Gina Phillips, b. 1971
Studio in New Orleans, LA
The artworks in State of the Art range in size from paintings 3.5 inches square to installations that fill rooms (or the lower pond!). One of the large works in the exhibition is a humungous 17-foot by 34-foot fiber work by New Orleans-based artist Gina Phillips.
Viewed from across the gallery, the work depicts a composite scene made up of memories from the artist’s life, growing up in rural Kentucky. The figures are clear: the artist’s grandmother holding a guitar at the right side, herself at center, a house and truck in the upper left. Up close, however, it’s a whole different work.
Phillips uses a wealth of fiber materials in her work—fabric, old clothes, trimming, artificial hair—all stitched to a muslin backing to create a richly textured image. While Gina was here installing the work, I talked with her a bit about her process.
Why so large?
I like to shift scale when I’m working. Sometimes I work very small, but it’s hard for me, when I look at a wall, not to see it as my whole canvas.
The original composition for the piece was almost a quarter of the size that it is. I did the drawing, the underpainting, and put it on the wall in my studio—and I kind of felt like I could keep going with it. So I went back to my original sketch and I was like, “okay, I definitely need to add some to the height.”
It was fun. It’s just fun to have that kind of impact: to walk into the space and see an image that’s that big. At first, a lot of people think it’s just a painting. Then they get close to it and they realize it’s made out of all these bits of fabric and thread. That’s one thing I really like about working in this medium, I feel like It holds your interest on a very close level, right up close to the surface, and then really far back.
What’s your process for creating a work like this?
I always start out with a plain white muslin background so I can do my underpainting on that. From there I’m appliqueing—whatever, anything goes—on the surface. I had to do it in three parts to fit it on my machine. I would do one panel and put it on my studio wall so I could look over and reference it, because by the time I would get to the bottom of the panel, I didn’t exactly remember what I had at the top. And of course I had a picture of the overall underpainting to use as my map so I would know where I was in the piece, because the shapes are so large I could easily get confused.
How did you come to this style of working?
Really backwards, I think probably a lot of artists do that. It comes out of a love of working with materials. I don’t know how to sew properly. The first piece I experimented with was all hand sewn. I was just experimenting with this new way of thinking about making art out of fabric. I don’t think I even knew how to use a sewing machine, really. I think it’s cool when an artist arrives at a process or a medium in a really naïve way, because you don’t know the rules and you can figure out these totally new techniques that you wouldn’t have thought of before.
When Katrina hit, I’d still been using these regular household machines and I’d been struggling with trying to make big work, squishing fabrics through these little machines. Because I lost all the equipment, it forced me to re-examine and see what was out there. Then I learned that there was such a thing as a long-arm quilting machine. I don’t use it the way it’s intended, I use it as a kind of drawing-with-thread machine. It’s allowed me to work a lot faster, a lot bigger, and a lot easier.
How long did it take to create this work?
That piece took me about three months.
(LD: At this point I think I gasped audibly. Did I mention the work is thirty-four feet long???)
It’s pretty crazy. When I tell people that, they think I’m going to say three years.I had a deadline and I just stayed focused. And I do like to work fast—for me that was a really long time to work on one piece.
San Pedro, California-based artist Danial Nord has been at Crystal Bridges this week, installing his audio-visual sculptural installation titled, coincidentally, State of the Art. The work is alive with sound and light, and was constructed from the discarded back panels of old CRT televisions. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you much more than that, except to say that there’s a television theme song involved, and something of a surprise for viewers in the form of the sculpture itself.
Nord has a long background in commercial television and video, and brings all of the skills he learned in that industry to his video-based artworks. I sat down with him over lunch to talk with him about the work and his thoughts about the exhibition.
LD: What did you think about this exhibition when our curators talked with you about it?
DN: At first, I hadn’t heard about Crystal Bridges, but then my parents said “Oh, we read a really good article about Crystal Bridges.” And then everybody I talked to said “Oh, I saw them on CBS Sunday Morning” or something. So I did my research. I thought it was kind of amazing that a museum of this caliber would be at the foot of the Ozarks and open for free, which is kind of a big deal because a lot of people wouldn’t come, maybe, if they had to pay $15. It’s open long hours, it’s free, and it’s a top-tier collection of work. For that to be accessible in a region where there really wasn’t a major museum like this seemed to me to be a pretty good thing. On top of that, to try to bring in? a really interesting cross-section of American artists is a kind of doubling that in a way because contemporary art can be more challenging for audiences that aren’t used to looking at it.
LD: Why are you so fascinated with video?
