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posted by CAA — Nov 18, 2010

October SECAC/MACAA and Arts Education Conferences

Cover of the SECAC-MACAA conference program

It is a perennial pleasure to return to my native South for the Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC). This year’s meeting, held in scenic Richmond, Virginia, was a joint venture with the Mid America College Art Association (MACAA), both CAA affiliated societies. Hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the conference took place October 20–23, 2010, in the beautiful Jefferson Hotel, a Beaux Arts masterpiece operating since 1895.

With his VCU colleagues, the artist, printmaking teacher, and freelance art critic Andrew Kozlowski cleverly branded the conference with the title “Curiouser: Where Cerebellum Meets Antebellum,” and planned some very sexy aesthetics and materials to go along. Sessions featured—if you can believe it—representations of the penis in modern and postmodern culture among familiar discussions on curriculum development and connections between memory and art.

On Thursday evening, after the first day of sessions from artists, historians, and curators, we were treated to the genius that is Pablo Helguera, who delivered the keynote address. Born in Mexico City, Helguera is a New York–based artist working with installation, sculpture, photography, drawing, and performance. His focus on a variety of topics such as history, pedagogy, sociolinguistics, ethnography, memory and the absurd takes the form of lecture, museum display, musical performance, and written fiction—tailored made for a memorable public speech. Helguera, who is also director of adult education programs at the Museum of Modern Art, sagely pointed out that he has spent many an evening sitting in the back of a darkened auditorium listening to people bloviate on all manner of topics. Through a performance that reflected on the act of performing that is any lecture, Helguera teased insight from the five elements of classical oration, culminating in a cacophonous delivery of a talk presented in alternating voices for four different hypothetical audiences: postmodernists and theorists (defined as people who read October), art-world insiders, arts administrators and educators, and the Facebook generation. His take was an incisive remonstrance of the expectations we carry to these types of events, and he exploded the notion that an art-history conference should be serious, dry, humorless, and devoid of careful calibration of character.

Following Helguera was a reception for the annual members’ juried exhibition held at 1708 Gallery. Founded in 1978, this artist-run alt space plays a leading role in connecting Richmond’s diverse community with the work of exceptional, innovative artists from Virginia and beyond. With fifty-six participants, the show was packed with work in every medium imaginable. Congratulations to these three CAA members for receiving top honors from Joe Seipel, the curator and juror: photographers Antonio Martinez of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Allyson Klutenkamper of Shawnee State University, and the painter Matthew Kolodziej of the University of Akron.

Philip Reinagle, Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog, 1805, oil on canvas, 18¼ by 36½ in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (artwork in the public domain; photograph by Ron Jennings)

On Friday the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts hosted a reception for SECAC and MACAA. Newly reopened after a $150-million expansion that boosted gallery space nearly 50 percent, the museum is perhaps best known for its stunning collection of Art Nouveau masterpieces, where I found this bed that, to me, looked more like a set piece from Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Boogie Nights than a product of French modernism. Amongst wings of amazing Faberge cloisonné, French drawings, and superb holdings in modern and contemporary American art, I most enjoyed the rooms of British sporting art. Donated by Paul Mellon, who was also the establishing patron of the Yale Center for British Art, this profuse collection of painting and sculpture is the largest display of horses, dogs, pheasants, and guns that I’ve ever seen all in one place.

A street arts festival on Friday called “InLight Richmond,” organized by the folks at 1708 Gallery, was a really fun way to get us out-of-towners to Shockoe Bottom, a major nightlife and dining district. On my way back to the hotel, I walked past the Virginia State Capitol. An incredibly ghostly lighting design courtesy of a major restoration project rendered the building a spectral vision in white, glowing, nearly pulsing, with the principles of the Enlightenment. This was a particularly arresting, inspiring experience to have within a fortnight of an important midterm election.

But really, SECAC is such a wonderful affair each year. As a three time attendee, I’m not sure if it’s because Rachel Frew, the central nervous system of the conference, is so freaking awesome, or if it’s because the month of October in any Southeastern state is so beautiful, or if it’s because I can gorge myself on fried green tomatoes and Hoppin’ John. One thing I know for sure is that I am consistently amazed by the quality of scholarship and camaraderie of experience at this particular conference. Start planning now for the next one, “Text/Texture,” hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design, November 9–12, 2011.

A couple of days later, back in New York, I attended the twenty-fourth annual National Conference on Liberal Arts and the Education of Artists, organized by the Humanities and Sciences Department of the School of Visual Arts. The event provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the role of the liberal arts in the education of artists, and this year’s theme was “Green, Greener, Greenest: Romancing Nature Again.” Taking place October 27–29, 2010, the conference is truly impressive for its interdisciplinarity. The first session I attended, on the topic of “Nature Study and Interdisciplinary Learning,” included papers by a biologist, a mathematician, an art professor, and a director of student outcomes, and I ate lunch with a journalism professor who presented a body of research on the visualization of the “truly American” landscape vis-à-vis illustrated editorial spreads in early Life magazines. One panel asked if we can pique people’s moral and ethical responsibilities to the environment by heightening aesthetic appreciation through depiction in art. Another session explored the dual metaphor of nature as both sublime and accessible through literature, Hindu myth, and Gerhard Richter’s paintings based on photos.

“Green, Greener, Greenest” was an intimate gathering presided over by the dark-cherry interior of the Algonquin Hotel, and as such our conversations could have a personal, more lasting effect. Each year the organizers seek proposals on diverse topics relating to an annual theme and on other interdisciplinary issues. Check out the conference history or contact the conference director, Maryhelen Hendricks, for more information on presenting and attending.

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