recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : helenmolesworth   6

“My Working Will be the Work:” Maintenance Art and Technologies of Change – The New Inquiry
"In 1973, Mierle Laderman Ukeles staged a series of art performances at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut. In Transfer: The Maintenance of the Art Object, she took over the duties of the museum’s janitor and used his tools to clean a glass case containing a mummy. When she was finished, she stamped her cleaning tools and the mummy case with a rubber stamp, branding them “Maintenance Art Works.” She then transferred the cleaning duties to the museum’s curator, who alone was allowed to handle and conserve artworks. In another performance, Keeper of the Keys, Ukeles took the janitor’s keys and locked and unlocked various offices and rooms in the museum. Once Ukeles had locked an office, it became a Maintenance Artwork and no one was permitted to enter or use the room. Keeper of the Keys created an uproar, as it drastically impacted the work lives of the museum’s staff who pleaded to have certain floors exempted from the project so they could work undisturbed. Ukeles’ performances, examples of conceptual art called “Institutional Critique,” surfaced the hidden labor of maintenance in the museum setting, and the subsequent visibility of this labor proved to be incredibly disruptive to the institution of the museum.

Recently within the history of science and technology, scholars have focused an increasing amount of attention on the maintenance of technology and systems. Maintenance has been long overlooked in favor of a focus on innovation and design practices; the very beginnings of technology have always been more appealing than their often messy or disappointing longer lives. One important aspect of this “turn” to maintenance histories is that the un-and-underpaid labor of women and marginalized people, who are disproportionately relegated to maintenance work, has again become an important site for articulating the history of technology. A similar turn was initiated by scholars, like historian of technology Ruth Schwartz Cowan and others, in the 1980s.

Even before these early efforts, however, art historian and curator Helen Molesworth has argued that women artists, like Ukles and Martha Rosler, were making significant contributions to a discourse about public and private life, and the hidden labor that sustains both. Ukeles and Rosler, despite often being marginalized as “feminist artists,” were in the 1970s making strikingly political art about labor and gender, about technology and potential violence, and about the ability of art itself to sustain and renew utopia and revolution.

In her video piece The Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), Rosler appears behind a table laden with kitchen tools, with the refrigerator, sink, and cupboards of her kitchen as backdrop. The artist works through her collection of kitchen gadgets one by one, alphabetically: A is for apron, K is for knife. But her gestures clash with the setting. Instead of using the knife to mime cutting food, she stabs violently at the air. She ladles invisible soup, but then flings it over her shoulder. Rosler’s deadpan stare and her gestural subversion of the audiences cooking-show set-up expectations make a mockery, or perhaps even a threat, out of the labor of the kitchen. Her misuse of the tools of the kitchen has the effect of stripping the technology of its meaning, making it more “thingy” and, thus, somehow threatening or alienating.

Helen Molesworth has used Ukeles’ performances and Rosler’s video pieces to unpick a largely unquestioned binary had existed for much of the 1980s and 90s between “essentialist” feminist art and the more theory-driven works, which succeeded them in critical estimation. Essentialist works focused on more straightforward imagery of the feminine and the female — of this school, Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974-79) is considered emblematic. Theory-based works are represented in this debate by conceptual artist Mary Kelly in the Post-Partum Document (1973-79), which consists of text and artifacts that document and analyze Kelly’s relationship to and experience of mothering her son. Molesworth shows that by adding Rosler and Ukeles to this longstanding binary, we can see that all four artists are actually working in an expanded field that investigates maintenance and other forms of hidden labor.

We might venture to expand the field once more, and place these maintenance artworks in a more explicit story about technology. In her influential book More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave, Ruth Schwartz Cowan takes pains to remind us that the modern industrialized household is intimately dependent on the large technological systems of modernity. No plumbing, electricity, gas means no housework. No access to the manufacture of tools and appliances, textiles and packaged foods means no dinner on the table. These artworks show us how the larger technological world as the public sphere, which Ukeles and Rosler contrast with a degraded private sphere, is itself intimately dependant on the invisible labor and technological systems of the home and the invisible labors of maintenance.