DN: To watch something in a little rectangle moving around with a story is only a tiny aspect of what video is. Video is moving pixels of light and color. We use the medium like we use our brains: we only use a tiny portion of the medium. I’m really interested in the peripheral aspects of media and video, like what you see when you walk by someone’s house and they‘re watching their big flat screen with the curtains drawn. You’re seeing this amazing light and there are people inside—it makes you more interested. I don’t care that there’s a football game on when I see that, I care that there’s this life force, this thing happening inside.
LD: Can you talk a little bit about this particular work?
DN: With my work I always try to make sure that there’s a way in. I’m not interested in tricking people and playing some game with them. I think that the approachability of this work, the way in, is the [television] theme song that everyone recognizes. Then often they look at this pile of junk, this black thing, and they’ll hear the music and they’ll be looking at it and then they’ll go “Oh my God!”
LD: This work draws on an aspect of association and nostalgia. Is that important as well?
DN: Absolutely! That, to me, is the anchor of the way in. I’m trying to say “You know this”—right up front: “Come on in, this is totally familiar.” So immediately they’re engaged—and they’re also confused.
LD: Is that confusion something you’re going for?
DN: I think walking that line of “Come on in!” and “What going on here?!” is exactly where I want to be.
LD: What’s the benefit of that for a viewer?
DN: Engage them with the familiar and provoke them with the unknown. For me as an artist, that would be the highest achievement.
You will be able to see Danial’s work for yourself in State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, opening at Crystal Bridges September 13.
I typically begin looking for books that will inform,enhance, or elevate our understanding of an exhibition at least one year ahead of its scheduled opening. I consider themes, styles, movements, and artists in a particular exhibition, as well as social, political, and historical context. In the case of State of the Art, however, this was particularly challenging for several reasons.
Art studio America: contemporary artist spaces. Hossein Amirsadeghi, Maryam Homayoun Eisler, Andrea P. A. Belloli, Benjamin Genocchio, Mark Godfrey, Robert Storr, and Robin Friend, 2013. N6512.7 .
First and foremost, few staff knew which artists were being selected or what their art was about. We knew the exhibition would be a groundbreaking one and reflect contemporary art in America. We knew the curators, Crystal Bridges President Don Bacigalupi and Curator Chad Alligood, were on this exciting year-long venture to discover American artists reflecting issues of concern today. We were even presented with great little updates from them at staff meetings. But truly, I can say that writing this blog on July 18, 2014, I’m as excited as the rest of the country to see how the exhibition will come together! What messages will we take away, what art will we fall in love with, what will we make of this grand effort to help make contemporary art more accessible, more meaningful to the average viewer?
And so I pondered my collection development strategy: should I concentrate on the art historiography and cultural perspectives that might rearticulate all possible connections between past art and contemporary art? But should I bother going back to select books by Winckelmann (way to far back) or the American author William Dunlap, or critics like Meyer Schapiro, , Lawrence Alloway, Clement Greenberg, or Harold Rosenberg? Or what about the female contributions: Barbara Rose, Lucy Lippard, Paula Hays Harper, Rosalind Krauss and so many other women in the arts?
I understand this exhibition to be, at least in part, about art that breaks down some of the old stereotypes about contemporary art: that it’s hard to understand, academic, closed. This exhibition is to feature American art people can identify with, that has a message to which we can relate. I understand it to be art within our grasp, art that makes us think about issues in a different way, that expands our horizons or may even remind us of our mistakes and challenges; art that might be beautiful, or fascinating, or curious, but nevertheless, art that reflects a myriad cultural aspects facing our society at this time in America.
Show time: the 50 most influential exhibitions of contemporary art. Jens Hoffmann, 2014
So why look to the art historians and critics to tell us what we should see or feel or think? It reminds me of a typical question often raised about art: do you have to have an art appreciation education to get it? I don’t believe that at all! But I do believe in learning more when questions arise for the viewer, and that’s what library resources offer.
So, like with any of our exhibitions, I place books related to the exhibition on the library end panels and I make available a list of recommended titles. The State of the Art selections range from books written by art historians and critics to broad overviews, children’s books, and even exhibition catalogs of several State of the Art artists. They offer a little background on many of the artists, and a deeper look into contemporary art: its development, themes, materials, and issues. You are welcome to come up to the Library, browse the selection, and choose which books might illuminate your appreciation of the art. You can begin here by taking a look at selected books for State of the Art.
Crystal Bridges’ Twentieth-Century Art Gallery, denuded of artwork in preparation for the installation of “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now.”
Over the next several weeks, visitors to Crystal Bridges may be slightly inconvenienced by the closure of all or part of our Twentieth-Century Art Gallery. We apologize for the bother, but it’s necessary as we prepare this space for the upcoming exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now.
