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Awakenings in Texas

Submitted on August 11, 2014 - 1:00am

The Nebula Project has supported a number of classes and events in the last two years. Among those is the spring quarter ART 590, Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar in Contemporary Practices, which all first-year MFA students attend. Scott Lawrimore, then Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions at the Frye Art Museum, taught this class in 2013 and 2014.

One goal for Lawrimore has been to introduce the students to exemplary non-traditional arts practices in the art worlds beyond Seattle through Field Studies. For the 2013 class, he took the group on a Field Study to Portland, Oregon, to meet with artists who extend their practice well beyond the studio and to tour examples of traditional and alternative art spaces. Given the success of the Portland trip, Lawrimore decided to step it up a notch for 2014 and secured additional private funding from local collectors and philanthropists John and Shari Behnke, which allowed for a trip to Texas. That state may not be an obvious choice for many people, but there is much more to the art world there than a cursory glance might suggest.

The trip began in San Antonio, where the twelve first-year MFA students met with representatives of Blue Star Contemporary, an alternative exhibition space and residency program; received a private tour of Artpace, one of the world’s most important artist-in-residency programs; and visited the newly-opened Space, a gallery dedicated to the private collection of arts philanthropist, Linda Pace (who also founded Artpace). They then drove the four hundred miles to Marfa, where the group spent three days touring and meeting representatives of the Chinati Foundation, the Judd Foundation, and Ballroom Marfa. The comprehensive, all-day private tours at the Chinati and Judd Foundations afforded the students a behind-the-scenes look at the home, studios, library, exhibition spaces, and private collection of Donald Judd as well as the permanently installed works of Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, John Chamberlain, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabokov, Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, and John Wesley. The trip also included studio visits with artists living and working in Marfa, tours of commercial galleries and the town’s great book store/gallery, in addition to requisite visits to every food truck in the city limits, Prada Marfa just outside of town, and the nearby McDonald Observatory for its popular Star Party. The return trip to San Antonio included a dip in the Amistad reservoir, which lies on the border of the USA and Mexico, a search for utopia (Utopia, TX), and a tour of the Alamo.

Lawrimore says this about the trip:

The purpose, from my perspective, was two-fold: first, it was an exercise in developing collegiality and relational capital between the students and with important arts professionals and organizations; second, it exposed the students to one of the most impressive examples of professional practice: Donald Judd’s admirable contribution to the region (if not the history of art), high bars for any student to aspire to.

It was personally and professionally one of the most gratifying experiences of my career. The students were grateful sponges, soaking in everything and actively engaged in all the dialogs this type of trip and art experience can provide. Suffice it to say that each and every one of them was changed in some way thanks to this exposure (I know I was).

The students benefited tremendously from the trip. Each wrote at least one thank you note to the organizers, supporters, or the people who they visited. Here are just a few quotes from those:

For me, it was perfect timing—exactly the relevant tangent at the right time. I enjoyed and greatly profited from our conversations about art, Art, Nature, History, and Culture. —Matt Allen

This trip has inspired, motivated me, and is exactly what I needed to push my work in the studio. —Morgan Mangiaruga

I am ever grateful for the learning opportunities the trip provided and excited to weave new artistic discoveries into my studio practice. Your generosity has enabled all of the UW MFA class of 2015 to better ourselves as artists and to find new appreciations for the life & work of Donald Judd (not to mention the beautiful natural surroundings of Texas). —Coley Mixan

The experience I had at Chinati was like no other tour of an art space I have ever experienced. It was so great to get to be with the site specific work in a place so devoted to that idea. —Sarah Norsworthy

The middle of nowhere, tiny town filled with what we could all hope to aspire to as artists, which is all our efforts paying off to do things our way! It was fascinating as a model of art and life… —Jon Paden

This excursion was perfectly timed, not only within my own art practice, but also amongst the 5+ days we had to make it work. My senses have been fully awakened against the West Texas desert backdrop. —Amanda Sweet

Even though he has a new role at the School of Art + Art History + Design as Director of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Lawrimore still plans to teach ART 590 in spring 2015. Ideas are percolating about where that group of students will go for their Field Study. Wherever it is, it will likely be a mind-opening experience.

return to October 2014 newsletter

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