Public School, Bruce High Quality Foundation, the New Museum’s Night School, unitednationsplaza, etc.); OR…
- currently undertaking a post-graduate residency program (Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, The MFAH CORE Program at the Glassell School of Art, Rijksakademie, etc.); AND…
- committed to contributing at least 3 blog posts over the course of one 15-week semester.
Writing is contributed on a voluntary basis to start, with the capacity for growth—with demonstrated enthusiasm, high quality writing, and commitment—into a paid position.
How to apply
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Jenny Schade thinks she was born in the wrong century. The 25-year-old Montreal-born artist has devoted herself fully to painting — pure oil-on-canvas painting. Her large works depict abstract landscapes always populated by a face or a figure. Her paintings are charged with a Beckmann-like intensity. A promising young artist, she has been featured in the 2009 juried exhibition, Fresh Paint and New Construction, at gallery Art Mûr and lauded as “one to watch” in the Montreal Mirror’s NoiseMakers of 2010. While Schade’s material and tactile canvases always reveal her process, much is still left to mystery.
Schade readily proclaims her devotion to oil painting for its richness of texture, its materiality and its weight in time. “Even gesso is paint,” she shares, lighting up about her process, her body gesticulating brush strokes. The young artist even goes so far as to make her own paint, favoring the control of production as well as the personalization of the pigment. “If I had more time and space, I’d set up my own alchemy lab and create all my paints from scratch. I love seeing the pigments and crystals dissolve, the resin that forms…It’s exciting to me because it makes painting even more original and authentic.” Her canvases feature legible brushstrokes and dripping colors; her work is indexical in that she leaves her pentimenti (“yes, that old school term!”) for herself and for her viewers. Schade is undeniably enraptured by her art.
Did you know that this week, September 12-18, is Arts in Education Week? On July 26, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res. 275, a resolution that seeks to “support the attributes of arts education that are recognized as instrumental to developing a well-rounded education such as creativity, imagination, and cross-cultural understanding. H.Con.Res. 275 also highlights the critical link between those skills and preparing children for gaining a competitive edge in the global economy.”
As a way to advocate for visual arts education in the U.S. and abroad, this entry highlights Mark Bradford, who created Open Studio, as part of the Getty Artists Program. This online resource features artist-designed lesson plans for for K-12 teachers, with the goal of “making contemporary arts education accessible to teachers and classrooms across the nation and around the world. Authored by noted international artists, Open Studio is a collection of art-making activities that presents the unique perspectives of practicing artists. Each activity is presented as a free, downloadable PDF that includes an artmaking prompt, an artist biography, and images of the artist and works of art by the artist.”
Open Studio aims to make contemporary arts education accessible to teachers in classrooms everywhere. For this initiative, Bradford, a 2009 MacArthur Genius Award recipient, solicited the participation of several artists, including Kara Walker, to make arts education more introspective than simply playing with “glitter and macaroni and crayons for an hour,” as he told the Los Angeles Times. “I think that’s why Facebook is so popular with young people,” he said. “I look at Facebook as a collage — you’re creating a sense of identity, telling the world who you are, through what music you listen to, what images you like.” Mark Bradford explains his inspiration for the project in this video:
My own initial exposure to visual art took place at an early age and I was always encouraged to take art classes, which I believe helped me to do well academically and prepared me for higher education and the world of work. So please spread the word to let everyone know about Open Studio and contact your state legislators who set education policy to share with them how the arts are inspiring students and improving schools in your state and across the country.
Every art student (and I mean EVERY art student- K-12, undergrad, graduate, adult education, private lessons, you name it) has had one or more situations when an initial idea for a work of art was rushed, moving on to the “finished” piece long before the work was really, truly ready for that final phase. I have watched many students over the years hustle to complete a work of art that never really had the chance to develop, and then become frustrated as they realize that the work they just spent weeks on will probably wind up under the bed with some little schnauzer sleeping on top of it. It’s sad, really.
More and more, I encourage students to take their time developing ideas, and not just through multiple sketches and using their sketchbooks. While this is extremely important in the development of ideas and designs, it’s just as important to talk with classmates, teachers and even friends about the idea in order to get multiple perspectives and suggestions. As students work through visual design problems and wrestle with works of art driven by big questions and themes, it makes sense to plug in as much time as possible for everyone to look at the range of possibilities and then make suggestions for next steps.
One way this can be done is to have in-progress critiques rather than final critiques. Students in an in-progress critique get to make suggestions that classmates can act on, rather than getting feedback after something is “done”.
Another way, as stated above, is to encourage sketching and getting multiple ideas before deciding on the best one. Brainstorming big ideas and then coming to the realization that one idea stands out among the rest is a great way to avoid falling in love with a knee-jerk reaction to a given assignment.
Sometimes when I’m sitting in class, I switch to a third-person perspective and feel like I’m watching a reality television show about myself. One of my professors, Clark Buckner, assigned each student to present an artist, collective, or movement in his class, “Contemporary Art and the Psychopathology of the Everyday Life.” I coupled my third-person experience here at San Francisco Art Institute’s grad program with my interest in all that is Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist to present a collective known as WANGA and a movement known as RTV (reality television). Like all movements since the 19th century, journalists were in the mix when creating the discourse of the process of art production, so it’s only appropriate that several bloggers—defined here as art contributors with a strong online presence that include Emma Allen, Jennifer Dalton, Tyler Green, Paddy Johnson, Wesley Miller, Carolina A. Miranda, Bill Powhida, Karen Rosenberg, Jerry Saltz, Hrag Vartanian, and Edward Winkleman—were the ones who created the language around the collective and movement I presented.
