Announcing the OVAC Fellowship & Student Awards: Curatorial Statement
May 9, 2014
Art is a notoriously nebulous activity. Success is a continuum that ebbs and flows and has few distinct points that one can point to that yes, this is working and worth it. Through its Annual Fellowships and Student Awards, OVAC offers something necessary to the lives of artists: a reminder that one’s practice is public, valuable and noticed. Money is nice, although most of it will go back to Home Depot, web hosting, student loans or any number of other practical needs of studio and extra-studio work. The true value is the conversation with and around one’s work that organizations like OVAC provide.
With that, I am happy to present the 2014 Fellowships to Zachary Presley and Denny Schmickle and the Student Awards to Randall Barnes and Megan Hughes. I want to congratulate the four awardees for making exceptional work and experimenting for themselves first and the rest of us next.
Zachary Presley’s work stood out immediately as thoughtful, fully formed, insightful and incisive. The Atomic Indian Corporation: Educational Tools and Mishistories hits on all the right notes by not only investigating his own conflicted history and the commercialization and objectification of Native Americans, but the commercialization and objectification of Americans more generally. Our America often reads like a series of Chinese trinkets and Presley is expressing it as interestingly as any artist at the moment.
Denny Schmickle likewise experiments with the lines between art object and commercial object and the malleability of both ideas and form. Decorative and conceptual, his work is visually seductive – easy to digest, yet complex in its mutable media and symbolic world. Standout work such as Blood Borne, whose dense and delicate patterning is revealed as interlocking mosquito legs suggestive of a recent West Nile outbreak, is indicative of his socially-aware, playful practice that builds into a distinctive language.
The Student Awardees, Randall Barnes and Megan Hughes, stood out due to their openness to risk and experimentation. Each of these artists embrace their own voice, carving out a distinctive aesthetic developed out of focused interests. Barnes’s inclusion of his work as a graffiti removal worker added a performative, public aspect to his practice that complicated and deepened his studio work. This interdisciplinary aspect lends prismatic meanings to work that is influenced by hip hop and its relationship to kung fu. Hughes likewise introduces performativity into her studio practice through the use of malleable materials such as chocolate and wax that melt, distort, and transform over time. Her work has a distinct lifespan, understanding how that limitation can make something ultimately more lasting.
That said, I want to offer a second statement to those not awarded: these decisions are a distillation of my own interests and concerns, mediated through a screen and at a distance from your studio. I read through, absorbed and contended with each application; some weren’t compelling to me personally, but many were. I hope you believe in your work enough to disagree with my decision. Push your boundaries and prove me wrong; create something that will last past an award season, press cycle and any one curator’s abbreviated gaze. An artist in her studio is more valuable than an award.
Each year, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition gives two awards of $5,000 each to individual artists. Additionally, two $500 Student Awards of Excellence are given. These awards are intended to reward qualified artists with outstanding vision and are chosen by a guest curator from applications submitted by the artists.Learn more here.
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