Why Do We Call It Art?

January 1, 1970 - to
Why Do We Call It Art?

(The following is a guest post by Loretta Cantieri, an artist and instructor at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Cantieri was guest curator for the exhibition Collectors Humble and Extraordinaire: The Herb and Dorothy Vogel Gift.)

“I do not like it, Sam I am, I do not like green eggs and ham.” – Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham

Questions have arisen in regards to some of the work in the exhibition, Collectors Humble and Extraordinaire: The Herb and Dorothy Vogel Gift.  Some wonder if it is truly art and others believe it is art, but are puzzled.

Sometimes an artwork does not meet our individual standards of aesthetics or our idea of what artwork should be.  This often happens with contemporary and abstract work, so do not sweat it, you have lots of company.  The lack of recognizable imagery, the imagined lack of artistic skill or the use non-tradtional materials and methods have all been commented about in the Vogel guest book.

It might help to move backward to move forward.

Since the early Renaissance, traditions developed in Western art which have included accurately depicting recognizable images (such as gods, goddesses, saints, sinners, portraits, kings, dead rabbits, and dogs to name a few) and along with this was a narrative or a story to be understood in the painting or sculpture. Change has been a constant characteristic in artworks and so have disagreements.   Painters have disagreed about the appropriate handling of the paint, how to make brushstrokes (visible or invisible), use of colors, and correct subject matter. Regardless, for about four hundred years viewers could recognize the subject matter.  By year 500 (late 19th to early 20th century)  dramatic changes happened.  The Impressionists broke up the brushstroke, the Fauves turned faces blue and orange and the Constructivists sought purity by painting rectangles or squares.

What is a viewer to do?  Where is constancy and tradition?  Frankly, the 20th century was difficult for both artist and audience.   Early on, abstraction became part of modern art’s vocabulary and by the ’60s, artists painted on found objects (cardboard or pipes), sculpted with peanut shells or wire, and eventually came to believe 500 notebook pages of gestural watercolor “drawings” were art.  Concepts and non-tradtional materials became the new traditon.  Also, drawing was no longer seen as a prepatory medium, but rather an essential process equal to painting.  Why did they break the rules?  Why should we look?  How should we look?

We are caught in the “I-Don’t-Get-It Aesthetic,” an expression coined by art critic Jerry Saltz.  What if art is not user friendly or it makes us feel agitated or uncomfortable?  The late curator and founder of the New Museum, Marcia Tucker, said “If people gave art just the same amount of courtesy, respect, and time that they gave new people they meet, I suspect things would be a lot better.”

So to better enjoy life and your contemporary art experiences it is best not to rush to judgement.  One would not tell a new acquaitance, “you are strange” or “you are not a real person.”  The art may be enigmatic but be polite and allow the perceived uncertainites and inadequecies to enthrall you.  This newly fueled curiosity may invoke learning about aesthetics, artists and society, or politics and history.  Your journey may not be predictable or linear, but you could learn a lot about yourself, the visual world, and the complexity of relationships.

Some questions to consider:

  • Can it only be Art if it is made to survive the next millennium?
  • Does everyone have to understand it for it to be good?
  • How does the iconography of contemporary art differ from the art of the Renaissance?
  • What if an artist formally trained in different mediums and visual elements like proportion, volume, light and color does not use his or her training in an obvious way?
  • Can your emotions or response be part of the piece?
  • Can the ideas and processes an artist uses be art or visible in the artwork?
  • How do uncertainty and unpredictability influence the artist?

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“The Eyes Have It!” Art Experiences Camp

January 1, 1970 - to
“The Eyes Have It!” Art Experiences Camp

Kids getting crafty at camp.

Art doesn’t always need to be in a frame, you can find it anywhere. Campers at this summer’s Summer Art Camp, “The Eyes Have It!” will embrace this outlook by making their own glasses to see the world as artists do and appreciate things they may not necessarily think of as art. From there, they’ll go to Dawson Studio to create projects with the new eyes of an artist. Su Legatt, an artist and educator who has had work on display in the Museum will lead the camp. “I’m so excited to see the fun and creative activities the campers will do while wearing their ‘artist eyes,’” Museum Director of Education Sandy Ben-Haim said.

This camp runs Aug. 8 – 11 from 9 a.m. to noon. To enroll your child entering grades 2 – 5 or to find more information about our Summer Art Camps click to “The Eyes Have It!” or call 701.232.3821. Deadline for registration is Aug. 3. The Museum is dedicated to providing the best art education experiences in the region through tours, gallery activities, games, and art-making experiences.

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What’s in Store for ‘Sodbuster’?

