For over twenty years, Artadia has sought to provide working artists with the necessary resources of time and money to continue their practice.  Their much-needed support has now expanded to offer awardees the opportunity to converse with arts professionals. I was both delighted and honored when Jonathan Gardenhire reached out to me with an invitation to visit New York to meet with individual artists and engage in public dialogue.  The visit came against the backdrop of the New York marathon, a nice metaphor for the working artist in New York. Beyond the obvious dimension of sustainability in a city where most working class, full time employees cannot afford to live where they work; there is also the element of endurance in the artist’s career, how much time and energy must be given over.

Working in various venues… a coffee shop, live/work spaces; old buildings and rehabbed spaces– the artists who I met are earnest, talented and determined.  Many of them have emerged from graduate school and have found a strong visual articulation of themselves. Many have met with some commercial success while others continue to negotiate what it means to sustain a practice in the midst of an unyielding art landscape.  I applaud them all and Artadia for being an important reprieve and catalyst in their lives and practice.

Stepping off the plane in Newark, I had some anxiety if I would actually make my meeting with Demetrius Oliver. The journey into the city was remarkably smooth and I actually arrived earlier than expected.  I was eager to meet with Demetrius who I not only knew personally, from our time in Houston, but professionally, as someone who had organized his first museum exhibition.  More than a decade had passed, but once Demetrius arrived, I found our conversation easy and that the work had evolved to the next level. Working primarily in photography, Oliver has been engaged in working not only with modes of the photographic process and composition, but also with presentation.  His studio often revolves some aspect of performativity, either of the object or the artist. At present, he artist is considering what it means to create immersive environments. Our conversation was directed more towards this new body of work and means in which the artists could incorporate ideas of transference of such environments moving forward.   

Heading across the river via subway, I was excited to meet Patricia Trieb.  The studio in Brooklyn was a tidy affair was the artist had recently shipped a number of works to Scandinavia where she would present them in a commercial gallery exhibition.  What remained in the studio were some remnants of this work–several paintings and some works on paper. Her color palette immediately struck me–hues of purple, emerald green and pale blues. Moreover, several paintings appeared to mirror one another, a visual echoing affect that the artist has skillfully developed by painstakingly painting still life in a laborious and repetitive manner. In doing this, Trieb is looking of the nuance of how images become abstracted–how known quantities dissolve into frames of form and color.  The use of paper as both a tool for negotiating composition and color felt a natural asset to the installation allowing a variance of unconscious seeing to take place. Through the repetitive actions of painting, the artist has found a means to expand the detailed minutia of an object, dissolving it into fields of color and form.

I met Park McArthur at the Museum of Modern Art where her current installation is on view. Drawing upon conceptual ideas around materiality and performativity, McArthur explores architecture and the discrepancies of spaces made for individuals requiring assistance. Delving into the institutional politics, the artist examines the expansion of MoMA–its history via its Project series. The artist’s installation is both a form of protest–she disrupts the sequencing of the series–and a call to awareness using the formalist aesthetic of stainless steel sculptural elements that can be fluidly arranged.  For McArthur, the action of using the museum for advocacy is the same as the opportunities now afforded to developers who are erecting luxury apartments just above the museum. The artist incorporates the sales brochures into her installation in an act of institutional critique that should move us closer to understanding the price of art and what is often sacrificed while the inherent needs of others go unmet.

The colorful miniatures of Larissa Bates were a pleasant surprise.  We met in the back offices of Monya Rowe Gallery, who has supported the artists over the arch of her career.   I had not known the artist before, but was delighted to see an installation of her small scale, colorful cosmologies.  Situated between the autobiographical and the historical, her works drew upon the strange “mash ups” of cultural collisions and their impact.  I loved the artists handling of paint and her precise and expert draftsmanship. The works serve to chronicle her recent illness and the fears and anxieties that come with such bodily struggles. Not satisfied to dwell on the negative, Bates infuses her protagonist’s life with color and anime-like creatures that embrace a bright future.

Heading to Summer Wheat’s studio via Uber was nearly an hour’s journey.  Between the arrival of marathoners and spectators and general New York traffic, I had resigned myself to relaxing into the long ride. En route, I “Googled” the artist’s name, finding a range of images that celebrated womanhood and indigenous cultures with strong matriarchal linages. What I had not expected and which I encountered upon finally arriving to the studio, was the inventive technique with which the artist would present her works.  Using mesh wire fencing, the artist would initially extrude paint into the fence creating a directional painting style that when dried resembled more of a tapestry. Colorful fields of paint popped on the surface and stood in various stages of completion. Using a suspension system of grommets and metal frames, Wheat’s assistant moves quickly and skillfully among the large scale works, literally paint that were being completed for the Untitled Art Fair scheduled for December in Miami.   Basel affair. Inventive techniques in using fence mesh in which paint in extruded and placed upon the surface. The resulting works are akin to textiles drawn from many cultures–Greek, Indigenous American, Peruvian– that celebrate women’s work and place in society.

The next and final studio of the day was with Jessica Vaughn. Her studio was small in relation to the others visited, but served to underscore the conceptual nature of the artist’s work. For Vaughn, the process of assembling information is primary and that information in the form of statistics are later rendered as visual composition. Using ordinary materials–ones encountered every day–Vaughn points with deft accuracy the plight of bodies in the workplace. In the past, she has used seats taken from public buses to expose through the language of Minimalism, the configuration of our existence. Her sculptures and immersive environments expose the fissures of the widening gap of wages earned by women and men and among that, the gap between women of color and their white counterparts.  Her statistics look deeply into the economic engines of our everyday lives–the salaries of teachers, police officers, secretaries and service providers. The resulting discourse is rendered to the use of stackable goods–trays, laundry baskets, and document holders–objects that reverberate with each category. I am encouraged to see how this artist will continue to evolve balancing her very important work as an artist, which the one that pays for her to inhabit a cubicle.

Dialogue with Catherine Morris at the Brooklyn Museum

The visit to New York culminated in a conversation with Catherine Morris at the Brooklyn Museum. My longstanding acquaintance and admiration of this curator enabled our conversation to move along freely.  At the heart of the conversation was my own sixteen-plus year practice and recent transition from a non-collecting institution to that of an encyclopedic, collecting museum. How would my work change and/or evolve with this new transition and what impact would it have on me as a curator who has championed the work of women and artists of color for most of my career.  The exchange was lively and engaging as it also highlighted parallels within our aesthetic interest and exhibition projects.  

Valerie Cassel Oliver is the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Prior to this position, she spent sixteen years at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Texas, where she was senior curator. She was director of the Visiting Artist Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a program specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000, she was one of six curators selected to organize the Biennial for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Cassel Oliver has organized numerous exhibitions including the acclaimed Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 (2005); Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image with Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee (2009); Hand + Made: The Performative Impulse in Art and Craft (2010); and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, (2012), which toured through 2015. Cassel Oliver has also mounted numerous solo exhibitions including a major retrospective on Benjamin Patterson, Born in the State of Flux/us, as well as the surveys Donald Moffett: The Extravagant Vein (2011); Jennie C. Jones: Compilation (2015); Angel Otero: Everything and Nothing (2016) and most recently, Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped (2017). Her forthcoming exhibition, “Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen,” is co-organized with Naomi Beckwith, Larry and Marilyn Fields Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). The retrospective will open at the MCA Chicago in February before traveling to the VMFA in August, 2017 and later, the Rose Art Museum at Brandies University in 2018.