Recontextualizing of the labor and tools of housework, and the slightly unsettling effect this has on audiences, is the most important feature of both Ukeles’ and Rosler’s works. They give the viewer a little glimpse of the power that has, ironically, been vested in the home and its laborers by the public sphere that insists, indeed depends, on the private remaining private. These caches of unseen power, levers that can move an economy in their numbers, are also technological levers that rely on tools and systems that have been degraded and devalued because of their connection to maintenance labor.

Ukeles and Rosler remind us the invisible labor of women and marginalized people ensures that those permitted in the public sphere, white able-bodied men, are properly clothed and housed and supported and separated from waste so that they can innovate in comfort. By surfacing this labor and critiquing the ways it has been made invisible, Ukeles and Rosler prefigure scholarly critiques about the labor of women and marginalized people and the hidden histories of maintenance technology that support a public culture of innovation.

In an interview for Artforum, Ukeles talks about how two of the most famous Minimalist artists of the 20th century, Richard Serra and Donald Judd, made artworks that “skimmed the surface” of the industrial, technological world of the public sphere. The universalism of their work depends on the labor of making them which remains invisible and only the artwork itself is available for critique. Meanwhile, Ukeles felt that as both an artist and a mother her labor had become all about care and maintenance. Her decision to commit to an artistic practice of maintenance was an investment in the personal and political act of melding her artistic self to the aspects of herself that were defined by care-work. “My working will be the work,” she declared in her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!.

Ukeles’ radical intervention was to name this invisible work of cleaning, repairing, cooking, and mending Maintenance Art, and to force this labor into spaces that had always privileged the result, not the work that sustains it. Rosler’s critique of the labor of the kitchen is enacted through her alienation from kitchen technologies, a transformation of the object that was mirrored in Ukeles’ branding of the cleaning rag as an artwork and her taking possession of the building keys. These are technology stories, but not the kind we may find most familiar.

Obsession with innovation over preservation is an obsession with those who are allowed to innovate and an indifference to those who are made to maintain. It’s not just an aesthetic matter of what kind of labor seems more appealing; it’s a power structure that requires the domination of others in order to “maintain the change” created by the innovators. Yet, Ukeles meant “maintain the change” in a much more utopian sense, a thread that Molesworth notes in her expanded field of feminist-informed art. The maintenance needed to preserve positive change is itself a worthy and humanistic pursuit and deserves the same status as change itself. The technologies and labors of maintenance, wielded and performed by the marginalized, have the power to disrupt as much as they have the power to sustain.

Further Reading

Helen Molesworth, “House Work and Art Work,” October vol. 92 (Spring 200): 71-97.

Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technologies form the Open Hearth to the Microwave (Basic Books, 1983). "
art  maintenance  criticaltheory  feminism  annareser  2017  1973  mierleladermanukeles  performance  science  technology  care  caring  caretakers  ruthschartzcowan  1980s  martharosler  1970s  utopia  revolution  resistance  work  labor  productivity  gender  violence  1975  kitchens  helenmolesworth  judychicago  marykelly  ruthschwartzcowan  richardserr  donaldjudd  innovation  preervation 
january 2018 by robertogreco
No. 225: Helen Molesworth, Jennifer Raab | The Modern Art Notes Podcast
"Episode No. 225 of The Modern Art Notes Podcast features curator Helen Molesworth and art historian Jennifer Raab.

