Behind the Scenes: Understanding the Contemporary Arts Purchasing Program and Its Role in “New Arrivals” Through Committee Advisor Cecilia Wichmann

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 

 

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Words heard and shared throughout CAPP

In 2005, the Adele H. Stamp Student Union—Center for Campus Life inaugurated a student-led Contemporary Arts Purchasing Program (CAPP) with the mission to educate and inspire by exposing the campus community to thought-provoking art by noted contemporary artists. As of 2017, the CAPP Collection has grown to encompass more than 50 works of art by 42 artists working regionally, nationally, and internationally.


You can teach people to collaborate; you can teach people to converse. You can teach them skill sets, etiquettes, processes, and protocols. You can motivate them and challenge them and record and reward their successes. But, you can’t teach them how to care. You can make them care, with personal, emotional, or financial incentive. But you can’t forcibly expand one’s capacity to care: to immediately, genuinely, deeply, closely, care for a mission or a cause that exists far beyond one’s circle of life. This is a sentiment that is not meant to be a morbid one; it is meant to separate the human from the worker. Protocols and record keeping is not subjective. The realms in which we each care, wholly and completely, is.

So, when the innate, sincere capacities to care for the same cause overlap in enormous proportion in six individuals  − from different places and with histories and narratives that are nearly void of tangencies − who then sit at the same table every week for thirty-one weeks, their work is likened to the dazzle of stars which align. These people recognize that money is power, that people are power, and that their role can have meaningful impact if they want it to. They meet over and over, until they are comfortable beyond the honesty of audibly liking or disliking a work of art. They meet to the point of comfortable vulnerability: celebrating the thrills of found artwork that meets both personal and common visions for the community, vocalizing when a work feels misguided, or admitting when a work feels right but you need the words of your peers to express how.

They begin the task at hand by learning to articulate their collective questions, and craft their collective wants:

We work in consensus; we do not vote.

We can invest in aesthetics. We need to invest in message, in artist.

Who’s voices can we give volume to who have been absent so far?

Controversial is okay. Triggering is not.

All depths of appreciation are valid. All depths of appreciation are equal.

These works are for you, and you, and you.

What is the greatest gift we can give to people, with the power we have?

How can we help people heal?

Visual language can celebrate the sameness of our hearts and the differences of our selves, simultaneously.

I had the privilege of working in precisely the above symphony this past year, and I recognize that it may seem dramatic to compare our communicative chemistry to something of cosmic magic. Our group purchased artwork for a university collection. We did not change statistics, laws, news bytes, missing rights, elections, or minds.

But, if I am a better person today than I am a year ago, I am by learning − through the admirable interactions we did initiate and complete − that the voicing of emotional attachments to things such as this one that I was a part of, concepts such as those we advocated, and people such as those we researched and shook hands with, is not only justified in its own right. It is respected.

Empathy is the newest marketable skill, sensitivity is now a priceless tool, and personal attachment is a universal saving grace. Championing dialogue, emphasizing the gravity of decisions, and verbalizing one’s feelings in poetry or pros or anything in between, require no defense or excuse. They are needed and expected, now more than ever.

To see the artworks acquired by the 2016−2017 CAPP committee mentioned here, visit New Arrivals 2017, exhibiting in The Stamp Gallery now through October 14, 2017.

By Grace DeWitt

 


Galleries: Rooms to Live In

DSC_0030Art galleries can be intimidating places. Walls of silence. No photography. Don’t touch the artwork. These unique environments can lead to some second-guessing, especially for those who are new to galleries. “Am I being too loud?” “Does anyone find any of this modernist furniture comfortable to sit on?” “Can the gallery attendant tell that I have no idea what that piece of art is trying to say?” If this sounds like you, take a breath, and relax.

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Art appreciation can seem like a high-brow hobby, but it certainly doesn’t take years of art history classes to react to something emotionally. Some artistic elements may not be completely accessible without an art background, but only in the same sense that the average person wouldn’t fully grasp a grad student’s final thesis without some context.Yet there is always a basic level in which art can be accessed; saying “I don’t understand” is still a response and furthers the conversation. Art is made to make people feel and think. So remember: a gallery isn’t just for the art majors or art collectors, it’s for you.

DSC_0016DSC_0012If you’re interested in visiting such a place, the Stamp Gallery—found on the first floor of the Stamp Student Union—is a conveniently located art space available for students and visitors alike to stop by in the midst of a busy day. Aside from the new exhibition, a few other changes to the gallery have been made this semester. A lounge area provides seating apart from the art. This is an ideal place to do homework, chat with friends, or to browse our provisional library and read one of its books, all of which are in conversation with a piece in the gallery.

