Sunday, October 31, 2010

the thingliness of things

During the past month I volunteered at the previously discussed Art Loop Open. On Friday a couple of fresh, young journalism students interviewed me based on my role as a participating artist. The interview was not planned and I had to think fast on my feet to respond to their questions.

Of course, there was the usual question, ”How has the experience of participating in this event been valuable?”  I responded that I had not encountered any of the benefits that can be analyzed with metrics valued in the marketing community. There had been no increased traffic to my website, nor any inquiries about my work. What had occurred was the opportunity to meet and interact with some remarkably talented, smart people. Having moved home from New York in June, I have been missing “my tribe”. Now, I am starting to assemble one, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Next, one of the students asked about the value of art in public spaces and the justification of installing that art with taxpayer dollars. To the first part of the question, I believe that publicly installed art allows people to view it in a familiar environment. Many people outside the cultural sphere like art, but are intimidated by the rarified air of commercial galleries and/or the expense of museum attendance. Encountering art “out in the world” demystifies it and enhances our rather mundane, day-to-day experiences.

As for the taxpayer dollars, every day I hear individuals bemoaning the fact that all manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. Certainly, not in the arts. Consider the Creative Economy. It includes advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, R&D, software, toys and games, TV and radio, and video games. Adjacent to the Creative Economy exists the Cultural Economy. It’s composed of cultural tourism and heritage, museums and libraries, sports and outdoor activities.

The creative process is one of intellectual and material problem solving: How can I make something that successfully conveys an idea or enhances day-to-day life. It is also one of the few generators of manufactured goods made in the United States. As a painter, I make things. The materials I buy to make these things are purchased at local hardware and art supply stores. Most of the materials I purchase are made in the United States. When I advertise or publish information about my work, the materials are printed in the United States. When the objects I manufacture are sold, they are sold by an organization that employs people in the United States. And I am just one painter.

All of this is food for thought as government is repeatedly asked to stop spending in the arts and schools drop arts education. It has been demonstrated that students exposed to music early on, develop acuity for math and science. We spend millions of dollars creating young business people, only to send them to so-called creative workshops once they are employed. That stupid, overused catchphrase, Think Outside the Box keeps reverberating. The only box that exists is one that we have, as a society, built.

Artists are not a curiosity. Perhaps we can adjust our thinking and see the value in our creative community. Perhaps we can understand the investment in it. Perhaps the MFA is the new MBA. After all, look at where those MBAs …forget it.

As to that new political faction causing so many problems, remember, somebody designed that tea bag.

Interesting sources:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

cash and prizes

a flashcard for a secret language: meat and candy.12 x 9,  oil on shellacked paper. (c) sioban lombardi 2009

Friday, organizers of the Art Loop Open (ALO) revoked the eligibility of one of its 10 announced finalists, due to alleged cheating. The integrity of what started as an exciting event, promoting the unique and gifted artists of Chicago has now been called into question, and again at stake is local support for artists in the community.

The ALO is a first-time competition, similar to the ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. The organizing committee is a combination of the Chicago Loop Alliance and the Chicago Artist’s Coalition. The competition offers substantial cash prizes totaling more than $50,000 to winners selected from ten finalists. The finalists were selected by public vote. In hope of encouraging public interest in and attendance at the event, votes could only be cast by text message or smart phone tag scanning.  Artists were prohibited from emailing, texting or publishing their identifying number on any social media network.

In the spirit of full transparency, I was one of the artists selected for the first round of the competition. It was a tremendous honor to be selected form more than 700 submissions by a credentialed, astute and noteworthy jury. There was a lot of very good art in the competition that was scattered throughout a number of venues in Chicago. I returned home to Chicago in June after two years away. The ALO has been a great way to meet other artists and see their work. The scope of the project was enormous. What the organizing committee was able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time was remarkable. Kudos too, to the countless volunteers who have worked so hard to get and keep this event running.

I was not one of the ten finalists, nor did I expect to be. The majority of my friends and family, whom I invited, either did not understand the nature of the competition, didn’t bring their phones, are not tech savvy or live in the suburbs and could not venture down to the city. If anyone did promote my number via text message or social network, I am unaware of it.

And I’m not going to lie, had I been chosen, I would have been ecstatic.

All of that being said, the ALO is now being called into question. The events, as they have unfolded since Friday, appear as follows:

The ten finalists were announced on the afternoon of Friday, October 22, 2010. I received the emailed announcement at 12:55 pm. I was pleased that I had predicted two of the finalists.

Sometime around 7:30 pm on Friday, one of the finalists was contacted and informed that his submission and status as a finalist had been revoked. (This finalist was one I had predicted). Another finalist was announced in their place. Apparently, someone had produced a flier, allegedly circulated in student mailboxes at a local college.

The artist has denied knowledge of this and has not seen the flier in question.