January 1, 1970 - to
What’s in Store for ‘Sodbuster’?

Sodbuster

'Sodbuster' in its former home at the corner of Broadway and Main Avenue in Fargo (photo via www.fargo-history.com)

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen an outpouring of interest over the fate of Sodbuster, a sculpture by artist Luis Jimenéz that once stood at the corner of Main Avenue and Broadway in downtown Fargo. This level of interest is exciting, and it illustrates the point that works of art are memorable and can serve as important community icons.  After ten years of the sculpture being in storage and awaiting conservation and repair, people remember it vividly and would like to see it returned to a public view.

So, what’s in store for Sodbuster?

First off, Sodbuster is in pretty bad shape. Made from fiberglass, it withstood twenty years of exposure to UV rays, full sun, rain, snow, heat, cold, vibrations from a nearby railroad track, and vandalism, resulting in severe discoloration and weakening of its coating. After the City of Fargo donated the sculpture to the Museum (it was not purchased, as has been reported) back in 1991, the Museum enlisted the expertise of a conservator and the artist himself to restore the work. After Jimenéz tragically died in 2006, these plans were put on hold. Since then, the Museum has had to regroup around the restoration of Sodbuster, as other priorities have taken center stage.

What is perhaps most striking about the recent resurgence in interest in Sodbuster is that it underscores the importance of public art in a community’s identity. Many Fargoans feel a palpable connection to this sculpture, and it is important that we offer everyone – individuals, businesses, community groups – the opportunity to lend us their opinions on Sodbuster’s future.

We take very seriously our role as caretaker of this valuable piece of art and central visual landmark for the history of Fargo. This role requires that we develop a professional plan for Sodbuster‘s proper restoration. The cost of restoration could run $100,000 or more, so issues of funding are also part of this conversation. The successful future of this landmark rests on first establishing dialogue, and we want to have a dialogue with the community and interested parties.  What steps need to be taken for a successful restoration? How can restoration costs be successfully raised? What sites might be considered for its future? What does it take to properly restore this piece, one made of unorthodox material and needing expert care?

We’re now putting a plan in place  to share information about Sodbuster’s history and current condition, to outline what needs to happen to restore the sculpture, and to invite community input about how to get Sodbuster back on its feet. In November (exact date to be determined), we’ll be hosting a “Sodbuster Summit” at the Museum where you can hear about the issues behind the restoration and voice your opinion on its future. In the meantime, here are some ways for you to lend us your comments:

  • Right here. Leave a comment on this blog post. Feel free to comment on others’ posts, too. Comments are moderated, FYI, so they may take some time to appear. All pertinent comments will be published.
  • Email. Email us at museum@plainsart.org with the subject “Sodbuster Comments”.
  • Facebook. Leave us a note on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/plainsartmuseum.
  • Twitter. Tag us with @plainsartmuseum and/or tag your comment with #sodbuster.
  • Snail mail. Send us a letter at PO Box 2338, Fargo, N.D., 58108.
  • Museum staff will also be appearing on local talk radio shows to talk about Sodbuster, field questions, and hear your comments. We’ll announce those appearances through Facebook.

Thank you in advance for your comments, and we’ll see you in November!

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Hot Weekend, Cool Events: HHDS3 and Ramp Jam at the Plains

January 1, 1970 - to
Hot Weekend, Cool Events: HHDS3 and Ramp Jam at the Plains

Hip Hop Don't Stop 3 Mural - Arctic Audio on 8th St. South in Fargo.

Hip Hop Don't Stop 3 mural logo - these penguins have no problem staying cool!

Downtown Fargo’s scenery is always evolving, and after last weekend, it has a bit more color thanks to the great new mural on the Arctic Audio building on 8th Street South. This mural is the product of the third installment of Hip Hop Don’t Stop, a collaborative mural painting project co-presented by Plains Art Museum and Idehaus. HHDS3 brought together artist Paul Ide and other Midwest premier street artists; STUN, EACH2, TOIL and JAPL to create the mural, Friday through Monday, while enjoying the cool beats of local DJ’s and hip-hop artists. Check out more of Ide’s work throughout downtown at the Gasper’s School of Dance and Performing Arts, Roberts Street Studio and behind Art Materials on Broadway.

As part of the Downtown Street Fair, the Museum presented Ramp Jam at the Plains Saturday afternoon – ramps were erected in front of the Museum for skateboarders, bikes, and inline skates. “The community support we saw on Saturday was great. Loads of people from the Street Fair stopped by to check out the action, even in the heat,” Museum Graphics Director Cody Jacobson said. Maybe it was the free hot dogs or This Skate and Snow merch giveaways, but skaters of all ages came out to show off their moves on the ramps.