I claimed a laundry list of elements that defined the RTV movement:
1. Challenges / Competition
2. Denial of Research / Emphasis on Memory
3. Limited Time / Improvisation
4. Mentor Guidance
5. Product Placement
7. Parasocial Relationship / Celebrity
8. Collective Construction through Data
9. Resistance to Correct Celebrity / Legalities
10. Filtered Experience of Art
I’ll have to describe it in further detail at another time or on my own personal blog, but the CliffsNotes version goes something like this.
A former commercial photographer, Yves Médam has only recently made the shift to fine art in the last 3 years. The French-born artist constructs large format photographic re-inventions of reality, creating a collage of multiple images. It is almost a cubist reinvention in its form. Médam, represented by Galerie Dominique Bouffard, was recently featured in a showcase of Montreal artists at the World’s Fair in Shanghai. I have translated the interview below from French.
Stefan Zebrowski-Rubin: Tell me about your work, its evolution and inspiration.
Yves Médam: For the first 15 years of my career, I worked as a commercial photographer. I had an artistic approach but always within the commercial realm. Then, photography changed enormously; it went digital and image banks became popular. It became increasingly difficult to work. Photography became a banal practice. Today, everyone thinks he’s a photographer, everyone has an opinion about how to tweak an image. Thus, I wanted to leave photography. But simultaneously, I also loved my work. I told myself if I continue taking photos, I need to find a way to make it more personal and meaningful, find an approach all my own.
At that moment, I had a contract with the magazine Parcours. With each issue, the editor-in-chief commissioned an artist to create all the portraits in whatever style they wanted. It was a great opportunity; it was both a job as well as a chance to try something new. Would I play with lighting? A lot has been done with lighting. Would I play with form? Maybe it would be form. And I started to play.
“When I was sixteen and knew nothing about art, I sat through almost six hours of Andy Warhol’s Empire. I did not understand it but thought: this is in a major museum, it must be important, what is going on here? I stayed until the museum closed. His Screen Test films are some of my favorite works made this century, but you need to give them back the time they took to be made.” – Uta Barth
In the first part of my contribution to the Flash Points series on “Art and Experience” I asked a selection of artists included in the exhibition InVisible: Art at the Edge of Perception – a show about empty spaces, sensory limits, boundaries of perception – how they hope viewers experience their art. Curious whether their answers mirrored their artistic practices of not only making but also looking at art, for part two of my post, I asked the artists – Uta Barth, Christian Capurro, Joanne Lefrak, and Janet Passehl – how they experience art themselves.
There are several books published on art and perception, from philosophical, art historical, educational, psychoanalytical, and medical perspectives (among others, I am sure). To name just a few, the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote extensively on the nature of perception, theorist and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim published Art and Visual Perception in 1954, and John Dewey delivered lectures on aesthetics in the 1930s, subsequently publishing Art as Experience. In a 1976 essay titled “Art as a Cultural System,” anthropologist Clifford Geertz points to the problem of word versus image, observing that the experience of art is difficult, maybe even impossible, to accurately put into words: “The excess of what we have seen, or imagine we have, over the stammerings we can manage to get out concerning it is so vast that our words seem hollow.” On the other hand, he states that “the perception of something important in either particular works or in the arts generally moves people to talk (and write) about them incessantly.” This is undoubtedly true –curators write lengthy catalogue essays; scholars analyze and theorize, regularly coming up with new -isms; critics opine about the latest exhibitions; artists compose statements; students write papers and dissertations; and in the age of Twitter and Flickr, a time where there seems to be an increasing desire to share our experiences – both mundane and profound – blogs are devoted to the subject.
Paul Warne doesn’t consider himself so much an artist as a designer. While trained in animation and film at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Warne found himself immersed in video game design, video installation and, most recently, creations of “Augmented Reality” (the interstitial space where virtual and the real worlds meet). An artistic mind with a penchant and know-how for the technological, the American (and now Montreal-based) designer has never been shy about creating art experiences that cross media boundaries and involve his audience.
Like many people, my girlfriend and I set out on a road trip this summer. Our trip took us from Chicago to Portland, following most of the Lewis and Clark Trail. After officially starting in St Charles, MO, where Louis and Clark initially met for their historic journey, we headed west, hitting not only typical locations like Yellowstone, The Badlands, and Mount Rushmore, but also a few random towns along the way, like Mitchell, SD (home of the only Corn Palace in the world). I had not planned for our trip to include many museums or galleries, but while driving downtown in Omaha, NE, I spotted the word ‘Polyester’ painted in orange on a building’s facade. We drove back around the block and to my surprise, it was a bookstore and gallery specializing in contemporary and vintage photographs.
Founded in 2006 by Bill Eiseman in downtown Los Angeles, Polyester has established itself as a unique voice within photography. In 2010, Eiseman moved shop to Omaha, where he has been able to expand his gallery to include screenings. In the spirit of the final days of summer, I asked Bill a few questions about my find in Omaha.
Meg Onli: What prompted a move from such a large scene (Los Angeles) to a place such as Omaha?
Bill Eiseman: It was a decision I spent six months deliberating. The downtown artwalk in Los Angeles brought anywhere from 500 to 1500 people into my gallery on the second Thursday of every month. The crowd at our last monthly artwalk here in downtown Omaha numbered roughly 50. From an economic standpoint, it probably wasn’t the wisest of choices, at least in the short term. But as a gallerist, since I am now the only contemporary photography gallery in the region, suddenly I have the creative freedom to exhibit known, represented artists and works that were previously unavailable to me and in a space that is more than four times the size as its L.A. predecessor (for less rent). [It] also allows me to have both a main gallery and annex, a dedicated video room, present live performances and film screenings — pretty much everything I ever wanted to do but never had the space to make a reality. There is also a certain amount of notoriety that comes with being new and unique, which I must admit to enjoying. And I spend (at most) fifteen minutes per day in my car, which is something that Los Angelenos can only dream about.