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September 27, 2013

Contrasting Conversations, Coast to Coast

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Katie Whittaker

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Right away, I knew that hearing Judith Tannenbaum and Tom Marioni speak in the same auditorium would be a lesson in stark contrasts. While the press releases had promised an engaging conversation (mediated by artist/curator Richard Torchia) highlighting the globalization that fine art has been facing and its significance to the 21st century, I came away from the discussion with a new perspective on the way art is morphing even from coast to coast.
Graduate Studies at Moore presented Studio Conversations as part of a series that features leading artists, curators, and critics discussing artistic issues and practice across media and international boundaries. Judith Tannenbaum was the curator of contemporary art at RISD’s museum, and organized exhibitions in fields such as painting, sculpture, and video. Judith is a tall, slender woman, very meticulous and organized in her appearance, and she took the stage first to introduce herself and her artistic eye. She showed slides featuring the works of, among many others, Janine Antoni, Spencer Finch, and, a personal favorite, Tony Capellán (she curated Mar Caribe, created from flip flops whose toe straps had been replaced with barbed wire, a poignant commentary on the state of the Carribean despite its popular associations). There was an evident theme of a crossover between performance art and the static visual art themes.
Tom Marioni was, in appearance and demeanor, her antithesis. Although he is also rather tall, his hair sticks out in clouds around his head, and he did not seem to have practiced his end of the presentation. He turned on light piano music – to “set the mood” – and immediately began talking as images lit up the screen. As it was all his own work, his descriptions came out in a stream of consciousness; I found myself lamenting the 5 minute time constraint on the speakers. His pieces included “1 Second Sculpture”, “Temple of Geometry”, and, his most famous, “The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends as the Highest Form of Art”.
Besides the obvious gender discrepancy, these two differed in an almost comical sense. Tom, from the West Coast, and Judith, a native New Yorker, seemed exceptionally aware of the geographic chasm that separated their views on art. Richard Torchia pointed out the close association they felt with the cities they work in, and intimated that it might be one of the major factors in how they curate or view art.
Tom’s view of the “austere standoffish-ness” of East coast conceptualism contrasts with his Asian-infused West coast roots, and made the comparison of East versus West to European versus Asian. He then went on to talk about how conceptualism started at the same time across the world, but for different reasons, and with very different results.
But the unifying element seemed to be the loyalty that both artist and curator felt for the art in their home communities. The joy of Judith’s work comes from the direct contact with artists, but she stipulated that she is inclined more towards the artists from her area. She feels a strong responsibility to her community, and Tom clearly feels an equally deep connection to the Asian artistic roots in California. To me, this demonstrates one of the most important ways of giving back to society, and creating the kinds of connections between the arts and the people that will endure and strengthen through time.
The next Studio Conversations features NEW Moore faculty Asuka Goto, Sreshta Rit Premnath and Jose Ruiz on Thursday, December 5, 7 – 9 pm.
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