Building the Collection: Student Acquisition Proposals

In addition to being the curator of the OSU Art Collection, I teach American, modern, and contemporary art history. I generally create my syllabi at least six months in advance, so it was a coincidence that I asked my Art Since 1960 students to propose acquisitions to the OSUMA Acquisitions Committee just as I started having conversations with our Arts Advisory Council about how we might create a purposeful collecting program for the Museum.

The students’ assignment was to propose objects to their classmates, who then voted for their three favorite proposals. These three were presented to the Acquisitions Committee at their meeting last Friday. I warned the students that although I gave them a hypothetical budget of $1000, they shouldn’t expect the Committee actually to purchase any of the works, as I had created the assignment without their knowledge and our acquisition budget is essentially non-existent. This week’s post showcases the three winning proposals.

Jessica Tankersly, “Twitter Heart,” mixed media, 2011. From the artist: “Twitter Heart is an electronic sculpture that moves based on a live Twitter search for the word heart. As long as the search finds current tweets containing the word heart, the sculpture moves. If the search comes up empty because no one is tweeting the word heart the sculpture stops moving. The average amount of new tweets per minute containing the word heart is approximately 225. A monitor attached to the sculpture displays incoming/live tweets containing the word heart."

Our first-place proposal was by Amy Sawyer (currently also an OSUMA intern). She proposed a new media/installation sculpture by Jessica Tankersly, entitled Twitter Heart, from 2011. The piece was featured in the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition’s “Momentum” exhibition in Tulsa, also in 2011, and is 14 feet long, 8 feet tall, and two feet wide.

Tankersly, "Twitter Heart," detail.

In her proposal, Amy connects Twitter Heart to the kinetic art of Dale McKinney, in the OSUMA collection. “The progressive design and reference to the conversation of modern and contemporary art are bridged between McKinney and Tankersly. While McKinney’s sculptures represent the emergence of science and design in art, Tankersly approaches the next mode of science and design through computer programing and robotics.” Pointing out the significance of Tankersly’s sculpture to current and future students, as well as its appeal, Amy notes that,

Twitter Heart examines the expression and connection with us and the internet through an organic form and comments on the natural evolution of things. The acquisition of Twitter Heart to the permanent collection of OSU’s Museum would be one that would continue to instigate dialogue amongst its viewer’s of remarkable insight of our continued relationship to technology and the world around us.

Our second-place proposal was by Sarah Larson, and was for a work by Lawrence Yang (see image above) that is strikingly different from Tankersly’s sculpture. Its placement in the voting results thus reflects the breadth of students’ interests; it also makes evident the thought they gave to the voting process. Larson writes of Yang’s painting:

Lawrence Yang, “Quake,” ink, watercolor and gouache on paper. 7 x 7”, image courtesy of the artist’s website, suckatlife.com. Click image for website.

Yang is influenced by both graffiti and traditional Chinese painting. The fact that he takes concepts from traditional Chinese painting and uses them in contemporary work makes his work culturally significant. This work is the best possible example of the artist’s practice within our budget because it shows the free design he created with the three mediums, and how he can control all three. Even though the painting is only 7” x 7” and looks simple, the simplicity of the work is really what makes it stand out.

Our third-place proposal wasn’t actually for a specific work of art. Instead, student Cameron Bergeron proposed ways in which we might get a street artist to work in Stillwater.

Time-lapse video of Yatika Starr Fields painting “Something Cosmic” during the Inside/Outside live painting event at Lovetts Gallery, 2010.

Citing work as diverse as that of Banksy, Morley, and Julian Beever, Cameron writes that:

Over the last few decades, street art has been a growing concentration for young artists. With commissions from museums, civic authorities, private collectors, and patrons, its legitimacy as a form of art is hard to question. What was once considered a scourge of the urban landscape has now become associated with its renewal, and what was once associated with low-income crime has become an outlet for social commentary.

Cameron suggests three options: commissioning a work from a recognized artist (Yatika Starr Fields, from Oklahoma and active in New York City); commissioning a work from a graduating senior as part of their capstone exhibition; and making it a project that involved the production of several works by student groups. Cameron’s favorite option is the last one.

I was pleasantly surprised by several aspects of this assignment. First, the seriousness with which students took it: they were thoughtful about how the OSU Art Collection might better reflect their needs and interests as well as how it might be enriched in an absolute sense. Second, I was surprised by the unanimity of the students about which proposals stood out. The number one proposal received twice as many votes as the next most popular, and a group of five received the majority of the rest of the votes. And lastly, I was pleased to see that the third-place result closely paralleled a proposal I’m in the process of writing for an artist’s residency at the OSUMA!

Know Hope, “Bound by the ties of paper cup phones (side 2),” carboard, rice paper, ink and candle, 2007. Click on the image to see more work from this series.

As we plan programming for the Postal Plaza, it is important to me that we maintain a strong connection between the Gardiner Gallery—the Museum’s on-campus exhibition venue in the heart of the Art Department—and the downtown galleries. One idea I’ve had to do that, which I’m currently writing up as a proposal to the university administration, is for an annual artist residency that includes a show of the artist’s work at the Postal Plaza, a 2-week workshop with students, and an exhibition in the Gardiner Gallery of a collaborative project completed in that workshop. One of the first artists I’d like to invite is the Israeli street artist Know Hope, whose work I first encountered in a gallery in London. Know Hope’s work uses everyday objects like cardboard and candles to create ephemeral paths through the urban environment. These paths speak to community and connection—as apt a message for Stillwater and the OSUMA as it has been for the artist’s many other venues around the world.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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