Monthly Archives: November 2013

Art = the cost of fabrication

A lot of my time in grad school has been the realization (at least in my program- fashion) that if you want people to invest in your work, you have to too.


In my undergrad , while studying painting, I would have been horrified to realize that it’s becoming more and more rare for art to be made by the artists themselves. If the artist is a successful working artist today, there is probably a strong likelihood that their art has been professionally fabricated or it wouldn’t have existed without the help of 15 studio assistants.


It’s very possible that is train of thought is quite cynical.  But as I walk through museums and galleries today and approach works of art, I think to myself “WOW I can’ t imagine how the artist found funding to fabricate this.”


So how do you approach this world if you are an art student?  It’s usually the other way around right?  You get a job and make a lot of money and then spend it and impress people.  But in the art world you are supposed to compete and contend with art being made that has an extraordinary budget before you have a job that gives you income to make your work.  Which then starts the cycle – – if you have a job that supports the work you make, that job takes away from studio time. 


It’s just not possible to be the starving artist that everyone romanticizes about.  You can’t be starving and broke and get a 5000$ piece of art fabricated for your next gallery show. 


Check out this article in the New York times that talks about a Jeff Koons piece that will take 25 million dollars to fabricate. . . .




So what’s next ?– dream up big projects and then brainstorm how you will fund it.


 If I figure all this out, I’ll let you know.  In the mean time I’ll continue to use my student loans and maxing out my 1 credit card to try and pay my extraordinary art school tuition costs and fabricate interesting enough art to try and get a foundation in this field.






Bill O’brien survey at the MCA

Bill O’brien survey at the MCA

You’ve got a few months for this one to materialize. But at the end of January, SAIC faculty member, chicago art community contributor, Shane Campbell Gallery roster member, Bill O’Brien is having his first museum survey open at the Museum of Contemporary art of Chicago. See you thereresize__572__572__5__exhib_images__full_1365777394obrien4997.

Bill O’brien Interview- Slice of Chicago, dash of Education


So Bill, when did you get started making art?

I wasn’t necessarily always an artistic child. I played outside a lot as a child and I feel as if that laid the groundwork of me becoming an artist more than necessarily formally making drawings as a child. It was only when I was in High School, after getting kicked out and being home school. And one of my requirements for home school was to take an art class. So, I took an art class at a community art center and that’s when I actually started making art. So it wasn’t something until later on when I actually became an artist.

When you were making art at the art center did you consider yourself an artist?0


Then at what point did you decide that art was something to pursue or a career move?

In undergraduate, I was a math major, but kind of a failed mathematician and I wanted to sort of foster this interest in art. But It wasn’t until I made a conscious decision to leave my interest in math and become an art major that it became something that I considered an avenue to pursue.

Gotch ya. Was it at that point in your undergraduate studies that you knew that graduate school was going to be the next step?

I really wanted to go to graduate school, but I so really felt like a strong feeling that I wanted to continue my production. And it ‘s so challenging and difficult to do that outside of school. My first interest in going to grad school was when I was 21 I think was really brought about by a desire to continue my production and not really knowing what grad school really is for. And I applied to grad schools and didn’t get in anywhere. I actually applied to SAIC’s post-bac program and got rejected. So, it’s really funny that I am a professor in ceramics now because I was rejected from the program when I was 21. So now 17 years later I’m now teaching in the department but I never thought I would ever come back in that way.

What do think grad school is for if it’s not just for a continuation of production like you said?

I think grad school is rare opportunity to sort of open yourself up to experimentation, also redefining and focusing yourself in a way to gives you the confidence to continue with your production and hopefully gives you the sense that you can exist outside of the institution and make a living that way. Not always does that happen when you are in grad school. But I think a big part of that is really allowing you the space for experimentation but also the space of focus to really learn what it is to be a studio artist and produce. I also think it’s a rare opportunity, so when it becomes time to actually go to grad school, I think it’s important to have some life experience present, so that you can really appreciate that time. You see, because it is a terminal degree, so you can’t go any further than grad school and an MFA, so it’s really only two years that you are going to have to allow yourself to do that. So, thinking about when would be appropriate to do that is important. Also, I think a big part of it is really like the scarecrow in the wizard of oz. Many times a lot of us just need a credential or a line on the resume to really validate what we are doing. So that becomes part of it as well

So, validation outside of one’s self to keep moving forward?

Yea, that and a credential.

So, you graduated from SAIC in the Fibers department with an MFA, you become a practicing studio artist, where in that timeline di you begin to think that teaching was something that you wanted to?

