Critical Mass II // Critical Discourse and Engagement in Kentucky

March 31st, 2018  |  Published in March 2018

Critical Mass II was the second in a series of panel discussions around various urban centers within Kentucky. This particular installment was arranged by the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft, in collaboration with UnderMain, Inc. and arranged in partnership with the The Great Meadows Foundation.

This panel discussion focused on critical thinking in the arts, examining, in part, what role criticism plays as Kentucky artists and institutions engage more readily with a national and international dialogue. The featured panelist, New York-based curator Dan Cameron, brings to this dialogue his thorough expertise as a curator, writer, and critic. Dan is the Great Meadows Foundation’s inaugural Critic-in- Residence. During his March residency he made studio visits to a number of artists in the region as part of the foundation’s “goal to help strengthen and support the critical growth of Kentucky artists’ work and their engagement with the larger art world”. The remaining panel, a strong representative of successful creatives within the region, consisted of Emily Elizabeth Goodman, Tiffany Calvert, and Vinhay Keo. The four were introduced and led by KMAC curator, Joey Yates.

Dan Cameron is a widely published art critic, with several hundred book, magazine and catalog essays to his credit. Along with teaching on the graduate faculties of Columbia University, NYU and the School of Visual Arts, Cameron is a frequent lecturer at museums and university campuses around the world. Emily Elizabeth Goodman is a Lexington, KY-based art historian, curator, critic, and Assistant Professor of Art History at Transylvania University. She received her B.A. from McGill University. Her doctoral research focused on the use of food culture in feminist art in New York and California during the era of the “Second Wave.” Her more recent scholarship and curatorial work — which includes the exhibition New Domesticity concurrently at the Morlan Gallery and the Parachute Factory — has “focused on contemporary women artists’ examination of craft and domestic labor in the American South”. Tiffany Calvert is a painter and the Assistant Professor of Painting at University of Louisville. Her work has been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions including Lawrimore Project in Seattle, Visual Arts Gallery at SVA New York, and The Lab in San Francisco. She has been a recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Fellowship and residencies at the ArtOmi International Arts Center (NY) and Djerassi Resident Artists Program (CA). In 2010 she was awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. Her most recent solo exhibition was mounted with Carl & Sloan Contemporary in Portland, OR. Vinhay Keo is originally from Cambodia, He earned his BFA from the Kentucky College of Art + Design at Spalding University, has received the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship to study at Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art, a Great Meadows Foundation recipient, participated in workshops such as Anderson Ranch Art Center and Anne West’s writing reflection. His work has been exhibited throughout galleries in Louisville, Kentucky with a recent solo exhibition at Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery.

The main questions of the panel talk began revolved around the following principle questions:

•   Can criticism help us grow as a community?

•   Can criticism be an entry into the arts community via critical thought or critique?

•   How do changing times dictate how criticism should be evaluated or put forth?

•   What would the world look like if [insert any contemporary] work was important?

I honestly won’t spend too much time answering these questions, because the talk didn’t really answer them either. Their answers are pretty apparent, too. Of course criticism will help a community grow: discussion and deconstruction can do nothing if not open eyes and bring necessary awareness, right? And of course reading criticism can be an access point for consuming art and culture from a more thorough, understanding, or attempting place. I’ll also go ahead and contradict myself by mentioning that Cameron began the conversation by making several observations about criticism that were generally thoughtful and welcomed. That “criticism taught [him] that [he] could use it as an entry point in which to think about art; it led [him] towards increased investigatory thought—also known as critical thinking”. That he “employs criticism in a myriad of ways: to stake a position, to defend his own curatorial decisions, and to support idiosyncratic or maverick artistic positions. To perhaps question what the world would look like if a particular work was, in fact, important”. . . (a perspective I found potentially fascinating—assuming importance of unknown or sidelined works and imagining a society that finds them valuable, and what that would take and demand of humanity— it has a lot of opportunity for thorough inspection). The last of these points that I found particularly interesting was one that “the philosophy that New York has an increased efficacy and ability to support artists in their work is grossly exaggerated, [he finds himself] encouraging people to think about what is actually here? What support systems are represented here for you? I’ll use this point as entry to my questions that sat in the back of my head as I left the discussion and walked back out into the real world where a group of moms were trying to gather their children and an elderly man was waiting for a bus and rolling his eyes at said moms.

The underlying theme of the discussion, or the elephant in the room, depending on your perspective, was the question: How do we as artists living in Kentucky work, support, build social infrastructure, and frankly survive within our geographical location while remaining proactive within the international marketplace? I suppose this theme was apparent to me due to my personal issues that I have with the hyper localization of the arts community within this city. What appears to have begun with the best of intentions has blossomed into a creative community whose ideas are stifled due to a severe isolation of ideas. It feels like encouragement to the point of detriment. A problem that seems to be fought by artists—whom were quoted asking  Cameron about potential or possibilities coming from New York or L.A during his studio visits— and gallerists who are working diligently to support the hundreds of artists in the region. So back to Cameron’s statement regarding “finding opportunities” at home. Whose responsibility is it to build and create further opportunities— and also— what does “local” even mean when my ability to start a new conversation with a gallery in France over a direct message on Instagram is more straightforward than starting one with a space ten minutes from my house? What does “local” mean in the post-internet age? Come on.

Though Cameron had a point that the coastal cities aren’t the answer. They aren’t. The answer isn’t sitting in our front yard either. It’s in collaboration from a variety of regions, nations, ethnicities, genders, and philosophies. Outside of behavior that is obviously ethically wrong, all ideas should be looked at together. Hi internet, where you’re reading this right now. This non-place where you can just put an idea down and leave it and six months later you may get an email from someone on the other side of the planet feeling the same as you—something that happens all the time. Why is locality so essential when we can expand and grow off the critique and critical thought of others whose experience is vastly different, but essentially the same as ours? What is locality?

Either way, Cameron made another point at the end of the panel referencing his long career as a critic: that he was often wrong. That he’s now embarrassed by the things he wrote in the eighties, nineties, or a month ago. There is a poeticism in understanding that people will and can disagree with you and you may disagree with them with time. All in all, community engagement is important but I don’t believe we as artists, curators, and writers need to isolate them strictly to opportunity that is within the city limits. There is too much more and it’s not acceptable to be that small minded.

Critical Mass III will be hosted in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati, and is already in the works. Further details were not released.

–Megan Bickel

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