Since the Twentieth-Century Gallery is one of our permanent collection exhibition spaces, it’s very unusual to see it completely emptied of art work! Almost everything from the permanent collection has been de-installed now, and the crews are starting to patch walls, build and install new walls, and paint–both in this gallery and in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery. Both spaces will be completely transformed for the State of the Art exhibition.
Meanwhile, on the South Lawn, another new installation is taking place!
Artist Kim Dickey installing her artwork, “Mille-fleur,” for the upcoming exhibition “State of the Art.”
Kim Dickey, a Boulder, Colorado-based artist selected for State of the Art, is at work installing her work, Mille-fleur: a 21-foot-long wall covered in 10,000 ceramic floral shapes that are gorgeously painted in a garden pattern reminiscent of a sixteenth-century tapestry. From a distance, the pattern is evident. Up close, the individual ceramic flowers come into focus and the colors and shapes seem to become more abstract. It’s a perfect work for the Museum’s South Lawn, which is surrounded by green trees and colorful native plant beds.
Dickey told me that two hummingbirds have already come to investigate the artwork, and a few rather frustrated butterflies have landed on it while she’s been working.
So that’s two installations down for State of the Art: 225 to go!
(Bit of insider information here, just between me and you: Kim will be returning to the Museum in October to give a Spotlight Lecture about her work. But don’t tell anyone I told you.)
It’s happening! It’s really, really happening! This week, Crystal Bridges sent out an official press release announcing the culmination of the selection process for artists to be included in State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. We simultaneously let the artists themselves know that we had formally announced the exhibition, giving them free rein to announce their participation. They can now post it to their blogs and Facebook pages, notify their regional media, and shout it from the rooftops, if they so choose. Already we’ve seen several news stories about artists in various regions, and we expect there will be many more over the coming weeks, as news outlets begin to spread the word.
State of the Art artist Gabriel Dawe installinghis artwork at Crystal Bridges.
Here at the Museum itself, the exhibition is getting real in another, much more physical way. This week, the first of the State of the Art artworks is being installed! Gabriel Dawe, an artist based in Dallas, TX, is here at Crystal Bridges installing his large-scale work, Plexus C8, in the stairwell that links the upper and lower North Temporary Exhibition Galleries. The stairs are temporarily blocked to allow the artist full access to the area during installation.
Gabriel Dawe creates vibrant, dimensional installations out of multi-colored thread. The process is a painstaking one that results in fascinating works whose color and shape take on different aspects as the viewer moves around them. Here at Crystal Bridges, guests will walk under Dawe’s installation as they move from one part of the gallery to another, and will also be able to view the work from the overlook in the upper gallery. We are very pleased to have Gabriel’s work as an “ambassador” for the SoTA exhibition, providing guests with a teaser taste of many good things to come.
Dawe’s string sculpture is only the first in a schedule of several works that will be installed at the Museum prior to the opening of the entire exhibition on September 13. Later this month, guests will be seeing the installation of another State of the Art work outdoors on the Museum’s South Lawn. (More about that later.)
Things have kicked up a gear in preparation for State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. Our curatorial team is working on the exhibition catalog. The preparators and registrars are piecing together the complex shipment and installation schedule for the more-than 100 works of art that will soon begin arriving from all around the country. (The earliest install will be mid-July, if you can believe it. More on that as the date gets closer.) And our creative services team is readying the exhibition graphics.
Digital Media Manager Shane Richey displays the gear he carried on his recent trip to Boston.
We’re also planning and preparing for the multi-media elements of the exhibition. Because the artists’ voices are so important to this project, curators recorded video of each of their in-studio visits with the artists. Some of this video will also be used for the exhibition app and audio tour, and our digital media team is now hitting the road to add to that footage. Three team members are going to be traveling over the next several weeks, hauling their AV gear to cities around the country to capture video of the artists whose work will appear in State of the Art.
Shane Richey, Digital Media Manager, recently returned from four days in Boston. Jessica Whalen, our Digital Media Producer, is currently on the road to Knoxville, TN, and Atlanta, GA. She gets back on Friday, when our Digital Media Specialist, Heather Marie Wells, will head out for Chicago. Jessica leaves again for New York on Sunday, then for San Francisco and Santa Fe the following week. Heather Marie travels to New Orleans in July…. You can see how this is going.
On each trip, our intrepid travelers will be making several visits to artists in and around their hub cities, conducting video interviews and shooting footage of the artists at work in their studios. (I’m encouraging them to blog from the road, to share with you some of their adventures as the exhibition progresses, so stay tuned.)