I always knew that I wanted to help the world. Before I went to grad school for art, I was seriously considering becoming a social worker because I really knew that I wanted to have a direct relationship with someway of helping people with what I did for a living. I really felt conflicted about the idea of going to grad school for art because I felt like it was a very self involved pursuit and I was really unsure as to whether or not it was worth it to do that because I really did want to have some involvement in helping the world. I also knew that in my own art practice I chose ceramics and drawing as my focus is because I wanted to make sure that the work I made was accessible outside of the art world and has an ability to be more accessible to different kinds of people. I never really thought that I was going to become a teacher. I actually got fired from my job and I sort of fell into this journey of becoming a teacher after that. But I think the fact that I do genuinely have an interest in helping people and now that I have become more established, I certainly want to help my students go further in their careers as something that is important to me. Not just to be only involved in my own progress. Because I do think that there is a long history of more established artists helping other artists get going. So that’s something I’m interested in.

Has teaching cracked up to be what you expected or had hoped it to be?

Its not what I expected in the sense of maybe encountering unexpected obstacles in terms of my own relationship in working in an institution. But I also think that something has been really surprising and nice about working at the art institute is that I have really genuinely encounter gifted and talented artists that I would have never thought to have come across while teaching, who in many way have served as colleagues and not just students, and that is something that has been unexpected and I have enjoyed. Also, I would never have expected that I would really be able to help people with their career and that is something that I think is starting to happen that I am really excited to see. I also think that every artist always has a battle with authority and rule following and so obviously being in an institution, it proposes this tension between wanting to feel a sense of autonomy, but then also having to acknowledge that you exist within the institution, so that dynamic is something that I would say has been challenging.

The way you talked about it, the relationship that you have been able to create with some students almost, at points, has served as a give and take?

Yea, I think there is that saying, when the student is ready, the teacher presents itself. Many times I think students think they are ready for education but they actually are not. So, there is this sort of truth to the idea that both parties have to be open and receptive to one another to have a good conversation of learning to take place.

Why SAIC for you? Is it a direct correlation to you having done your graduate work there?

No, not really actually. I think the School of the Art Institute is a really wonderful place in the sense that is a real school where real artists come out of that are successful in the world and in the art world there is a long history of artists coming out of this school that really do have life long careers. I hope to be a part of that history , but I also feel like this school genuinely has real dedicated artists present, and that is something that has always kept me wanting to stay, is that it is a real honor to be able to work with people that are genuinely invested in what you are doing as well. And I think the school really does foster and encourage that kind of atmosphere and exchange.

Do you feel like the teaching aspect directly informing your practice and the art you make?

I would say my art practice informs my teaching, I don’t know if my teaching informs my art practice. I think that the things that I value and I really identity as being important for my art practice I try to incorporate in the way that I teach and instruct those things to my students. Because I think often times teachers have a disconnect from what they do and what they teach. For me it has to be a genuine reflection of what is going on in my world to effectively translate that to a student. I also feel that I prefer to be in the trenches. I really want to be a part of the making process. As in with my students its really important to be involved and allow myself to show my own vulnerabilities to my students as a show of respect. But that is also why I am a big advocate in making art while I’m teaching as a way to demonstrate that I am willing to fail along with the. So, that certainly fits into my teaching philosophy.

I’m thinking of when I saw a piece of yours break a few weeks ago from falling off of a shelf. When you think of being at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and then being in Chicago, do you think it’s a good place for an emerging artist to be?

I think it’s really important to go to grad school where you want to be in the art world and the art community after that. I think Chicago is a really good place to be if you are a working artist. And there are a lot of really talented working artists here. I think there is always this tension of feeling the need to be in New York or LA to be successful. But over the last ten years I think that New York has become a place that isn’t necessarily a place for an emerging artist. And I think that Chicago has really come to the foreground because it is still a place where you can afford to live and work. And those two things make a good place to emerge out of, definitely.

What’s coming up in your future?

I am having my first career survey open at the Museum of the Contemporary Art of Chicago in January 2014. With my first monograph catalog accompanying that.

Ben DeMott Lecture


This was the first faculty search presentation I have attended, and I could feel the anxiety and judgement in the room with so much riding on this lecture. Ben DeMott is one of three candidates for a full-time faculty position in the ceramics department. He outlined his approach to his own art practice as well as numerous artist influences and ways of working. ‘Making as Thinking’ was a central theme, as well as the relationship between ‘Theory and Praxis’.

 Ben’s recent work with extruded porcelain is incredibly intricate and he embraces the delicate material’s fragmentation and tendency to slump and morph in the kiln. I was intrigued by the strong relationship between his drawings and sculptures and how the mixture of marks can cohabitate to create highly complicated systems.

 Let’s hope Ben is the one chosen after a jam-packed day of intense scrutiny – he’d make a valuable addition to the department.

Dianna Frid + Allison Wade: Turn of Phrase


It was quite a trek out to the Riverside Arts Center, but well worth the trip to hear Dianna Frid and Allison Wade talk.  I attended the closing reception which included a relaxed (bordering on intense) conversation between the artists fuelled by questions from the show’s guest curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm from the MCA.

I felt a little overwhelmed by the woman power in the room, with Joan Livingstone, Anne Wilson, Jessica Labatte, Judy Ledgerwood and Karen Reimer in attendance, and wouldn’t have switched seats with the panellists!