Molesworth’s “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957” is on view at the Hammer Museum through May 15. It is the first exhibition to examine Black Mountain College, an experimental, inter-disciplinary and immensely influential liberal arts college in the mountains of western North Carolina. The school attracted faculty and students from all over the world at a time when World War II was forcing significant global emigration, and thus provided a place where questions of globalism and the role of the artist in society were considered and furthered. Among the artists who spent time at Black Mountain and who are included in Molesworth’s exhibition are Ruth Asawa, Willem de Kooning, Josef and Anni Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Ray Johnson, Jess and plenty more. Ninety artists are included in Molesworth’s show. The show’s outstanding, must-own catalogue was published by Yale University Press.

Molesworth is the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Her previous exhibitions include “This Will Have Been,” which examined the impact of feminism on the art of the 1980s, and “Work Ethic,” which looked at how mostly 1960s artists merged everyday life with art-making.

On the second segment, art historian Jennifer Raab discusses her new book, “Frederic Church: The Art and Science of Detail.” The book examines how and why Church used unusually detailed passages in enormous paintings to engage contemporary debates about Union, nation and science. Raab teaches at Yale University."

[Direct link to SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/manpodcast/ep225 ]
helenmolesworth  jenniferraab  leapbeforeyoulook  bmc  blackmountaincollege  2016  art  curation  history  education  artseducation  liberalarts  diversity  highered  highereducation  progressive  progressiveeducation  learning  howwelearn  pedagogy  teaching  howeteach  inquiry  modernism  postmodernism  form  process  materials  via:jarrettfuller  interdisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  collaboration  disciplines  ruthasawa  mercecunningham  josefalbers  theastergates  rebuildfoundation  lowresidencymfas  bardcollege  oberlincollege  vermontcollege  bhqfu  noahdavis  undergroundmuseum  mountainschoolofarts  andreazittel  greggbordowitz  artinstituteofchicago 
april 2016 by robertogreco
How John Cage made performance the true heart of Black Mountain College - LA Times
"A month after the New York Times had listed John Cage (along with Leonard Bernstein) as one of the six most promising young American composers, and just as Cage was starting to become an avant-garde celebrity in New York, he used his exceptional powers of persuasion to borrow a car from Sonia Sekula. The edgy Swiss Abstract Expressionist painter and the 35-year-old Cage happened to be neighbors in a Lower East Side tenement building that the composer had encouraged starving young artists to inhabit.

Cage thought it high time that he and dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham drove across country to see how the West Coast, where they were both from, reacted to their radical ideas about music and dance. In April 1948, the pair set out for California in Sekula's jalopy.

The trip began with a five-day stopover at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. That visit doesn't merit more than an aside in the catalog of the Hammer Museum's exhibition "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957." There is a lot of important territory to cover in the 24-year history of the uniquely influential liberal arts college where noted artists and thinkers held forth. Nor is there much in the way of decent documentation of the visit.

Cage had finished Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, his most ambitious work up to this time and one for which he would finally be taken seriously as a composer and not be seen merely as the beguilingly inventive mastermind of musical novelties. A main motivation for heading west was an invitation to play Sonatas and Interludes at the Monday Evening Concerts series in Los Angeles.

But it was at Black Mountain where Cage gave the first public performance, if you want to call it that. This was Sonatas and Interludes at a makeshift concert in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a makeshift stage with a modest piano and before an audience of the tiny college's student body and faculty. (If everyone showed up, at best 100 were on hand.)

The school couldn't afford to pay Cage and Cunningham — they taught as well as performed — but the morning they left, they found Sekula's car overflowing with artwork and food, the students' and faculty's expression of gratitude. Cage and Cunningham got something else, as well: an invitation to return and teach that summer.

They did, and thanks to Cage, neither Black Mountain nor American art would ever be the same.

By its nature, an art exhibition cannot fully convey what that meant or how Cage did it. "Leap" does not look away from the importance of music, dance, theater and literature at Black Mountain, and beginning Tuesday, the Hammer will make an eight-day leap into Black Mountain performance through concerts and lectures and dance performances.