Skateboarder Eric Hanson jumps a gap at the Ramp Jam.

Kids beat the heat at the Ramp Jam with fun water toys.

If you missed any of the action, check out the Museum Flickr page for more photos or come visit the Museum and check out Tom Kemmer’s skateboarding photography and videography, Local Spots, which is currently on display in the Xcel and Serkland Law Galleries.  Haven’t had enough of all things speedy on wheels? Join us August 18 for Bike Jamboree + Bike-In Movie Night for fun with a bicycle art project, bike tour of public art downtown, and an outdoor screening of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” powered by The Mighty Quinn, a five-person bicycle! Donations are still needed for this event, please head over to the Events Page to learn more.

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Plains Art Cases Now Available for the 2011-2012 School Year

January 1, 1970 - to
Plains Art Cases Now Available for the 2011-2012 School Year

The contents of the 'Guilty of Being Indian' art case with work by David Bradley.

Many rural communities in our area struggle with access to arts education. With tight budgets and long drives to cities that have standalone arts organizations, a structured arts curriculum can be hard for students to come by.

Our Art Case program is designed to provide art education resources to classrooms in our region that have little or no formal art education in place. Each case is packed with a miniature exhibition of works by regional artists and comes with an education guide that encourages classroom participation. Also, some art case content is supplemented by online material. We are able to offer these cases free of charge thanks to support from the Wyeth Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education, and the North Dakota Council on the Arts through an appropriation from the North Dakota Legislature. Best of all, educators pay no shipping fees.

Educators who have used the cases in their classrooms report an overwhelmingly positive experience. One educator writes:

Just an amazing teaching kit, so beautiful. The students were in awe of the contents and very engaged. I want to thank you and your museum for sharing the amazing trunk with the contents and context. It make the Native American culture come alive for them and honored the Native students we have. The smell of sweet grass greeted each class as they walked into the art room. Curiosity came next. Thank you again for being so generous with the time frame. It made the end of the year extra special for us.

This year, we have two additions to the art case family. The new art cases are entitled Expressions of Home and Tactile Art; the first highlights Minnesota and North Dakota artists who visually explore the meaning of “home,” while the latter contains work meant to be touched as well as seen. The three original art cases, focusing on the work of David Bradley (Chippewa Family, Powwow Princess in the Process of Acculturation, and Guilty of Being Indian (Mankato), are also available. To reserve a PlainsArt Case for the upcoming school year, contact Museum Education Director Sandy Ben-Haim at 701.232.3821 ext. 109 or by email at sbenhaim@plainsart.org.

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Skateboards and Mural Art Round Out a Mammoth Weekend

January 1, 1970 - to
Skateboards and Mural Art Round Out a Mammoth Weekend

Tom Kemmer gets a hand constructing a ramp for Saturday's Ramp Jam at the Plains

Tom Kemmer gets a hand constructing a ramp for Saturday's Ramp Jam at the Plains

That great summer Fargo pastime, the Downtown Street Fair, will bring scads of vendors and shoppers to our neighborhood starting Thursday. Along with it will come the tantalizing smells of fair food, the possibility of crazy heat, and a handful of great (and free) events presented by the Museum.

The fun gets started with the third installment of Hip Hop Don’t Stop, a collaborative mural painting project spearheaded by artist Paul Ide and co-presented by Plains Art Museum and Idehaus. HHDS3 will feature a slew of Midwest street artists painting a mural at the Arctic Audio building on 8th Street South in downtown Fargo. Boosting the vibe during the painting sessions will be an assortment of DJ’s and hip-hop artists from around the region. The public can stop by, say hi, and check out the progress from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Monday (weather permitting). Along with the mural painting, South Moorhead Scratch Dungeon member DJ Stupid Birthday will present a demonstration and talk on the evolution of the turntable DJ at the Museum on Friday evening at 6 p.m. If you like turntables, don’t miss it.

On Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., we’ll be holding a Ramp Jam on 7th Street North in front of the Museum. The ramps will be open to skateboarders, bikes, and inline skates of all ages. The Ramp Jam is being organized by Museum Graphics Director Cody Jacobson along with Tom Kemmer (see photos above and below), whose exhibition of skateboarding photography and videography, Local Spots, is currently on display in the Xcel and Serkland Law Galleries. (All riders must sign a release form to ride the course. Under 18 needs a parent or guardian signature. Click here to download a release form or stop by THIS skate and snow, 625 1st Ave N, Downtown Fargo.

Eep.

Admission to the galleries is free all day on Saturday too, so feel free to stop by, rest your feet, take advantage of our air conditioning, and check out all of our current exhibitions.