The tiny gallery spaces were completely packed so I wasn’t able to view much of the work in up close, but the polish of Allison’s carefully constructed and balanced pieces was refreshing and sat beautifully alongside Dianna’s woven text pieces and intriguing graphite wall installation.


Monika Baer at The Art Institute of Chicago

Highlight from Monika Baer’s show now up at AIC

Max Kozloff at The AIC


I recently dropped into the Max Kozloff show at the AIC to see the prolific writer’s own stab at art making.  The renowned writer, critic and previous executive editor of Artforum, became increasingly involved with the field of photography towards the late 1970s. The show delivers some eighty photographic works that help give shape to the critic’s early interests as a writer and thinker, and then moves into Kozloff’s personal attempts at image making.

Prior to the exhibition, I was well aware of Kozloff’s writing and folklore, but had never seen his photographs in the flesh.  The work, mildly interesting at times, seems to clearly reflect the familiar critic-turned-artist trajectory.  Which in turn, seems to speak to the show’s success, in a way.  The simple and logical layout, really does provide the viewer with a clear understanding of his developmental interests and steady march towards the camera.  There’s even a ‘reading room’ that separates a room full of work he’s written about and the designated space for his own imagery.

In all the work is slow, but the exhibition does effectively map out an important historical career through many of it’s iterations.

Max Kozloff: Critic and Photographer runs through January 5, 2014 at the AIC.



Inigo Manglano-Ovalle Lecture


The re-constructed iceberg at the AIC was the only piece of Inigo Manglano-Ovalle’s I was familiar withbefore going to the lecture at SAIC earlier last week.  Unfortunately, although the artist gave an extensive (and arguably too extensive) explanation of works spanning much of his career, I left the lecture restless and annoyed.  The opening video was an interesting way to begin the lecture and it set the tone of the following two hours–calm, repetitive, rhythmic.  I appreciated the bold beginning but as the lecture wore on, I became more and more distracted.  To be fair, the distraction was, in part, thanks to a man beside me who had fallen asleep not 10 minutes into the lecture, completely oblivious that his phone was playing soft country music.  Regardless, the lecture ran way too long, forcing the artist to rush through the last 3rd of his slides, before approaching the Q and A with the same long-winded attitude.

Although I was not fortunateto have a studio visit with Inigo, I heard that he was quite generous with his time and offered some helpful insights to the work.  I only wish that I could have left his lecture with a similar feeling of appreciation.

Retaining Enthusiasm as an MFA

Whenever I talk with my non-MFA student artist friends, I’m struck by their genuine excitement and optimism about art making and the art world as a whole.  There seems to be an intensity to the total emersion/seclusion as a grad student which has the potential to encourage a cynicism not-so-helpful in the studio.  Reflecting on close to five semesters in an MFA environment, I would like to offer advice on retaining a sincere enthusiasm in the studio:

1. Get out of Chicago at least once per semester, if possible.  And not just to go home for Christmas, but to experience  another city’s art scene.  Obviously, Chicago has plenty of venues for art viewing, but, like any city, it has its aesthetic trends and preferences.  It is important to remind yourself that the art world expands beyond Chicago.  If you don’t feel you fit into the chi-town aesthetic, it is easy to feel slightly alienated.  Go out of your way to expose yourself to other scenes as a way to both widen your perspective and feel out where you may want to end up after grad school.

2. Limit your negative conversations.  There are always complainers in the group.  Although it is important to be critical of your program, its easy to get worn down by negativity which can be toxic in the studio.  Gossip runs ramped in grad school.  Try not to get involved.  Negativity is contagious.

3. Nurture relationships outside of school.  They will offer fresh perspectives not influenced by the attitudes of your tight-knit studio community.  I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to eliminating all normal social needs outside of school, but a balance is vital.  They will keep you from veering too far from reality, and might even be able to verbalize things about your work without talking in crit-speak.

4. Excitement about your work comes in cycles.  When one of those moments comes, when you find it impossible to sit still because you are so excited about an idea, record your enthusiasm on paper.  When you cycle back into uncertainty, the writing will help to balance out your frustrations.

It is a certain type of person who thrives in an MFA program, but, at its roots, I assume every practicing artist has a genuine love and interest for art making.  Clearly, there’s the imparative and often grueling critical side to balance out the joy of making, but the MFA experience should not stifle the 2nd part of the equation. It is a significant privilege to be an art student and enjoyment should not be dismissed.

Chicago Contingent in the 2014 Whitney Biennial



The artist list for the 2014 Whitney Biennial was recently released, and it’s home to an exciting group of Chicago’s own:

Dawoud Bey
Elijah Burgher
Joseph Grigely
Philip Hanson
Doug Ischar
Carol Jackson
Tony Lewis
taisha paggett
Public Collectors
Steve Reinke with Jessie Mott
Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan
Tony Tasset
Pedro Vélez
Molly Zuckerman-Hartung

A warm congratulations to all!

A complete list of the 2014 artists can be found HERE