Although visual art must understandably be a museum's core concern, there is validity to curator Helen Molesworth treating it as central to Black Mountain. Founded in 1933, the school was modeled after the Bauhaus in Germany, and the émigré German Bauhaus painter, pedagogue and color theorist Josef Albers guided Black Mountain through some of its early years.

Albers and his wife, textile artist Anni Albers, are as central to the exhibition as they were to the school. Because of the couple's great curiosity, they avidly explored a range of attitudes and cultures, which were shared throughout a school where students and faculty lived, ate, worked and socialized in an environment of inescapable conversation and inevitable argument. Molesworth captures this chattering zeitgeist by displaying carefully chosen artworks in such a way that they talk to one another.

What was all that chattering about? Attitudes toward music, Molesworth notes in the catalog, were one way to distinguish artistic differences at Black Mountain. Music, according to a Black Mountain brochure, represented "a world of inner order [that] can help toward developing that community for which we all toil." The noted Viennese violinist Rudolf Kolisch, invited in summer 1944 to take part in Black Mountain's celebration of Arnold Schoenberg's 70th birthday, taught a course called Democratic Principals of Ensemble Playing.

But it was Cage who advocated true democracy, which meant throwing a monkey wrench into such high-minded musical conceit, and Cunningham was the monkey.

Cage had become fascinated by Erik Satie, the then-obscure, feisty French composer who wittily defied the German deification of structural logic. In summer 1948, in response to the Schoenberg Festival four years earlier, Cage produced a Satie Festival that included a lecture defending Satie. He used the very ideals that Black Mountain professed to "oblige" German refugees to listen to his half-hour presentations of Satie's piano music for 25 consecutive evenings.

Creating an uproar

Cage's attitude was that Beethoven had been in error because he created music defined by harmony. Cage proposed following Satie's example of music defined on time lengths.

This defense was essentially personal. Cage always liked to say he had no gift for harmony, and here he hit home. Albers' pedagogic philosophy was that art didn't require talent as much as it did understanding and technique. But Cage, one of the most gifted musicians of all time, never felt comfortable with the harmony on which Western music was said to depend.

The defense of Satie created the expected uproar and led to a famous food fight among distinguished artists, the Beethoven camp armed with sausages, Satie-ists with crepes.

The climax of the festival was the staging of "The Ruse of Medusa," Satie's surreal farce with piano interludes called monkey dances, which featured, of course, Cunningham.

Buckminster Fuller, who attempted to build his first geodesic dome at Black Mountain that summer (he failed but succeeded the following summer), portrayed the nonsensical baron. A theater student, Arthur Penn (the future filmmaker), directed. Décor was by Willem and Elaine de Kooning, then young artists Cage had brought along to Black Mountain. A small acting role was assigned to student sculptor Ruth Asawa, whose works are among the highlights of "Leap."

The levity of "Medusa" lightened the atmosphere but in no way lessened Cage's challenges to the Black Mountain belief system. His target was not harmony but memory, the idea that for music to be followed you must be able to remember what came before. But what is necessary for Beethoven and Schoenberg is not for Satie. Cage wanted a contemporary art that reflects life as it was led. To the Black Mountain traditional modernists, and especially for the émigrés, memory must always be honored, one must never forget.

Rather than disremember, Cage simply called for action. He used performance to bring together a community of artists through their work without the compromise of collaboration. Essentially, Cage made "Medusa" an extension of breakfast. He and Cunningham began each morning at Black Mountain with Fuller, discussing ideas and telling stories about themselves. For Cage, memory wasn't a required prescription for consuming art but a deeper one for making it, bringing the experiences of many into the moment.

Four years later, in 1952, Cage returned to Black Mountain, and this time he staged what has become the most celebrated of all the college's activities. It wasn't called anything, just announced as a concert. There were entertainments of all sorts given almost daily, most often evening dances, excellent for letting off steam and fostering romances.

