Behind the Scenes: Understanding the Contemporary Arts Purchasing Program and Its Role in ‘New Arrivals’ Through Committee Advisor Cecilia WichmannPosted: October 12, 2017
As New Arrivals 2017 winds to a close, I’d like to explore the exhibition’s beginnings.
The Contemporary Art Purchasing Program is the UMD initiative that brought New Arrivals to life. Thanks to six incredible students (Rachael Carruthers, Grace DeWitt, Nicolay (Nick) Duque-Robayo, Kathleen Hubbard, Damon King; Sarang Yeola) and their dedicated advisor Cecilia Wichmann, the thought-provoking, compassionate works displayed in the Stamp Gallery are permanent cultural contributions to the Student Union.
To enlighten us on the curatorial process behind New Arrivals, Mrs. Cecilia Wichmann graciously offered her reflections from the year-long program.
If you could describe CAPP or your CAPP experience in 5 words, what would they be?
Elaborating an ethics, together.
What is your favorite memory involving CAPP?
Every moment that we spent visiting with artists and looking at artworks together in person was my favorite! An intriguing dynamic developed over time as we played with the balance of looking quietly as individuals and tuning in as a group, between contemplating and sharing responses to works of art in a variety of ways. We had an amazing experience early on when we visited Morton Fine Art in DC and encountered work by Nate Lewis for the first time – all of us seemed to feel personally compelled (and right away!) so it was enormously exciting to get to look closely together and share our unfolding observations live and in detail. A similar converging energy took place as we learned about Joyce J. Scott’s brilliant work with Amy Raehse at Goya Contemporary in Baltimore.
Equally exciting were the experiences in which we all had very different takes and rates of response and found ourselves puzzling through these differences together, coming back to them in some cases as their effects sunk in over weeks or months.
We had numerous unforgettable visits to artists’ studios in DC, Mount Rainier, Baltimore, and New York. We met so many wonderful people who welcomed us into their work spaces and devoted an enormous amount of time to talking with us about their ideas and processes – Margaret Boozer and Red Dirt Studios, Cheeny Celebrado-Royer, Zoë Charlton, Nona Faustine, Taha Heydari, Phaan Howng, Joiri Minaya, Jonathan Monaghan, Sophia Narrett, Liora Ostroff, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Paul Rucker, Joseph Shetler, Jowita Wyszomirska, as well as the MFA studios at MICA Mt. Royal School of Art and University of Maryland-College Park, and Open Studios at The Fillmore School (pilot program of the Halcyon Arts Lab). So much work of many kinds goes into preparing to welcome visitors to a studio or gallery, and we felt constantly grateful for the expertise and warm hospitality that met us at every turn, including those artists and gallerists with whom we hoped to–but could not ultimately–make a visit happen.
Getting to experience so much art, in such great concentration over time and with such dedicated individuals, amounted to a rare thing — a really complex and not always verbal conversation sustained for almost a year. For me, those moments when we shared a space with artworks and each other felt magical and life-affirming, and have changed my model of a meaningful life.
What does contemporary art mean to you? Has your definition been shaped by your experience with the program?
For me, contemporary art — art being made by my fellow human beings in the recent past or present — invites me first and foremost to consider those people who call what they do ‘making art,’ and therefore regularly consider what it means to live and work as an artist in the world right now. The answer is not singular — I think part of being an artist has to do with putting intentional thought into that question, orienting and reorienting oneself to it over time. Exploring what this profession or vocation might mean for one’s identity and vice versa, and envisioning what kinds of social obligations might therefore pertain. I admire and value that effort. And I admire and value the 2016-17 CAPP committee’s respect for and interest in artists, relatively free of preconceptions about who or what an artist is supposed to be or do.
The brilliant arts leader and advocate Deana Haggag – formerly of The Contemporary in Baltimore and now President & CEO of United States Artists in Chicago – has recently made important observations related to artists as a labor sector, including the perplexing but revealing finding of a recent Urban Institute Study that while 96% of Americans value art only 27% value artists (check out recent interviews with Haggag on this topic on the Bad at Sports contemporary art podcast, on Artspace, and on Vogue.com). My experience with CAPP taught me so much about how I might endeavor to approach my work, aware of this disconnect, so as to better advocate with and for artists.
What is the importance of featuring contemporary art in public spaces (and UMD specifically?)
Contemporary artworks percolate questions, live with ambiguity, represent aspects of experience and identity otherwise papered over, invite mindful attention to the weirdness and instability of perception, engage profound ideas with humor and sly tweaking of expectations, thicken the sensory environments in which they are situated in ways that invite us to attend more carefully to the thick sensory possibilities of our own living bodies. I think these kinds of qualities make a difference to our encounters with public space, where we are more often confronted with invitations to conform to an existing plan, to accept a limited range of representations as a given or norm, and to make sense of ourselves matter-of-factly as consumers. I think it’s especially important to have contemporary artworks always on view at The Stamp – UMD’s student union – because it’s a place where we all spend time and go repeatedly to work, to eat, to connect with friends, and works of art can intersect with these contexts, calling us to slow down, return to them again and again (for a private moment or to share with someone else), to examine our own assessments of their beauty, to consider the shifting stories they might have to tell, and to register the ways in which our growing knowledge and shifting views inform these experiences as we ourselves change over time.
Written by Sarah Schurman