Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Week 4 - A Closer Look at Some Arts/Industry Artists

Today the interns at the JMKAC all got a chance to go on the Kohler Factory Tour. While I wasn't able to take pictures, the website gives some ideas of what happens during the tour. For the record, my favorite part was watching bathtubs get enameled by giant robots. Definitely a "must see" if you're ever in the area!

While the Kohler Factory and John Micheal Kohler Arts Center only share John Micheal Kohler as a benefactor, they come together to co-sponsor the Arts/Industry Artist in Residence Program (website and brochure). This program allows artists to come and work in the factory with unlimited access to the materials normally used to create toilets, sinks, and bathtubs. At the end of this residency, artists provide both the Kohler Company and the John Micheal Kohler Arts Center with one piece each from the body of work they've produced in their time at the factory. It is this collection that I've spent the majority of my time researching here at the Arts Center in preparation for the upcoming exhibition.

After 4 weeks of research on individual artists from the Arts/Industry program, I've really come to appreciate the opportunity this project has given working to get to know more contemporary artists. While I've taken many modern art history classes, it always seemed that the "modern era" stopped with 1970s and minimalism. Luckily for me, Arts/Industry picks up where those classes left off! This project has finally got me motivated and excited about learning about many contemporary and often regional artists. This week I decided to share a couple of my favorites. Hope you enjoy! (All the artists' names are hyperlinked to their sites for your reading pleasure.)

Ken Little

Ken was my first Arts/Industry crush. From the moment I saw his sculpture Slave (which I nicknamed "shoe bear," for it's distinctive construction of old cowboy boots) I was drawn to his work. His pieces are ladened with a clever pop-like wit and mixed with just the right amount of political stance. Homeland Security, Buck and Doe, and Yellow Puma are among my favorites.

Homeland Security
white picket fence 
approx 100 feet W
commissioned by the Griffnerhaus, Griffner Austria for the XYZ2 International Artists Symposium 
Via Artist's Website

Buck and Doe
sewn dollar bills
in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop - Philidelphia, Pennsylvania
Via Artist's Website

Yellow Puma
Via Artist's Website

Melissa McGill
I love Melissa McGill's and eerie looking pieces. In form, they take on a graceful curving quality- they almost float between abstraction and figuration, reality and the paranormal. Yet their material composition of glazed vitreous china firmly grounds them in the physical realm. In reality, these pieces are cast from the insides of figurines, creating a wonderful contradiction that challenges both the concept of "figure" and recognition of forms.

Untitled, 2004
30 x 9 x 9 inches
Edition of 11
Via Artists Website

Untitled, 2002
65 x 24 x 24 in. approx.
Via Artists Website

Marten Medbo

Opposite the fleeting nostalgic recognition I get from McGill's sculptures is the shock of hyper-realistic forms from Medbo's ceramic pieces. His pieces carry such strong emotional, and often times disturbing messages, yet look so sweet and cuddly that I can't help but be drawn to them.. I love the flocked surface on Schoolyard Monkeys and Creatures, and the creepy lifelike quality of Lost.

Lost 2005
Cast and assembled stoneware
It is a part of the exhibition 'Voices'
Via Artists Website 

Creatures 2008
Cast and altered stoneware
Via Artists Website

Schoolyard Monkeys 2010
Cast and altered stoneware
Via Artists Website

Sue Johnson

A bit like Medbo's work, Sue Johnson's work is adorable with just a dash of horrifying. Mr. Potatohead served up on a dinner plate and a tiny deer in a forest of Jello dessert beg the question, "Why eat something so cute?" Yet names like Jello Surprise with Venison certainly bring this issue to the forefront of these kitchsy-cute ceramic sculptures

Turtle Soup
Via Artist Website
(For all the Beloiters!)

Jello Surprise with Venison
Via Artist Website

Steak and Mr. Potato Head
Via Artist Website

Until next time!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Week 2- Collections Insiders and Outsiders

In the hopes of building a stronger focus for this blog, I'm hoping to look more into the collections and exhibitions aspect of the Arts Center, perhaps with some interviews with staff about the unique collections here.  But first you all need to know why the collection at the JMKAC is unique!

I was reminded how different the JMKAC is from most every other museum I have worked when I stepped collections for the first time this past week.  From the house of the Original Rhinestone Cowboy, shelves full of ceramic and metal worked pieces from the Arts/Industry program, rows and rows of ceramic assemblage sculptures from Nek Chand's Rock gardens, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has proven a commitment to collecting items most museums would shy away from. 

Many of my art history and museum studies classes focus on the power that museums have as institutions in writing the history of art.  Artists are seen to have "made it" once they've been featured in exhibitions by major museums, and no doubt the general public sees an artists inclusion in a museum as a validation of what should be considered "good art".  Historically, in this distinction of "good art" and "bad art" a number of populations have been left out of the conversation due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, or social upbringing.  Linda Nochlin's essay "Why Have There Been no Great Women Artists?" brought this topic to the forefront of Art History in 1971, and 3 waves of feminism later, Art Historians continue to ask the same question of queer, ethnic, mentally ill, and other "outsider" artists today.  While many museum institutions tend to stick with the classic Monets and Rembrandts, it is perhaps the JMKAC's founding in the late 1960s helped keep these revolutionary ideas at the forefront in it's own Mission Statement and Collections Policy.