It was a strange summer for Cage. He was working on "Williams Mix," what came to be the first American piece of electronic music made by splicing recording tape. This had a Black Mountain association, having been commissioned by Paul and Vera Williams, who met and married as students there. Cage had intended to employ his students to help him with the laborious business of splicing tape. But the kids were too clever to be lured into that, and no one signed up for the class.

Instead, Cage hung out with them at meals, the dining hall being the principal place on campus for discussion. One morning the topic was French dramatist Antonin Artaud's ideas about theater reflecting the immediacy of experience, and Cage suggested making an illustrative theater piece to be performed that day using the resources of Black Mountain.

He asked artists to do their thing somewhat simultaneously. He quickly sketched out a layout with the audience surrounding the performers and created the timing for the participants. They were not told what to do, just where and when.

The poet Charles Olson read, probably on a ladder. Cage delivered a lecture he had written earlier for Juilliard. Cunningham improvised a dance. Avant-garde virtuoso David Tudor played something or other on the piano. Robert Rauschenberg, who had been a student of Albers, hung his white paintings and maybe a black one. There were projections of film and a painting by Franz Kline overhead.

This is widely credited as having been the first Happening and the inciter of performance art. Retrospectively it has been given the title "Theater Piece No. 1," although it is not an official part of the Cage catalog. Though a pack rat, Cage considered it such a classroom-casual event that he never even bothered to keep the "score." No one bothered to take a photograph.

And no one is sure exactly what happened at the first Happening. Witness accounts vary. An enormous literature has sprung about theorizing why that could be, what it all means and how we deal with a fleeting historic event we can't pin down. But Cage's revolutionary intention (or non-intention) was to defeat memory.

The participants couldn't remember because they were too focused on their own work. There had been no rehearsal, other than Cunningham testing the space so that he wouldn't accidentally kick someone. Not all artists are afforded the luxury of leaping before they look.

The lack of structure, moreover, meant it was impossible to take everything… [more]
bmc  blackmountaincollege  2015  johncage  history  eriksatie  mercecunningham  buckminsterfuller  soniasekula  education  democracy  annicalbers  josefalbers  helenmolesworth  leapbeforeyoulook  art  music  highered  highereducation  robertrauschenberg  happenings  williamdekooning  elaindekooning  arthurpenn  charlesolson  davidtudor 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Return to Black Mountain College - WSJ
"“Black Mountain is a myth, but it was mythic in its inception,” says Helen Molesworth, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, who is organizing the first major American museum show to examine the school’s legacy, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957, opening this month at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. “The people who made it had a lofty sense of what they were doing before it even started. They were trying to form a better world.” The exhibition will feature work by nearly 100 artists. Along with stars like the architect Walter Gropius and the Alberses, it includes figures like the sculptor Ruth Asawa, the collagist Ray Johnson and the funk potter Peter Voulkos, together with scores of photos and archival materials, as well as dance and music performances held within the galleries.

Other 20th-century art luminaries passed through the college too, including the abstract expressionists Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, Russian-born WPA muralist Ilya Bolotowsky and Jacob Lawrence, the African-American painter whose Great Migration pictures were the subject of a recent MoMA retrospective, all drawn largely by Josef Albers’s allure. From the start, “Albers had an international reputation, and so did the college,” says Alice Sebrell, program director of the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in nearby Asheville, which was founded in 1993 to honor the school. “He was very open to artists whose work was different from his own. The whole package was appealing to artists who were doing non-mainstream work.”

From today’s vantage point, the reality of Black Mountain College as a crucial nexus for artistic, intellectual and even political activity is coming into sharp focus. Artists, scholars, educators and curators are increasingly recognizing that its unique environment was essential to the flowering of midcentury American art and culture, a place where the avant-garde of Europe and the United States came together and created something new. The past year has seen another major show, Black Mountain: An Interdisciplinary Experiment 1933–1957, at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, which explored the creative contributions made by German refugee artists and intellectuals who converged at the school during the Nazi era. A new book, The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College, was published last December.

