I’m Chad Alligood, and I’m a curator at Crystal Bridges. You might recognize me from the back of my head on the cover of the New York Times back in February:
That article detailed our journey across America in search of new art for the upcoming exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. I must have really worked that puffy jacket, because a couple of months later an editor at Esquire got in touch with me. Coincidentally, the Esquire team was also taking a road trip: driving from NYC to LA and profiling men who “embody the best of great American style right now.” They wanted to stop in Bentonville, dress me up, and photograph me at the Museum. I gave the only logical response: “Yes, absolutely. And should I wear my octopus socks?”
The road-weary Esquire crew arrived on a Friday afternoon. They piled out of three monstrous vehicles and immediately started scouting locations in the Museum and unloading gear. The senior fashion North Face Jackets Outlet infant! IDebbie editor whisked me away to a quiet corner of our curatorial offices with a rack of clothes and a pile of shoes. He eyed me up and down, assessing what he had to work with. I shifted nervously—what if he could tell that I only embody middling American style right now?
“We’ll do Prada for you,” he pronounced. “The cut is quite slim.”
“Yes, of course,” I responded confidently, as though I had extensive knowledge of the fit of different design houses. I do not.
I’ve never had someone dress me. I felt like Lord Grantham on Downton Abbey, minus the giant estate and fox hunting and Maggie Smith. Like a cloud, the crisp white shirt settled lightly onto my shoulders. “I could get used to this,” I thought. “This shirt is sublime. It’s $760 retail,” the editor informed me. “Aungghh,” I responded vaguely, intending to sound nonchalant but probably sounding more like I swallowed my tongue. We moved into caretotalk poignant article the galleries, where the photographer directed me. “Just try to be natural, move freely.” At first, I felt quite stiff: six fashion people watched my every move for hairs out of place, wrinkles in the fabric, crumbs in my beard, nervous facial tics, et cetera.
I felt more comfortable, as I often do, when we moved outdoors. I stood in the Museum drive for a shot with Roxy Paine’s Yield in the background. Cars moving through the circle had to pause for each shot. I could read the looks on their faces as they waited: “Who’s that guy in the nice suit with the crumbs in his beard and the facial tics?”
Then for one final shot, the photographer held the lens inches from my face, told me to hold up my hand and cover my left eye. “Look directly into the barrel of the lens,” he told me. Click. That’s the shot you see in this month’s Esquire. See if you can tell if I’m wearing my octopus socks.
It’s no cake-walk to install 227 works of art. However, for the past several weeks, that’s exactly what Crystal Bridges’ preparation and curatorial team have been doing–getting ready for the opening of State of the Art on September 13. Trucks are arriving with crated artwork, artists are visiting to oversee the installation of their work, and the installation team is finding creative solutions for challenges that range from how to provide electricity to an artwork located in the Lower Pond to how to suspend a full-scale Chevy Impala piñata from the gallery ceiling.
Terence Hammonds, b. 1976. Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio.
One of the works that was installed last week was: You’ve Got To Get Up To Get Down, by Terence Hammonds, an artist based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hammonds has created an interactive work that includes wallpaper, printed dance floors, a HiFi set, and about two dozen Motown records. The wallpaper features images of 1970s soul artists, and the dance floors are printed with images from the Civil Rights conflicts of the 1960s. Viewers are invited to select a record, put it on the HiFi set, and dance. The music, movement, and imagery together bring the work to life, and underscore the connections between the social movements of an era and the power of the culture of that era.
Hammonds said of the work: “[The dance floors] are activated by the viewer. The music is here, so the invitation is there for you to enjoy.”
So… when Curator Chad Alligood, Preparator Trisha Parker, and Assistant Registrar Victoria Perdomo unpacked Hammonds’s work, they took advantage of the opportunity to activate the artwork, and blow off a little steam.
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.
A couple of colleagues and I recently had the pleasure of traveling to sunny Los Angeles with a group of Crystal Bridges’ Guild-level Members. As a part of the Museum’s travel program, we toured some of LA’s most extraordinary private art collections in magnificent homes in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles. (Because I’ve been asked numerous times, I’ll go ahead and answer for you, too—yes, an A-list celebrity gave a tour of her home. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.)
Crystal Bridges’ Members and staff in Adonna Khare’s studio.
This immersion into the art scene in LA delighted our group, as we caught glimpses of how individuals collect and live with spectacular works of art by some of the world’s best known masters. We also enjoyed an insightful and rare view behind-the-scenes at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Yet, most of travelers proclaimed that these events were not the highlight of their week in LA.
On the last morning of our trip, we visited the quiet Burbank neighborhood of Adonna Khare. Just the day before, the LA Times had announced that Adonna was one of two LA artists who will be featured in State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now exhibition at Crystal Bridges. Don Bacigalupi, who was traveling with us, purposefully did not prepare us for what we were to experience. Similar to his and Curator Chad Alligood’s experiences as they were seeking artists for State of the Art, he wanted us to be surprised and to draw our own conclusions of Adonna’s work. Twenty jaws dropped the moment we walked into her studio.
Artist Adonna Khare shows the headline in the LA Times announcing her participation in State of the Art.
I heard a plethora of words to describe Adonna’s large-scale pencil drawings…. whimsical, mysterious, playful, intricate, gorgeous. She mesmerized us with the life story that inspires her work—drawing parallels from her life’s moments that translated to specific images on paper. Several in our group commented to me about the juxtaposition of seeing works by masters in the homes we toured and meeting a living, working artist from whom we can hear about life’s influences on her work. Adonna captured our hearts.
At the conclusion of our studio visit, one guest commented, “Adonna is so lovely. Let’s take her home with us.” I simply responded, “We already have.”
See Adonna’s work at Crystal Bridges in State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now beginning September 13, 2014.
Jill Wagar is Director of Advancement at Crystal Bridges.
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.
While Crystal Bridges’ upcoming exhibition Even before the doors open for the general public to view this contemporary American art exhibition on September 13, guests will already have noticed changes in the Museum galleries. Works for State of the Art will be installed not only in the temporary exhibition galleries, but also outdoors, in the Reflection Areas, and in the Twentieth-Century Art Gallery. This will result in works from the permanent collection being moved to other gallery spaces or to the vault for the duration of the exhibition.For months prior to the opening, visitors will probably see members of the prep team moving crates, de-installing works from the Museum’s permanent collection, and installing new objects throughout the Museum campus.