Ericson & Ziegler: America Starts Here Thursday, Mar 29 2007 

Feed and Seed (Heisey Farm), an artwork by Mel Ziegler and Kate Ericson, is composed of seed bags encased in Plexiglas sandblasted with the type of crop and the number of acres sown. It is very easy to walk by the piece and miss the underlying message. In formal aesthetics, it could be compared to the objectification of a soup can by Andy Warhol, but the purpose of this project goes beyond the formal qualities of art. Ericson and Ziegler use their power as image-makers to show the value of small farm labor, by taking an everyday object and inserting into the public sphere. Feed and Seed discusses the relationship between real world economics and the art market.

feed and seed

The work was realized in 1990 through a series of collaborations with seven farmers. The artists subsidized 10 percent of the seed cost in exchange for the empty seed bags. After the work was sold at a New York gallery, the artists donated the proceeds to the farmers in order to continue to assist them in their vital labor. This work speaks of the importance of farming in America. Agriculture was a way of life for many Americans and due to globalization of the markets, it is a dying trend. Many American farmers are struggling to keep their farms open and others have had to abandon farming and work in a different industry. In contrast to the traditional notions of public art, Feed and Seed takes a quotidian object and by encasing it and displaying it in a public space, it assigns a greater value to the process of farming.

Since 1985, Ericson and Ziegler worked as an artistic team exploring the unnoticed aspects of public life.* In Feed and Seed, they bring the public’s attention to the crucial role of the small American farmer and the cycles of food production. By writing the number of acres sown with the seed, Ericson and Ziegler make a direct reference to the farmland, which is iconic of American culture.

Furthermore, their project serves to illustrate the contrast between real world economics and the voracious art market. Jeanne Claire van Ryzin states, “While many artists of the era directed their energies toward feeding a marketplace-driven art world hungry in equal parts for big, splashy paintings and the singular egos behind them, Ericson and Ziegler worked as a team, often involving people and places far outside the art milieu.”** Their choice to expose the struggle of small farmers demonstrates the artists were endowed with a sense of social responsibility. The practical exchange between artist, farmer and art market indicated a direct critique on the shallowness of the all-consuming art market and the role of the artist as a mediator.

In conclusion, Feed and Seed challenges our notions of the art market by contrasting it with real world economics. By focusing on an object of farm labor, Ericson and Ziegler remind us of the importance of American communities and the changing industries around them. Their work effectively demonstrates the notion that artists are citizens and that they carry the responsibility of voicing the concerns of communities.

On view through May 6 @ the Austin Museum of Art.

* Berry, Ian and Bill Arning. “America Starts Here.” Gallery Guide, Austin Museum of Art 2007.
** Ryzin, Jeanne Claire van. “Advocating not-so-permanent public art.” Austin American-Statesman 11 March 2007.

Helio Oiticica: The Body of Color Wednesday, Mar 28 2007 

I saw this exhibit on March 2nd, but its taken me quite a bit of time to process the work. I was fortunate enough to take a curators tour with Dr. Mari Carmen Ramirez, which on its own, made me star-struck and speechless.

Bolide B02 Box Bólide 02 “Platónico”. 1963

During her introduction, she mentioned that Oiticica was very anti-institutional and that he never wanted to sell his work. Only one of his hundreds of series, Metaesquemas, was ever sold. He came from a well-to-do family, his father was an entomologist and his grandfather was a published anarchist. The family was very supportive of Oiticica’s work.

Not only was Oiticica obsessive and prolific in his artistic production, but he was also a theoretician and kept numerous journals and writings throughout his career. I thought what a dream that would be, even if exhausting, for a curator/historian to come across such rich work and the extensive writing. It is estimated that the Projeto Helio Oiticica of Rio de Janeiro owns approximately 95% of Oiticica’s life production.

The exhibit begins with Oiticica’s geometrical work in Grupo Frente, where he begins his studies on the vibration of color. He is deeply influenced by Mondrian, particularly Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, which was shown at the first Sao Paulo Biennial. From this he moves on to the period of the Metaesquemas. Oiticica is extremely methodical and always works in a series. In the making of the Metaesquemas he begins to use the mirror effect in the composition. His use of gouache renders incredibly vibrant colors. There is a sense of impeccable perfection in the work. During this series he abandons the use of the grid and his geometrical figures seem to float in space.

metaesquema Metaesquema 1958

Oiticica was a self-taught artist who mastered through repetition. He was very well read and was influenced by many philosophers, one of them being Henri Bergson. After exhausting all possibilities on a two-dimensional plane, his work turns three-dimensional, leading up to his environments. The environments are installations in which the viewer goes through a maze-like structure and through the reflection of light is bathed in color. It is important to note that Oiticica considered himself an inventor, and he explored color as a scientist would.

The exhibit ends with his Parangole series. As an anti-institutional artist, Oiticica begins to use viewer participation in his work. The Parangoles are hand-made capes, where he uses fabric, plastic, and other materials to reflect light. Their purpose is to shield and protect the person who wears them. As a member of the Samba School of Mangueira, he used samba dancers to demonstrate color in rhythm.

Dr. Ramirez mentioned that it took five years to conceptualize, research and produce this exhibition. It is an excellent overview of the progression of Oiticica’s work and his meticulous exploration of color. I hope some of you will have a chance to see it this weekend.

On view through April 1st @ Museum of Fine Arts Houston. This exhibition will travel to the Tate Modern, June 7-September 23, 2007.

Global Connections to Cultural Democracy Friday, Mar 16 2007 

I am participating this year as a panelist in this Dialogue and I would like to encourage emerging arts leaders to attend…

Open Dialogue XI: Global Connections to Cultural Democracy – Denver, July 12-15

The conference is a biennial convening of arts organizations and artists from communities of color and their supporters in America. The Association of American Cultures is working with WESTAF to produce the gathering this year.

Who should attend?
* Emerging and established leaders of color working in arts, culture and other creative industries
* Professionals interested in ethnicity and its impact on the arts and cultural policy

Stimulate both sides of your brain!
* Network with younger and seasoned community leaders
* Influence and reposition policy issues
* Explore contemporary national and global topics related to the arts

Engage in meaningful dialogue on:
* Progress and challenges for arts organizations in communities of color
* Changing demographics, global migration and the influence of these factors on a new generation of leaders

Conference Program Advisor:
James Early, Director of Cultural Heritage Policy, Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution

More info visit: http://www.westaf.org/taac2007