On Wednesday, November 5, Susan Sollins was supposed to give a lecture at Colgate. Sollins was known for being the founder and director of “Art 21,” an innovative program on PBS that documents contemporary artists, their practices and puts their work into the context of our world. She believed in the transformative power of art and its ability to blur boundaries of different disciplines, cultures, and classes. Unfortunately, she passed away of a heart attack before she was set to lecture this semester. Instead the department screened a recent episode of the show that aired on October 24 in her honor. The show, now in its seventh season, has been tremendously successful and has allowed an unusual, personal look at some of the more innovative and excellent contemporary artists from around the world.
The first artist investigated was Thomas Hirschorn. He created a monument in the Forest Houses of New York City dedicated to Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who went to prison. On the mural part of this monument, a black and white portrait of him is juxtaposed with various quotations and graffiti that speaks to the type of culture that was already present in the neighborhood. Hirschhorn spoke to the residents of the neighborhood and explained to them what the project was going to be like; at first, they were a bit confused, but ultimately seemed open to the idea. The monument itself was made of rough materials such as cardboard and unpainted wood, and included a bar and internet corner. What separates this monument from most others is its interactivity and inclusivity. Hirschhorn described the project more as coexistence than collaboration, noting that he values energy over quality because quality can be exclusive at times. There were also concerts and radio programs hosted at the monument as well. Ultimately, the idea behind this monument was to allow the community to come together and create a forum for new ideas and philosophies to be discussed.
Next, photographer Graciela Iturbide was placed in the spotlight. Iturbide has exhibited her photos at many places including the Tate Modern. She said that she was quite surprised to see her own work next to the likes of Claude Monet and Richard Hamilton because photography has often been thought of as a lesser art form than traditional painting. The photos she takes vary greatly in their subject matter, from the estate of Frida Kahlo to the lives of Native Americans and other tribes. She prefers black and white photos because she feels as if the color can distract the viewer from the composition and emotion of the photo. Her typical process is to take photos quickly and follow her intuition, as she feels that is the way she gets the most desirable results. She frequently noted that her Catholic upbringing has affected the aesthetic and subject matter of her photos, even though she now considers herself an atheist.
The last artist the program featured was Leonardo Drew. Professor Stephenson noted that Colgate is trying to bring him to campus next semester. Drew is a sculptor and does relatively large works in a variety of mediums, but the focus here was on his wooden sculptures. Unlike the first two artists we saw, Drew was shown in his studio doing a variety of different activities. His work could be classified as assemblage, as he takes pieces of wood and glues them onto other planks and boards, creating three-dimensional reliefs that are abstract in nature. It was interesting to see that Drew initially became interested in art through cartoons and popular culture, seeing now his work does not resemble either of these things. It was impressive to see him at work in his studio, as he worked on a new project.
Art 21 is on Fridays at 10:00 p.m. and is a must for all of those interested in art, especially contemporary art. It allows the viewer to gain a unique perspective on the lives of artists and how work is created, conceptualized, and displayed.