DSC_0008DSC_0010A chess table has also been moved into the space, providing a place not only to play chess, but also a variety of board and card games made available through the gallery staff. And if you would like to save and share your experience in the gallery with your friends, we allow non-flash photography of the art.

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So, why all these changes to the gallery? A common viewpoint towards galleries is that they are refuges from the day-to-day grind. While the gallery staff wants to make the area a more welcoming environment, we also want it to be a place where you can both appreciate the art yet also retain your identity. We want a person to feel like he/she can coexist with the art rather than just stop by and visit. We want this space to be comfortable enough for people to do homework, go on dates, have arguments. A gallery should not be a place to escape life, but rather to live it.

So sit down and stay awhile.DSC_0075

Written by Christopher Bugtong


Installation Revelation

So you’re walking by the Stamp Gallery one afternoon. Peaking through the glass exterior, you see that there are boxes and packing paper scattered throughout. You see some power tools on the benches, and a ladder leaning against the corner. You notice random walls that seem to be hanging out in limbo in the middle of the space. Walking past the entrance, you find a sign taped to the door: “Closed for installation, please come back for our opening next week!”

Ever wanted to know just what goes into the installation of a gallery exhibition?

The past week at the Stamp Gallery has been quite a busy one, with the installation of our current exhibition featuring new arrivals for the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program (CAPP). As a docent, I get to take part in this installation process. As such, I thought I’d offer a little glimpse into a few of the more subtle, never-occurred-to-me-before-I-started-working-here types of things that go on behind the scenes of an installation.


Vinyl

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When you first walk into the Stamp Gallery and start reading about what the exhibit is about, you are reading the vinyl. I’d like to start off by admitting that, before I started working at the gallery, I was under the impression that someone had to come and actually hand-paint the words onto the wall…which I’m glad is not the case! After the exhibition overview is typed up in a Word doc, it is sent to be blown up in size and then printed out on a kind of sticker-like paper. Before sticking this onto the wall, we measure the length/width of the sheet, take a ruler to the wall, level it, and make light pencil marks for guidelines. Next, we peel off the outer layer of the sheet, which uncovers the sticky part that goes onto the wall. Once we have the sheet up on the wall, we smooth out any wrinkles and press it against the wall as much as possible – this makes it easier to peel the paper off without peeling the actual letters off as well. The final step is to do the actual peeling!

Walls

In the gallery, we have “moveable” walls that are stored in the back. The wall holding Titus Kaphar’s The Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) XII is a moveable wall.

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These walls allow us the mobility to create new, smaller spaces within our existing gallery space. They also provide extra surface area to accommodate more pieces, draw attention to particular works, as well as provide general interest and variability to the eye. For this exhibition in particular, we added a wall behind the podium holding Wafaa Bilal’s Perseus Beheading Medusa and Pink David in order to direct focus onto the pieces, since they are relatively small objects in comparison to the space.

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Lighting

Tracks along the ceiling of the gallery provide grooves that the lights hook into. There are three tracks spanning the length of the space, and five tracks running widthwise. The lights themselves consist of a bulb attached to a frame that can be maneuvered to adjust the angle of the light accordingly. In addition, there are metal bars within the hook of the frame that conduct electricity and make the light turn on when attached to the track.                                                                                       Depending on the needs of the exhibition/pieces, the lights can be placed so that they either “spotlight” or provide a softer, glow to the work. When spotlighting, the lights are generally placed closer to the piece, which provides a very direct focus. Setting the light farther back creates more of an atmosphere and harmonization for the piece as well as the space surrounding it. Other things to keep in mind when setting up lights is reflection, shadows, and the color casted by the bulb. For the pieces that contain a glass covering, we had to consider the effects of possible reflections caused by our lighting choices. In addition, we can control the degree and location of shadows by light placement. For Ellington Robinson’s Oath of the Imperialists, we played around with the distance of the lights from the work in order to “shift” the shadows around.

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Finally, some bulbs are older than others and cast a softer, more yellow hue than the newer ones, which typically cast a very bright, verging on greenish tint. We usually try to match the shades of light throughout the exhibit.


Of course, there are many other aspects that go into a gallery installation that I haven’t mentioned here – each show is unique in terms of the methods used to bring it together. For a closer look at the results of our installation, be sure to check out the opening reception of CAPP New Arrivals 2015 this Friday, September 25th between 6-10pm.

See you there!

Carmen Dodl