The final result of all this travel will be an exhibition that offers unprecedented views into the minds and processes of these remarkable artists. Having seen more than 50 of the initial interview videos myself so far, I am absolutely wowed by these conversations and the insight they provide regarding what it means to be an artist in America today.
There’s still so much to be done, but we are enjoying the journey. And we can’t wait to share what we discover with all of you.
Nature has had many different symbolic meanings over time. From the embodiment of threatening, unfettered savagery to the pure manifestation of the glory of God, landscape has played many roles in American art and literature. One of the high points of American landscape was during the early nineteenth century, when the Hudson River School artists created romantic, sweeping vistas of mountains, forests and waterways as a symbol of the land’s largess and the overall excellence of America the Beautiful.
Untitled (Fall in Yosemite)
oil on canvas
In their travels around the country, researching contemporary artists for the upcoming exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, Crystal Bridges President Don Bacigalupi and Assistant Curator Chad Alligood have encountered a number of artists who are carrying forward the traditions of the American landscape in varied ways. Among them is Boston artist Cobi Moules, whose recent work deliberately harks back to the American landscape tradition of the Hudson River School, but with a modern and very personal twist.
Following a three-month solo trip across the United States to visit a number of national parks and iconic American landscapes, Moules began making a series of paintings in which he featured multiple images of himself in the natural settings. Though the landscapes are rendered with gorgeous attention to detail, they become backdrops to the self-portraits in the foreground: all dressed identically, exploring the scene with all the reverence of seventh-graders on a field trip.
Moules, who grew up transgendered in a Christian setting where his identity was at odds with the surrounding culture, considers his work a way of “renegotiating” his relationship with the ideas of gender, identity, and Christian faith.
“I had been looking at the Hudson River School painters quite significantly and thinking about the relationship between the individual and the landscape,” Moules explained. “ [I was exploring] these ideas of the people [in the Hudson River School paintings] being very tiny, and having the landscape being very overwhelming as a manifestation of God….By placing myself in such a mass quantity in these spaces, [I’m] trying to shift the landscape’s weight a little bit and allowing these [paintings] to become this playground where I’m exploring myself in it, exploring the landscape, becoming part of nature.”
The work underscores our changing relationships to both the natural world and religion, as the one becomes increasingly more accessible and comprehensible and the other perhaps less so.
In this week’s Huffington Post blog, Crystal Bridges President Don Bacigalupi shares a short video discussion with Cobi Moules as he talks about nature and identity.
Don Bacigalupi (left) and Chad Alligood in an artist’s studio, looking and documenting their finds.
Crystal Bridges’ President, Don Bacigalupi, and Associate Curator for Special Projects Chad Alligood have been traveling around the country for more than six months, visiting artist studios in every region of the United States in preparation for the upcoming exhibition, State of the Art. Don has recently begun blogging about their experiences, and providing profiles of some of the artists they have encountered on their travels for the Huffington Post, and we’d like to start sharing some of their adventures with you, as well.
This week we focus on one of the artists the pair met with in Seattle:
Portraiture is one of the oldest artistic genres, ranging from ancient carved likenesses on Egyptian sarcophagi to Gilbert Stuart’s portraits of George Washington to photograph Arnold Newman’s iconic atmospheric portraits of cultural figures, to Glamour Shots. But Seattle artist Susie Lee is adding a new dimension to our thinking about portraiture.
Lee has embarked upon a series of portraits based in time. With Still Lives, she has asked her subjects, many of them residents of a long-term care facility, to sit silently for her video camera for periods of up to 30 minutes at a time. The images she captures in this fashion represent neither the fleeting, frozen moment of still photography, nor a painting’s static image created through long observation—but rather, Lee’s images become an act of observation in and of themselves. These time-based portraits present Lee’s subjects in all their human physicality: small adjustments, breathing, yawns, scratches, and all. Some even fall asleep on camera. While they can cause a viewer to feel uncomfortable, even voyeuristic, when that awkwardness is past, the images also create a powerful awareness of shared humanity.
Because the portrait subjects are elders, the works also become an exploration of the dichotomy between being and not being. Over time, these works also explore the gradual transformation of the artwork itself: from its beginning as a record of a living individual, to a historical record of one who is gone, to its eventual evolution into an artistic object, whose subject becomes less about an individual and more about art for art’s sake.
“There’s sort of an intensity that’s there because half of the individuals who are in the portraits…have passed away,” Lee explained. “So … now there’s a transition, almost, between them being here and not being here; to them actually, then, almost being like a painting of somebody in the 1800s where you don’t know the individual but you know somebody like them.”
In his regular Huffington Post blog, Crystal Bridges President Don Bacigalupi provides a short video interview with Susie Lee. Click here to read the blog and view the video.