What has value? Who decides?
Yesterday I met with Justine Topfer, Project Manager from SF Arts Commission. She runs the Art on Market program, which I feel is one of the more important and successful public art programs around. If you walk down Market Street in downtown SF, you come across a changing poster series done by local artists, almost always about a local, current issue. Many of the 6-part works are based in process-oriented or relational work that end up in a 2 dimensional realization of the projects. These accessible multiples are human scale at 4′ x 6′. To some they are a refreshing change from advertising; to others, more imagery to come across in the chaotic street. Many of the works were made by former emerging artists that have now gained notoriety in San Francisco and beyond. Justine was generous to speak frankly about the state of these posters once they finish their public tenure on Market St.
Each artist gets 1 set of posters, while the Arts Commission stores the rest (5 more sets). They are for sale on the SFAC website, if you can dig your way there. They are not, much to my dismay, collected as art works by the Arts Commission, and now, after 22 years, they are wondering what to do with these posters that had once flanked the streets. There is talk of sifting through to keep some “important” ones, while throwing the rest away.
How do we decide what is important and why? Storage? Yes, it’s problematic. So is commitment. I propose the Arts Commission purchase and care for one of each poster as an archive of not only their work, but also of these times. Perhaps the SF Library or a museum could collect them. What does it mean to throw away years of work, even if it is a multiple? If they were to take the time and resources to digitize them in hi resolution, could they promise to be the stewards of new digital forms as they change through time?
I propose these objects are valued, saved, loved and kept in their physical, material state.
Art on Market Posters by Packard Jennings and Steve Lambert (top left), Helena Keeffe (top right) and Jennifer Wofford (bottom left)
As this project moves forward, I am recognizing not only specific interests, but classifications that can help organize my findings. In terms of specific interests, it has been necessary from the beginning to replace the word “remarkable” with what that means to me. I think one of the things that makes the Bay Area scene remarkable is the amount of post-studio practice happening, and all the zillions of things that has allowed it (and other art practices) to happen. So, I’ve brought in these guidelines for my working timeline:
venues & initiatives
Since art involves so, so many other influences outside of art, I will be curious to see what comes to the table when the public is invited to help me complete the timeline whilst I am in residence at the Kimball. I am ready to discover and debate.
The Prelinger Library is one of the rare ‘private’ libraries/archives open to the public. I put private in quotes in that it is not publicly funded, but in fact it is a “free offering, an installation, a workshop, and an extension of our living room” according to a humble printed info sheet offered to me by Rick when I came through the door. I visited Megan and Rick Prelinger’s labor of love for the first time yesterday. Somehow it didn’t really cross my path until recently, though I’ve been here for a long, long time. Alas, now I know. I was lost in there for hours, uncovering an unusual taxonomy, looking though books, ‘zines from the old Mission punk infoshop/record store Epicenter, an archive project by artist Amy Balkin, and a lovely assortment of ephemera: soft bound cookbooks produced by appliance manufacturers from the 50’s, found photos, maps and more. I was taken with the book section entitled Utopia, realizing I need to do more research there considering I use the word freely about my practice.
“The library is primarily a collection of 19th and 20th century historical ephemera, periodicals, maps, and books, most published in the United States. Much of the collection is image-rich, and in the public domain. The library specializes in material that is not commonly found in other public libraries. The library has three major sections: The main shelves, the ephemera collection, and, in Row Six, holdings of standalone collections and oversize materials.” http://www.prelingerlibrary.org/home/collection/. Here you will find the quirky system of organization that leads you through the magic.
You can visit Wednesdays from 1-8 to and are encouraged to uncover a sense of wonder and serendipity. You never know where the next subject may lead you. You can also go online and visit a number of free, downloadable delights, of both printed material and moving images. Their website alone is a magical place to get lost. http://www.prelingerlibrary.org/home/.
Sarah Kimmerle is a museum worker, academic and archivist. We spoke about one of her many roles as a museum guide. Is the guide to be an expert or a conversationalist? In contemporary museum practice, we are finding more and more opportunities for rich engagement via the conversationalist model, opposed to the ‘expert’ lecturer. For instance, at YBCA, there are ‘cultural coaches’ for YBCA You* members. When I was AIR at Portland Art Museum, I also searched for new ways to engage and educate audiences that upset the traditional museum education paradigm, by singing, cheering, and facilitating a security guard–led tour. The public welcomed these alternatives. The basic questions asked by the public are often huge and vague. What is art? What is the value of art? These questions are filled with vast potential, but have no specific answer, do they? When working with a group of Florida seniors last year, many whom were artists, there was certainly no answer we could agree upon. We all keep trying, hoping to add to the conversation.
Sarah and I also discussed her interest in archiving, as well as her work putting the de Young’s collection online via Google Art. https://deyoung.famsf.org/blog/behind-screens-google-art-project. Congratulations on her new full time engagement at Oakland Museum of California. We hope to be hearing more from Sarah and her exciting thesis topic, “Collaborating with Artists in Museums of Contemporary Art”.
I’ve been chipping away at my research for Mapping the Archive, meeting with local (and non) cultural producers, archivists, and artists. I’ve been organizing my own archive, making lists and links, finding threads, and reading exciting texts about art and archives, like presentations from The Archivists Round Table.
As art and archive can be divided by a very thin line, how do we deal with these? Why are institutions letting go of archivists? What happens when an institution keeps collecting and making but stops recording? Even those that do prioritize archiving do so through temporary grants, which may or may not allow enough time and resources to do the job. So… we end up with slightly smashed cardboard boxes in the basement. How do we balance recording our material culture with physical archives vs. web preservation? How long will each of these forms last? In what objects/documents do we (or will we in the future) find value???
Where are you from?
Bucks County outside of Philadelphia, PA
Where did you receive your art training?
Stephens College and California College of the Arts
In what media do you primarily work?
Mixed media, which includes ephemera – old photographs, books, letters, tags, hand sewing.
What/Who are your artistic influences?
Not in order of importance: Lenora Tawney’s collages and assemblages. Louise Bourgeois’ fabric works. El Anatsui’s use of found materials. Peter Beard’s journals. Sonia Delaney’s artist book: La Prose du Trassibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France. Agnes Martin’s writings, my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors, Cy Twonbly’s mark making, David Hockney’s trees and brilliance.
Do you have a favorite artwork at the de Young or the Legion of Honor? If so, what is it?
Yes. El Anatsui’s Hover II. I saw his solo show at the Brooklyn Museum last year. It was great.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you do? Are you an artist full time or what is your “day job?”
I am an artist full time. In the past, I ran a decorative painting and color consulting business, but, now, do it only occasionally.
How does living in the Bay Area influence your art practice?
The Bay Area influences my practice because I love living here. Surrounded by and appreciating the tremendous natural beauty and rich cultural populace is stimulating for me.
What is the one place/museum/cultural site you’d like to visit?
I want to travel to India, to take in the sensory and visual experience. And there is more…
I would like to be permitted solo access to one of the country’s finest libraries and spend days looking through books, special collections, magazines, everything/anything…sort of a massive pre-google tactile search. I promise I won’t rip, tear, or cut anything!
I would also live to visit Hogsback, South Arica in the Amatola Mountains.