Art Curatorial

Why The New Materiality?

Tim Tate, Virtual Novelist, 2008. Blown and cast glass, electronic components, original video. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Anything Photographic
Tim Tate, Virtual Novelist, 2008. Blown and cast glass, electronic components, original video. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Anything Photographic
I was recently at a party and upon mentioning where I work, I was asked: How do you pick exhibitions and how do you decide on the programming? I realized that this part of the process is probably a mystery to many (including me before I started doing it myself). Exhibitions can be curated in-house, in which case the curator researches a subject he/she is interested in, comes up with a thesis or story for the show, and selects objects (usually a combination of pieces the museum owns and pieces loaned by other museums and collectors) that tell the story.

Sometimes museums exhibit traveling shows that have been curated at another institution. If this is the case, how do you learn about the shows in the first place? Chipstone’s current exhibition, The New Materiality: Digital Dialogues at the Boundaries of Contemporary Craft, was first shown at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts. It was curated by University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee professor Fo Wilson. We learned about the exhibition through Fo, who sent us the catalog for us to see what she had been working on. The exhibition instantly appealed to us. It was edgy, interesting and thought provoking.

Preparing for the Exhibition
Even though Fo hadn’t sent us the catalog with the intention of traveling the show for Milwaukee, it seemed completely appropriate for the Milwaukee Art Museum. The exhibition is composed of sixteen emerging and established artists that use technology as a material in their work. Some incorporate digital media, such as Tim Tate’s Virtual Novelist (above left). This work consists of blown glass reliquaries encapsulating a video depicting literary tools, like typewriters and encyclopedias, that have become obsolete. Others use the information provided by technology as the material. An example of this is Sonya Clark’s Madame CJ Walker (below). Clark used a large computer pixelated image of America’s first self-made female millionaire to guide her installation. She took black plastic combs and broke the teeth, following the pixilation pattern. The end result is a ten-foot high image of Madame CJ Walker made out of combs.

Sonya Clark, Madam CJ Walker (large), 2008. Combs. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Taylor Dabne
Sonya Clark, Madam CJ Walker (large), 2008. Combs. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Taylor Dabne
The exhibition fit with Chipstone’s interest in craft (Glenn Adamson, former Chipstone curator, has written prolifically about the subject). It is forward thinking in its use of technology, and the curator is local, which lends itself to a multitude of programming options. We immediately called the Fuller Craft Museum and made arrangements to have the artworks shipped to Milwaukee. Once these were plans made, our exhibition designer designed a space that showcased the artworks, while the curators tailored the object labels. The exhibition had to be displayed on two floors because of the large size of some of the pieces. Madame CJ Walker, Sounding and Soundweave are all in the contemporary galleries. The rest of the pieces are in the Chipstone gallery on the Lower Level.

Planning the Programming
The programming for the exhibition came about in an organic fashion. We believe that an exhibition’s curator and artists are important resources, therefore we organized an artist think tank that would provide us the opportunity to hear them speak about their work. Taking advantage of having Fo Wilson in town, we scheduled gallery talks on April 19 and May 3.

While planning the gallery talks and trying to envision other relevant events, it came to our attention that a group of students from MIAD and UWM were interested in the exhibition’s artists and the works they produced. We set up Skype sessions between five of The New Materiality artists and the group of students with the purpose of discussing their art practices. The students are creating artworks of their own, which will be displayed at the April 15 MAM After Dark: Tax MAM, based on these interactions with the exhibited artists. The five artists, Sonya Clark, Lawrence LaBianca, Christy Matson, Tim Tate, and Donald Fortescue, are flying in to see the student works and participate in the think tank. They will be in the galleries the night of the 15th starting at 7PM to give informal talks on their pieces.

Another artist from The New Materiality, Nathalie Miebach, will also be present that night. Miebach gathers scientific data and creates 3D representations of her data-using basket weaving techniques. For her work Noel, Miebach tracked Hurricane Noel and created both a sculptural representation of the data and a musical score. She will give a short talk on April 15 at 8:30PM, which will be followed by the local group Nineteen Thirteen performing Noel’s musical score.

The artists will return to the Milwaukee Art Museum on April 16 for a program titled Dialogues on Innovation, which will take place in the Lubar Auditorium from 2-4PM. They will be paired up with local experts and discuss issues related to their work.

We hope you will be able to join us and participate in the dialogue surrounding the exhibition!

Claudia Mooney works for Chipstone, the Milwaukee-based foundation dedicated to promoting American decorative arts scholarship. She researches objects and creates relevant programming for Chipstone’s exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum and in the community.

3 replies on “Why The New Materiality?”

Thank you for your informative and well thought out vantage point. I look forward to reading more of your posts and attending future exhibits you curate.

Leave a Reply