The ALO, through their page on a popular social networking site explained, “It was brought to our attention early in the first round of public voting that some artists were unfairly benefiting from third party promotion. Seeking to guarantee an even playing field for all artists, we took the position that publication of specific artist ALO numbers is grounds for disqualification. Accordingly, artists were disqualified from the public voting process in Round 1.”

This last statement by the ALO demonstrates one of the inconsistencies that have become apparent. If they disqualified such artists early on, why did they publish that artist’s name as a finalist on Friday, only to change their list of finalists later in the day? This lack of professionalism reflects poorly on everyone connected with the event.

ALO organizers also explained, “We created Art Loop Open with the intention of showcasing Chicago’s artistic community. We are proud of this competition, which in its first week, engaged an audience of thousands and provided invaluable exposure for artists. As with any first time event, we encountered unanticipated issues.”

The event did successfully engage the public and of course, errors happen with any event, but the stakes were very high with this one, perhaps too high. Artists, already undervalued in American society have particularly felt the effects of this long, drawn out recession. When large sums of money are involved, irrationality can prevail and loopholes attractive. Look at our nation’s financial crisis if you need proof. Grand Rapids’ Art Prize requires voters to register, in person, with ID. This may be the only way to prevent overzealous friends, family and students from promoting their favorite artist.

Indeed, there should also be a process in place, through which an artist can respond to accusations before being summarily dismissed. The fact that this flyer appears to have been produced after the finalists were announced seems a bit wonky and smells of sour grapes.

A more astute and experienced committee may have been better equipped to identify potential problems in advance. With so much at stake, management of this competition must be beyond reproach, and of the highest professional level. Good intentions fare poorly, and reputations can be ruined.

Eventually I imagine, the legal profession will settle this issue. How unfortunate. The cost of this may prohibit future competitions, damage the reputation and perhaps even end the existence of at least one of those organizations that seeks to promote the talents of local artists.

As I’ve stated before, it’s time for those larger institutions with deeper pockets to promote local talent. Art Institute? MCA? Where are you? Have a spine and bring back the Chicago and Vicinity Show, or a meritorious, equally credentialed version of it. Let the prize be inclusion and start supporting local artists as they have supported you. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

the mind's eye

image (c) Jane Huntington

Perhaps it’s a symptom of the insistent Recession, perhaps it’s a broader admission of cultural defeat, but much of the photography I’ve recently observed is heavy with abandoned spaces, peeling paint, cracked concrete and rusted infrastructure. Indeed, these works comment on a broken identity, a failed system, or even the existence of lead paint as a larger metaphor for the conspiracy of capitalism. Occasionally a photographer transcends these usual admonishments. Such is the work of photographer Jane Huntington. Within her work, Huntington manages to locate that same sense of desertion in those sites still in use. Sometimes she conjures an entirely different set of responses within places customarily limited to social commentary.

My path intersected with Huntington’s at Pratt Institute, where we were fellow graduate students. I am quite familiar with many of the locales she selected.  The worlds she implies are very different from the actual places that I passed through or inhabited for two years. Her photographs revise them, navigating meaning between fact and fiction, accessible and forbidden, coded and arbitrary. Huntington has stated, “I walk around taking in the world around me, trying to apply lessons learned, fixating and assessing potential for either hazard or joy. Places where I’m not allowed and are unfamiliar are of particular temptation. Chance encounters lead me from one thing to the next.”

Though she has an extensive editorial CV, Huntington brings these same qualities to her portrait photography. It is only her subject’s contemporary attire that reveals their present day existence. They lack and are laden with history. They are still, quiet, timeless and essential.

It is this transformation of site and individual that activates an unlearning of the places, individuals and assumed histories that I formulate every day. Huntington’s work provokes my imagination. I am anxious to see more of it as she unveils the hidden or imagined histories of an under-noticed and richly packed world some have only dismissed as failure.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Dear Molly and Dharun,

We have never actually met, but I want to apologize to you. I’m sorry that I taught you to believe that the actions you took were okay.  I regret that I didn’t teach you to value, respect, and care for your fellows. I never demonstrated that it is indeed our differences that make the human family rich. It is kindness and tolerance that strengthen us. Instead, I taught you to take actions that violate the rights, comfort and happiness of others. I could have been an example; instead I neglected the development of your character.

When I treated you badly, called you names, and made fun of you, I made you feel different from your fellows. This was wrong. Not only did I hurt you, but also I taught you believe that this was acceptable behavior. In doing so, I aided and abetted actions that ended the life of one individual and damaged future happiness for you and those closest to you.

I realize that I am responsible for the tragedy that took place last week, and every other such loss occurring to date. Because of this, my wish is to change my behavior. If, each day, I can grow in respect and tolerance for others, I can act as a small pebble tossed into the larger pond. Maybe then, we all will get to experience the gifts that individuals like Tyler, Phoebe, Asher and indeed the two of you, might have shared with the world.

I am so sorry.