“Today Black Mountain seems so avant la lettre, so proto-Beat, proto-hippie, so completely off the known of the region but also of the nation,” says Eva Díaz, the book’s author. In a contemporary art world riveted by the idea of experimentation, she adds, “Black Mountain is often invoked as a touchstone.”

The school’s interdisciplinary outlook is like catnip to curators and academics because it anticipated the current interest in performance art, craft and design. Artists are fascinated by it too: “There’s a growing need for us to be socially engaged, to want an interaction with a larger aspect of society,” says photographer and sculptor Sara VanDerBeek, whose father, the experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek, studied at the college from 1949 to 1951. “That’s in keeping with the things they were discussing and engaging in at Black Mountain.”"



"“The teachers who were at Black Mountain were there because they really believed in freedom and education,” says abstractionist Dorothea Rockburne, who heard of it as a teenager in Montreal and began saving money to attend, which she finally did, from 1950 to 1954. She took science with the physicist Goldowski, but her most profound connection was with the German mathematician Max Dehn, with whom she studied topology, linear algebra and Euclidean geometry.

Part of what made Black Mountain special was the mix of disciplines, the intensity and the fact that everyone was together so constantly in the remote location. “We were all foreigners, so to speak, in that setting,” says Theodore Dreier Jr. (the son of the co-founder), who studied music there before transferring to Harvard, later becoming a psychiatrist. “It enhanced that kind of participatory, creative openness.”

The college was never accredited, largely because the founders wanted to remain independent from outside influences. Its largest class was 100, and only 66 students ever graduated. But great teaching was always the byword. Although the constantly evolving curriculum always included classroom instruction, Rockburne recalls that most of Dehn’s teaching “took place on our morning walks to the waterfall five days a week. He would explain to me the mathematics of nature,” pointing out examples of probability theory and Fibonacci progression as they occurred in plants. “I always had the sense that my teachers were living for me.”

By 1941, just before the United States joined the war, the school had raised the money to buy its own lakeside campus. It moved after the faculty and students had spent a year and a half constructing a two-story, 202-foot-long, streamlined modernist compound known as the Studies Building. When its summer art and music sessions, initiated by Albers, began in 1944, a dizzying array of instructors arrived, including the art critic Clement Greenberg, the choreographer Agnes de Mille, the gamelan composer Lou Harrison and the photographer Harry Callahan—most long before they became well known."
bmc  blackmountaincollege  2015  carolkino  interdisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  art  education  schools  unschooling  deschooling  democracy  freedom  autonomy  learning  history  robertrauschenberg  johncage  johnandrewrice  rollinscollege  highered  highereducation  stanvanderbeek  saravanderbeek  mercecunningham  jeromerobbins  josefalbers  bauhaus  communes  cytwombly  annialbers  buckminsterfuller  helenmolesworth  robertmotherwell  jacoblawrence  franzkline  ilyabolotowsky  alicesebrell  theodoredreier  jonathanwilliams  walking 
october 2015 by robertogreco
CLASS DISMISSED: A ROUNDTABLE ON ART SCHOOL, USC, AND COOPER UNION by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, Helen Molesworth, Mike Essl, Jory Rabinovitz, Lee Relvas, Amanda Ross-Ho, Victoria Sobel, Frances Stark, A. L. Steiner, Charlie White - artforum.com / in print
[via: https://twitter.com/CaseyG/status/652215259235807232 ]

"IN AN ERA when creative economies are leading the hypermonetization of every aspect of life, from attention and identity to privacy and time, it’s not surprising that this country’s most progressive models of art education are under attack. In fact, the liberal arts and humanities are besieged across the board, increasingly expected to justify their funding, even their very existence, in universities and beyond. We are witnessing a massive cultural shift when we see the corporatization of higher education—with its top-down power structures, bloated bureaucracies, “synergistic” partnerships with the private sector, relegation of faculty to contingent adjunct labor, and reliance on students as revenue streams—spiking tuition costs and sending student debt ballooning.