That said, what’s your favorite part of the Street Fair weekend? Tell us in the comments.

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Meet Our New Curator, Megan Arney Johnston

January 1, 1970 - to
Meet Our New Curator, Megan Arney Johnston

In our most recent member newsletter, we announced the addition of Megan Arney Johnston, our new director of curatorial affairs and interpretation, to the Museum staff. After a couple years without a full-time curator, we’re overjoyed to be fulfilling a vital responsibility to our audience and the community we serve. Moreover, we’re overjoyed to have Megan join our staff. She is energetic and passionate about art and museums, and she will bring an impressive set of talents and experiences from a number of institutions, big and small, across two continents.

Some brief background. Megan was born in Stillwater, Minn. After earning a bachelor’s in art history from the University of Minnesota, she moved to New York and produced publications for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She then served as curator at the Leadwhite Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, and was art director and lead curator at the Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown, Northern Ireland, from 2003 to 2009. Most recently, Johnston served as director and lead curator at the LaGrange Art Museum in LaGrange, Ga. She holds a master’s degree in visual culture studies from the University of Ulster in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She will complete a doctorate on socially engaged curatorial practice through the University of Ulster in 2012.

Interactive sound installation at Millennium Court Arts Center, Portadown Northern Ireland. The exhibition was curated by Megan Arney Johnston.

It’s this aspect of Megan’s curatorial approach – socially engaged practice – that has us the most excited for her arrival. This involves opening “avenues of entry” into the Museum and our exhibitions through innovative installations, unexpected collaborations, talks, social media platforms, etc., avenues that dissolve the conventional idea of a museum as a white cube.

Moreover, Megan sees her role as an advocate for the public and for artists inside the museum, not the other way around. She will encourage projects from artists that promote dialogue around local issues, collaborative inputs, communal exchanges, and sociopolitical and historical nuances while utilizing new social networks and technologies. Megan also aligns herself with the “Slow Movement,” embracing life, health, the environment, and local connectivity. This is an exciting approach and we’re eager to see what she does when she begins her work here in just a couple weeks.

On top of her work and her focus, though, is a bright individual who is excited to join the Fargo-Moorhead arts community and community as a whole. Megan is funny and clever, and she has an outstanding attitude toward life, family, and community as well as art. We hope you’ll take the opportunity to meet her and her family at a public welcome September 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Museum. The event is free. We’re also putting Megan to work early – she’ll be joining us on our public art bike ride during the Bike Jamboree on August 18 at 7:30 p.m. to provide interpretation along the way.

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‘You Like This’ Moves to an Online Vote

January 1, 1970 - to
‘You Like This’ Moves to an Online Vote

Our crowdsourcing project and exhibition You Like This: A Democratic Approach to the Permanent Collection moved on into phase two during the month of June. After we compiled the results of an online survey from phase one, we brought in a group of “community curators” to analyze those results and offer their opinions on how to condense down our permanent collection into a manageable number for a final vote on the specific works of art that will comprise the final exhibition.

The community curator meetings were full of debate and enthusiasm. Aside from crunching the data from the survey, the curators were also asked to help define their own role in this process and discuss what they would like to see in the gallery at the end of this process. They had a number of fantastic ideas and things to consider once this project finally becomes an exhibition. Here’s an overview:

  • The curators expressed concern that certain categories of art may not be represented in the final vote because of their low level of support in the initial survey.
  • There was plenty of discussion around keeping gender balance in the selection of artworks.
  • A couple curators wanted to see some “old friends,” works in our collection that haven’t been shown in a while. Others wanted “surprising” pieces, ones that may not have been shown often but would be exciting nonetheless.
  • The majority of the discussion – and the most passionate – surrounded the opportunity the curators have in terms of the interpretation and presentation of the You Like This show and project. The curators discussed the use of innovative ways to allow viewers to comment on works of art, different approaches to arranging works on the wall, and the use of other local talent (musicians, writers, architects, etc.) in the interpretation of the exhibition. They stressed that they’d like to offer viewers the opportunity to view works in an unconventional way and lend the opportunity for viewers’ self exploration.
  • Curators also recommended using comments from the You Like This process in some way in the exhibition, either through audio or text.

The second curator meeting was a little more straightforward. After listening to their recommendations, Museum Collections Director Mark Ryan pushed our collection database through a few search parameters and presented the curators with an overview of the resulting works of art. They voted on each work individually and also discussed the overall presentation of works for the final vote.

The result? Seventy-five works of art that will be voted on by the public, with the top vote getters making the cut for the exhibition. Voting is now open, so head over, vote, and be sure to leave your comments as well.

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