Making of the Artists in the American University- PART I

Bonami: On Urgency
Singerman : The Master of Fine Art /
Kvapil: Observations & Pleas /

Kauper : On teaching diversity

Making of the Artists in the American University- Part II  
Contemporary Discovery I. Symposium
- The Shaping of the Artist in the Institution -


Symposium held in Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall
California State University, Long Beach
Saturday, September 23, 2000
Organized by the University Art Museum Organized by the University Art Museum of the California State University Long Beach in conjunction with the exhibition Ken Price: Centric 62, Contemporary Discovery I is a full-day symposium exploring how art is taught in the contemporary art world.

For a full transcript of the Symposium, klick here


Welcome by Ilee Kaplan, Associate Director of the University Art Museum ("UAM"):

Welcome to our first Contemporary Discovery Symposium: Consequences of the New. (...) Contemporary Discovery is a new program for the UAM. It combines exhibitions bringing artists from all over the world, and from this country who have not really been exposed to Southern California and bring new ideas and new projects to us. In addition to that, we have started the symposium so that we can examine in context with our exhibitions some of the newest ideas and trends in the arts field. I'd now like to introduce the UAM Curator of Exhibitions, Mary-Kay Lombino, who will be our MC for the day. Mary-Kay has been with the Museum for a little over a year and has already introduced incredible artists and programs to our campus and to the Museum. With her experience at UCLA's Armand Hammer Museum and the National Endowment for the Arts, she brings both a regional and a national perspective to the UAM. So join me in welcoming Mary-Kay. [applause]

Mary-Kay Lombino: Hi, I want to thank everyone for coming today. (...) I'm going to introduce our panelists for today. I'll just go down in order so you know who's who.

And lastly, Francesco Bonami, who is the Senior Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Last year, he was the Curator of Manifesta-or actually, maybe that's this year. Also, he's been a contributor to Parkett, and very influential in the international magazine Flash Art. And last year some of you might have seen his exhibition Examining Pictures which was on display at the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum which was the traveling show that originated at the MCA in Chicago.


Francesco Bonami: There are a few cases. I am from Florence. So in Florence, when you come out from your womb of your mother, you are MFA. [laughter]... When you are 13 years in Italy, what you want to do is to play soccer like everybody else. And of course, when I was 13 years old, I wanted to play soccer, and usually when you want to play soccer, you want to become a goalkeeper, because the goalkeeper doesn’t need to know how to play soccer. And if you’re good, you become a hero, and it’s very rewarding, with very little work. So I bought this book that would say "how to become a goalkeeper," by this famous, famous Italian goalkeeper. And the first page in the book was, "you are born a goalkeeper, you don’t become a goalkeeper." So I closed the book and never played soccer in my life. But in a way, this goes to the teaching art. First of all, how do you know that you are not born a goalkeeper if you don’t become a goalkeeper, and you have to try to do that. And the same thing, you have to read the book. So I think that that’s the function of the school, to understand if you are an artist or not. And I think that maybe one thing that is lacking in the teaching system all over the world is the department that teaches people to cope with the fact that they’re not artists. To cope with the fact that they’ve been left out. [laughter] Seriously. It’s a big problem, because the fact that you enroll into an art school and immediately you have learned from mistakes that you are artists, learning, which is not true, absolutely. Unfortunately, there are very few people that become artists, and are successful artists. And I’m not measuring success in terms of economics, but in terms of urgency. And I don’t teach. I’m a curator, so my job is to try to find those people that have this kind of urgency in producing a work of art. And I know many artists, that they’re very bad artists. But they’re artists. And I know many good artists, that I know that they’re not artists. But they learn how to be artists. And I think that you can learn how to be an artist. You can learn, especially today, the practice. And you can learn the visual skills to put together something that really is professionally and technically extremely sophisticated, that can fool someone. And make you believe for a time. There is people that succeed in this very much, for a long, long time. To the point that they become artists. Because they build with the real skills. But really, I believe that what is to be taught is to understand urgency. And urgency in producing, or to say something that is relevant for the moment in time that the person’s living. And it’s a very difficult task. Because you can create something that can be described, and also technically a work of art. But there is not this urgency. Why has this thing been made? And I think that the problem is this: how we teach? I don’t teach. But how the other people can teach that, yes, you can enroll and become a student of the school of art. But you have always to be ready to face the fact that there is not the capacity to produce that kind of urgency—to produce that want—what we finally call the work of art. And I think that this is that big black hole of the teaching system in every school in the world, the almost psychoanalytic department that makes people understand, or tells people that they’re not artists. I as a curator go through many studios, and sometimes you enter in studio and after two seconds you realize that you’re not in the studio of an artist. So my big question is how I am discussing this thing, now, that they’re to stay here an hour, surrounded by paints that are not . . . they’re not in any urgency, except the one to be thrown away. And how can I tell to this person that has another two years to study in a school that he or she should try something else. And not necessarily to . . . I believe that in the arts there are many, many, many different possibilities. You don’t have to be only an artist. You can be a fantastic teacher without being a good artist. You can be a teacher, that is an important role, even if you’re not Michelangelo. So that’s a big problem. How we negotiate and how we articulate this fact—the fact that people sometimes don’t produce art, and they insist to produce art and because we just play polite, we allow them to keep going, and create a huge misunderstanding, because they probably find even some dealer to show them, really escalating his problem over, and over, and over. Curators put them in a show, and probably me, myself, too. But it is a problem, because it’s an unfortunate reality, that art is a specific field. And it’s something that has to do with talent. And sometimes not differently than a sport. There’s people that run fast, and they run fast. And there are artists that run very fast in the sense that they have this urgency, the urgency to create, that allow them to produce things that are relevant, not only for other artists or for curators, but are relevant for people to look at them. And to make people understand this is, I think, a big challenge for a teacher and also for a curator. And to understand that we can accept and we can enjoy the creative experience without being a necessarily stubborn person, the role of the profession of an artist. And I think that’s something that should be studied more in depth in order to avoid frustration, to avoid a misunderstanding that art is democracy. Art is not democracy. It’s a very elitist system. Because it is a system related to talent, it allows only people with talents to succeed most of the time. So, I play tennis, but I would never insist to play at Wimbledon. And you meet many times artists who are not good artists, or sometimes people that are not artists, but they demand the same attention that other people have because of their talent, their urgency. And I would underline more the urgency than the talent. I think that the urgency is something that really makes the work of art relevant. It would make the work of art not only a private matter, but something that speaks inexplicably about the world. In Italy, for example, I always make this comparison between Italian and American artists. An Italian artist always starts to think his work of art in relation to the universe, and then he shrinks it down to the size of his canvas. So it’s often not interesting. The American artist does . . . Some American artists, they start from the scalp. And they get so obsessed with the scalp that the scalp becomes the world. And when you see the scalp, you don’t think about the guy or the person that did it, but you think about something else. I think that’s the difference in producing an urgent work of art. You have to try to look inside the scalp and see the world and try to make other people see something else that is not the scalp. [applause]


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