Thursday, June 25, 2009

TPG: Stephanie Dean's "Still Life with Strawberries"

Still Life with Strawberries (edition of 50) by Stephanie Dean is the latest offering by The Present Group.

The Present Group is an art subscription service--subscribers receive 4 contemporary artworks per year. Benjamin Rosenbaum and my Anthroptic was TPG's premiere issue.

Stephanie on the Modern Groceries Series:
I am creating a series of still life photographs focusing on the way our purchased food is packaged and consumed. By setting common foods in their packaging and labeling direct from the grocery store into traditional nature mort compositions, our most common and necessary items of life -- food -- are jolted into historical focus. The viewers’ various degrees of knowledge of Dutch still life paintings will be the measure by which the photographs will either found or further the perceived rift between ourselves and nature, and ourselves and our food sources.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Cecilia said...

Love it!

June 25, 2009 10:34 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn in AZ said...

The "Modern Grocery Series" is fantastic!

June 29, 2009 8:03 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

I love the photo, but man, do I hate artist statements. Artists hate writing them, right? I presume I am to read Stephanie as forcing herself to write these words as a grueling ordeal?

Maybe we should do a project involving rewriting artists' statements to say what they should say?

Here was my reading of the image:

three stages of perceiving the painting:

- an old-master still-life
- no wait, it has labels: a duchampian intrusion of the inappropriate into the canon

- no wait again: rembrandt actually drew his fruit as he brought it home from the market!

so this is straight rembrandtian art. someone who takes the labels off first is engaging in a calcified nostaligic art foreign to the spirit of the original effort to "paint the kitchen". of course, she isnt just photographing her kitchen either, because then i wouldnt be having this thought; but if she did, she'd be in some other stylzed mode like "martha stewart life cover food art..:"

I think this reading is much more interesting than what she claims to have intended. Which is not a criticism of the work, but suggests its strength, to my mind.

July 3, 2009 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie Dean said...

Hi Benjamin!

I love your post.

If you want to start that re-writing artist statements project, please start with me!

You are so right about these things:
1. I hate writing artist statements. It IS grueling. I have dealt with the artist statement and its inherent problems quite a bit academically, artistically and in the form of a program (C++, very primitive, and immature compared to, say, Ethan’s work) that generates “Found poetry of the artist statement” using words culled for stacks of artist statements. It was my nod to the cornucopia of jargon that artist are obliged to use when talking about their own work.
2. “Someone who takes the labels off first is engaging in a calcified nostalgic art foreign to the spirit of the original effort to "paint the kitchen".” – This is so true, but the nostalgic portion of the concept of it never really solidified in my mind, thanks for clarifying it! This has become huge for me and how I now perceive myself in relation to all other still life artists! The aspect of what other people are doing, as much as I love this gem of truth that you have uncovered, would probably be out of place in my artist statement, but then again, since I hate writing them it may just be that I am not qualified at the moment to write a good artist statement on my work that nods to what other people do when they engage in still life these days. Then again, it might just fit perfectly in pointing out the differences between myself and all the others. Again, this is HUGE for me!
3. I agree that your reading is much more interesting than my statement (or portion thereof- it is way longer that that chunk) and I cannot thank you enough for posting it.

I love your work with Ethan Ham. I am now following you both closely!

- Stephanie

July 11, 2009 1:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

I agree that writing artistic statements is a miserable proposition. Occasionally writing about the work does give me some extra insight, but usually it's a painful exercise in trying to balance explaining the art away versus creating unnecessary mystery.

I thought that in the spectrum of artist's statements, Stephanie's was actually quite good (to my eye, it didn't descend into artist babble).

Not to say Ben's reading of the (perhaps subconscious) artistic intention isn't interesting, too. Reflecting on one's work to discover levels of meaning that weren't apparent at the time of creation is an important part of an artist's practice.

July 11, 2009 1:11 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

Hey Stephanie, I'd love to see your artist-statement generator. You should put it online. :-)

Glad to hear that my reading of the image resonates with you -- I think the image is delightful.

The problem of artist's statements is an interesting one... it's like pieces of grant applications have become an intrinsic part of the presentation of contemporary works. Really it seems like artists' statements ought to extend or complement or undermine or contradict the work rather than just restating it, but their function as fundraising/prestige-stabilizing/bureaucracy-wrangling instruments probably limits the possibilities for that.

Ethan, on that spectrum, who would you say writes the best artists' statements? Can you think of an exemplary case?

July 12, 2009 5:59 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie Dean said...

Hi Benjamin,

I am enjoying this conversation very much.

Again, Benjamin you are so right about:

“Really it seems like artists' statements ought to extend or complement or undermine or contradict the work rather than just restating it, but their function as fundraising/prestige-stabilizing/bureaucracy-wrangling instruments probably limits the possibilities for that.”

Although I’m not sure what function a “willingly contradictor” statement would serve. Did you mean to write that? Is that for the people who say things like “I meant for the piece to be confusing, I want the viewer to work to understand it.” Please let me know if I am missing something here.

With regards to my own statements, they are usually written for proposals or grants, and at last minute for exhibitions, and then I tend to use morsels from whatever proposals or grants are related to the work. I also tend to include things that in nervous anticipation I think that people will ask. These things will include historical inspiration and facts, and contemporary artists that I think people will try to put me into the same genre with. In my Modern Groceries statement I avoided the latter, and went overboard on the former.


I would put the generator online, but I’m not really sure how to at all. I’m not good at coding at all. Plus, it needs a lot of work, it seriously has no UI. In addition, to be really fun, the database has to be fully re-designed.

I would love to know what Ethan considers an exemplary case, or anyone else for that matter. I think if people posted them we would have a lot of examples on non-statement-y artist statements.

Best,

Stephanie

July 12, 2009 3:48 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Stephanie wrote: With regards to my own statements, they are usually written for proposals or grants, and at last minute for exhibitions, and then I tend to use morsels from whatever proposals or grants are related to the work.

That's pretty much the case for me, too. I think what is going on with artist's statements is that they're used as substitutes for third-party art critical/historical essays about the work. Essentially artists are having to be their own critic--it's as if writers wrote their own book reviews. My impression is that once an artist is well-known enough and there are real critics writing about the work, the artist no longer writes artist's statements (at least not for exhibition purposes).

As far as exemplary statements--there aren't really any that jump to mind. There have certainly been some cases where the statement helped (or would have helped if one had existed). I remember reviewing on artist's submission for a particular opportunity when the jury wondered if the artist's work was ironic or sincere (if ironic, the work was interesting). We really could have used an artist's statement in the situation--a cheat sheet to give us context in the absence of the artist already having a reputation.

Robert Smithson is known for his writings, but that's a different thing, I think. I've only ever listened to one of his essays, but I've pulled his collective writings out of my bookcase (which I've been meaning to read) and it's now on my to-read pile.

For my own part, the only writing about my work that I've really liked is this one essay: Social Networks, Privacy, and Self-Portraiture.

July 13, 2009 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie Dean said...

Hi Ethan,

I really like that piece of writing too. I had read it before, and I just reviewed it again. There is a good blend of personal, technical and artistic musing. I think it also helps that you have a lot of figures to go with it, and each is very pertinent to the topic.

Stephanie

July 17, 2009 4:00 PM  

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