First, a little aside for those of you unfamiliar with museum policy. Many museums considered to be in good practice have mission statements, collections policies (sometimes more than one), and collections committees which help them decide what kind of audience they'd like to serve, and in turn, what kinds of exhibitions they show and/or objects they collect.  

For example- the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has been a community effort from it's founding in 1967 by the Sheboygan Arts Foundation.  Named after the house of John Michael Kohler, the Arts Center's first building, it's first programs were an arts-based preschool and exhibitions based on underexposed artists, ideas and art forms.  The John Michael Kohler Arts Center's Mission Statement reflects this historical involvement with community and underrepresented artists:

"The Mission of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is to encourage and support innovative explorations in the arts and to foster an exchange between a national community of artists and a broad public that will help realize the power of the arts to inspire and transform our world."

This statement, coupled with the Arts Center's commitment to regional environment builders, emerging artists, in it's collection is reflected in it's reputation as a starting point for many emerging artists.  Even last weekend at the opening of the 55th Beloit and Vicinity Juried Show, I overheard an older artist speaking to a college-age artist about the Arts Center, and it's influence in an artists career.  Not to mention, I see this reflected in the careers of many of the artists I've researched through the Arts/Industry program- often an artists' residency here is career changing move and their work after gains them notoriety in the larger art community.  

In short, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is unique not only in its mission, but in it's commitment to its mission of the innovative, something that not all museums embrace today. 

(Sorry about the lateness of this post, it appears that the allergens of Sheboygan are very different than those of Beloit, so my seasonal allergies have a much later season up here!)

Until next week-


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Week 1- World Famous Bathrooms and Brats

Hi everyone!

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Ashleigh and I'm a hopeful future art museum employee. I'm an Anthropology and Art History major, Museum Studies minor at Beloit College.

First off, welcome to this little writing project of mine.  In the spirit of full disclosure, this blog is part of a self-designed summer course created to supplement my internship at the John Micheal Kohler Art Center (JMKAC) in Sheboygan, WI.  

I hope to use this blog for 3 main purposes:
1. Reflect upon and process my experiences at JMKAC as opposed to my prior experiences at other museums.
2. Begin building an image as a museum professional, including networking and communication skills.
3. Generally improving my writing.

In order to receive a Museum Studies minor here at Beloit, students are required to complete at least one internship with a museum. My internship here at the Art Center is my second formal internship though, I've had several other museum experiences.  I started as an Exhibitions Assistant at the Wright Museum of Art.  I've done a little bit of everything there, from preparing a gallery for exhibition, curating, organizing the 54th annual Beloit and Vicinity Juried Show, collections care and management, and even a little bit of integrated pest management and bug identification!

Arranging works for the 54th Annual Beloit and Vicinity. I swear, I don't always curate shows in hot pink shorts.

Installing the 55th Beloit and Vicinity this summer with Emily, my better curatorial half.
I've worked a bit as well with the Logan Museum of Anthropology on campus, though my most cherished memory was cleaning ladybugs out of the visible storage unit (affectionately called "the cube").  Last summer I also worked at the McHenry County Historical Society  as a collections intern helping with some rehousing and collections processing. Having been through all these experiences, I would strongly urge all high school and college students to find internships in the fields in which they are interested.  I had originally planned to go into archaeology, but after an experience digging a site, I found I didn't really like digging up stuff as much as I simply enjoyed playing with the stuff that was dug up.  Hence, museum work fit the bill!  You'll never know if you like a job until you actually experience it first hand.

I truly did enjoy digging in a skirt though.
So back to Sheboygan, WI, Bratwurst Capital of the World (see for one example of it's fame).  Some of you may have noticed that my museum experience thus far has been with smaller museum institutions, with fewer than 5 full time staff. In order to diversify my experiences in a museum setting, the JMKAC internship seemed like a good fit both with my scholarly interests (contemporary art) and museum interests (exhibits and collections), along with having a staff of roughly 75 people. I am incredibly interested to witness in action, since I'm used to only working with one or two other people on a project.

The John Micheal Kohler Art Center contrary to popular belief is not owned by the Kohler company, though you'll see later that toilets and faucets do play a fundamental part in the museum beyond waste management.  For those of you wondering how my blog title (and this post title) tie into my work at JMKAC, I'll have to digress a bit into my actual project for the summer.  I will be working with another intern from Beloit to help research artists that took part in the Kohler Factory and museum's joint Arts/Industry Residency.  This program allows artists unlimited access to materials at the Kohler factory, in exchange for donating one completed piece of work to both institutions at the end of the residency.  Five bathrooms have been created as a result of this program in the Art Center. So far I've only managed to snap photos of 3:

The main women's bathroom

The family bathroom

The men's bathroom

These porcelain palaces have since been voted one of the "World's Greatest Public Bathrooms" and I hope you can tell why! (See for just one of many articles on these bathrooms!) I think my favorite is the family bathroom so far.  I just love the word play and colors.

Obligatory myspace profile pic pose

I promise there will be many more bathroom pictures to come on this blog, but as for the rest of the content, I'd love to hear some opinions.  I have a few ideas involving the current exhibitions going on at the Art Center, along with profiling artists from the Arts/Industry program that I find interesting as I'm researching and just providing updates of the day to day happenings here.  Please comment or message me if you have any questions or special requests! If not, please help me along this journey by subscribing to the rss feed or just dropping by every once in a while to say hi! 

Thanks for reading-


P.S.  All credit for the awesome blog title goes to my good friend Julia. She is amazing.