August 31, 2012
Huffpost Detroit, 08/31/2012
John Corso


Huffpost Detroit, 08/31/2012
John Corso

On life support since its public and private funding dried up, the DIA has been waiting for an economic transfusion for years. The recent millage approved by voters in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties gives the Museum a new lease on life. I can't help but think that Beverly Fishman's Pill Spill, a glass installation that has been on view since July 11, anticipated the Institute's now hopeful prognosis.

Visitors have flooded the Museum since it waived the entrance fee for Tri-County residents, and I expect that at least a few recent visitors have imagined a connection between Pill Spill and the DIA's miraculous recovery. Indeed, the millage is like a wonder drug that will save one of the city's most iconic buildings. But art lovers know that it's the art inside that heals the soul. Pill Spill makes the comparison between art and medicine explicit. But what does it mean to stage a "pharmacy" within a museum? As philosophers from Plato to Derrida attest, this is a much more difficult question than meets the eye.

The word pharmacy comes from a Greek word that has opposing meanings: it can mean medicine or drug, but it can also mean poison. Beverly Fishman must be aware of this irony. When visitors first look at her installation, they seem awestruck. It is brilliant, after all, and is as inviting as a large bowl of candy. But with a closer look, many readings become available. Is the artist, for example, arguing for "better living through chemistry?" Or, is she offering a critique of our drug-driven culture, in which Prozac nourishes our nation and Ritalin quiets our kids? Perhaps Fishman is getting more at the role of the artist. Is the artist like a pharmacist, dispensing a curative to the public, or is she more of a drug pusher, hooking us on decadent hallucinations? And if we choose to vilify the contemporary artist, as so many have done, are we just setting up a scapegoat for our own intolerance?

As they look even closer, visitors will notice that the glass pills are all empty, which raises another riddle. Where is the cure? Is it inside the capsule or outside? And by extension, does the source of art's meaning lie within or without? Does art's potency come from the art object itself or from the mind of the viewer? On many levels, Pill Spill raises some of the most unsolvable problems in the philosophy of art. For instance, each one of these glass pills is unique and handmade, but not by Fishman's hands. She worked closely with a master glassmaker, who realized her initial concept. Like conceptual art, Fishman's work brings up the debatable role originality plays in setting the value of art. (For me, it doesn't matter if the artist makes it herself or farms it out, just like it doesn't matter whether I take a brand name prescription or a generic copy -- they both work fine!)

We may never solve these conundrums, but one thing is certain: by passing the millage, we will all have the opportunity to keep Detroit's art conversations alive and well. Thoughtful discussion -- now that's medicine we really need.

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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