All this has come dramatically to a head this past year on both coasts, at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York and the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design in Los Angeles. It is sadly predictable and all the more alarming that the ever-accelerating process of financialization should upend two of the most vital art schools in America, each of which has been based on the endangered premise of a tuition-free or fully funded education. While the specific circumstances and institutional histories make the nature of each crisis distinct, they both betray the wrenching cultural shifts produced by a head-on collision with the technocratic crusaders of contemporary capitalism.

Following its board of directors’ decision to abandon Cooper Union’s tuition-free mandate, which had stood for more than 150 years, the school’s president and five trustees resigned amid an ongoing inquiry into the institution’s finances by the New York State Attorney General. The grassroots Committee to Save Cooper Union has taken legal action to preserve the venerable institution’s founding mission of free education, and to call attention to the fiscal mismanagement and lack of accountability on the part of the school’s board of trustees. [Eds. note: As this issue was going to press, the Attorney General announced that a settlement had been reached and that Cooper Union would work to eventually reinstate free tuition.] At USC Roski, the drastic restructuring and reduction in funding for the school’s renowned graduate program by a new dean’s administration prompted high-profile, tenured faculty to resign in protest and the entire MFA class of 2016 to drop out en masse earlier this year, citing unacceptable changes to funding packages, curriculum, and faculty.

Debates over art education have a long history, of course. A groundbreaking and utopian model that remains relevant today is Black Mountain College, which nurtured cultural and pedagogical innovation at mid-century and which is the subject of a major exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, opening on October 10. Artforum invited the show’s curator, HELEN MOLESWORTH, to join eight distinguished participants—from Cooper, faculty MIKE ESSL and alumni JORY RABINOVITZ and VICTORIA SOBEL; and from USC Roski, current or former faculty members FRANCES STARK, CHARLIE WHITE, and A. L. STEINER; alumna AMANDA ROSS-HO; and LEE RELVAS, one of the seven class-of-2016 students who dropped out—to discuss the current situation at both institutions and the histories, challenges, and continued promise of art school."



"HELEN MOLESWORTH: We’ve convened today to talk about the current crises at USC and Cooper, both of which are symptoms of larger problems facing the entire concept of art education in this country. And for many schools today, Black Mountain College remains a key model for art education after World War II.

In the face of this crisis, Black Mountain is even more relevant to the current situation than one might think: It was a program born of extraordinary optimism, but it was also born of dissent, born of a firing of tenured faculty, born of a group of teachers and students deciding that they needed to own the means of production themselves and create an institution in which there were no trustees or board of regents, so they could collectively control the college. It had an extraordinary efflorescence and was a wellspring of the American avant-garde; the curriculum at BMC influenced many of the practices that define contemporary studio and liberal-arts programs—group critiques, collaboration, interdisciplinarity. It also failed beautifully and wonderfully and spectacularly at its end: It was short-lived, running only from 1933 to 1957.

Which leads me to the most basic and perhaps the most unanswerable question: Why now? Why are extremely successful, renowned arts-education departments on both coasts under attack in the way that they are at Cooper and USC? Are they—and Black Mountain—anomalies, experiments that could never last? Or are they victims of some of the nastiest tactics of our neoliberal new economy?"



"LEE RELVAS: I’m one of the seven MFA students who just dropped out from USC. We dropped out collectively to protest the school’s reneging on funding and curricular promises made to us, because that funding model and pedagogical model were clearly no longer considered valuable under the new dean’s leadership. But we also wanted to protest publicly the economics of higher education: namely, the normalization of massive student debt.

We range in age from twenty-seven to forty-one years old. So we actually did know what we were getting into as far as the debt that we thought we were going to be taking on, as well as the lack of teaching opportunities, and if we were so lucky to get a teaching job, how little most of those teaching jobs paid.

But we still wanted two years of time and space to be artists and thinkers and to be in close conversation with each other. And outside these flawed institutions, there is little material and cultural support for that."



"HELEN MOLESWORTH: In New York, do you have a similar sense that the faculty and the students at Cooper were unable to articulate the value of free tuition to the board?

MIKE ESSL: I think we did articulate it but we weren’t heard, and it was all the more disturbing to me because of my own personal understanding of that value. My dad is a mechanic and my mom is a bookkeeper. They didn’t go to college and they didn’t save for college, and me going to college was just never on their radar. And Cooper Union gave me permission to go to art school. Without that freedom, without being able to tell my parents essentially to fuck off, I don’t know where I would be now. [Laughter.]

And what that does for, say, a lower-middle-class student, that permission, the way it lowers the risk of art school and allows you to even conceive of going, is something that the board of trustees did not care about at all.

We would hear about how the cost of teaching artists is too expensive and that when artists graduate they don’t donate, and there was really no consideration of the artist as a person in the world at all. And so for those people to be the board members of a school like Cooper Union, I would argue, is criminal. They just refused to hear any arguments.

JORY RABINOVITZ: There was no dialogue, no transparency. There was never any mention of charging tuition while I was at Cooper. I started when the demolition of the Abram S. Hewitt Memorial art building, and the construction of the new Thom Mayne–designed academic center, 41 Cooper Square, in its place, was just beginning. The three-year transition phase completely displaced the art school and literally split it in two, sending half of the classes and studios to a rented building in Long Island City. Since the art school donated the least and protested the most, it really felt like we were being singled out to receive this weird form of punishment or austerity measure. Many of the school’s questionable financial decisions that are currently under investigation happened at the very same time. So when I look at the new building, it’s hard not to see a big perforated smoke screen.

MIKE ESSL: They showed up at the table already having decided that our model was old-fashioned and could no longer be supported. Which is why we have been saying all along that it’s a cultural problem, not an economic one."



"A. L. STEINER: Eighty percent of USC’s faculty is now adjunct and contingent. This is part of an ideology of austerity being embraced at the school, even though its undergraduate program ranks sixteenth in tuition nationwide and the university is one of twenty schools nationwide responsible for one-fifth of the country’s graduate-school student debt. The dean’s thinking came down to a gamble—that the graduate faculty’s interactions, and the program’s funding and curricular promises, were unnecessary. There’s a bigger agenda in play, and it’s intertwined with the value and significance of an arts education in a technocratic regime, in a world where the nonprofit sector exists as a manifestation of the private sector."



"FRANCES STARK: But you have to consider that in context. I was on the search committee for the new dean in the spring of 2013, and the problem of financial sustainability was not explicitly on the table when we were interviewing candidates. The entire process seemed perfunctory: It became clear that the interim dean was the internal candidate they wanted, and who, it was later disclosed, was somehow attached to the $70 million gift from Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre to endow a new school of “Art, Technology and the Business of Innovation” at USC. Erica Muhl, who became dean, has zero background in contemporary fine art, design, or art history. She is not conversant with these fields at all. I asked her, “What is your vision for the school?” And she responded, “To be number one.” No joke. OK? She told the graduate students: “The future of art is Mark Zuckerberg… [more]
cooperunion  blackmountaincollege  usc  art  arteducation  education  highered  highereducation  helenmolesworth  mikeessl  joryrabinovitz  leerelvas  amandaross-ho  victoriasobel  francesstark  alsteiner  charliewhite  sarahlehrer-graiwer  via:caseygollan  activism  neoliberalism  capitalism  politics  conversation  proximity  ambiguity  joy  meritocracy  organizations  institutions  bmc  arts  humanities  schools  tcsnmy  progressive  technocracy  artseducation  culture  thinking  optimism  bauhaus  calarts  community  pedagogy  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn 
october 2015 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read