deFINE ART 2015 honoree Xu Bing returns to SCAD


Savannah College of Art and Design honoree, Chinese artist Xu Bing, first visited SCAD ten years ago, well before the existence of SCAD Museum of Art, where his exhibition, “Things Are Not What They First Appear,” is showing through July 3. Then as now, the MacArthur Fellow and U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts recipient invigorated this community of emerging artists with his lecture and work. Bing’s 2015 deFINE ART keynote, in which he chronicled his most recent exhibitions, was as transparent as his series, “Background Story.” In his interview with SCAD shone through a personal mission, which Bing also shared in his keynote address: to use his exhibitions to further art education, now matter where his work takes him. Here are excerpts of our conversation with him, conducted with the assistance of his student interpreter at SCAD's Magnolia Hall.

SCAD: Our students enthusiastically lined up to see your gallery tour at deFINE ART, snapping photos and no doubt posting them to their social networks. As a recent adopter of Instagram, what do you think of social media as a platform for sharing artistic works?

Xu Bing: I am always slow in this technology. I’m very late compared to others to use social media tools, even in China. I don’t use it a lot because I feel that nowadays social media provides people with too much information, and you are kind of just torn into too many pieces. You kind of lose yourself to it. Meanwhile, it is very valuable because it has changed people’s every day life. As you said, it reflects what young people like and that can be the future of the world. We recently started to use Instagram because we recognize its power as a tool. 

S: Seen at SCAD MOA, the diversity in your practice is particularly striking because of the close proximity of the works that comprise, “Things Are Not What They First Appear.” Do you advise students to have a multi-disciplinary practice?

XB: I would tell them, please don’t focus only on the forms of art, the styles of art or what media you’re going to use, because all those forms are already fixed, they can hardly be used to address contemporary problems or situations. So if you only limit your thinking or creation to what style you’re going to use, or what category you’re going to put your art into, then you can hardly be a successful artist.

S: Is there any one message that you most want artists and students of art to take away from your keynote address?

XB: I want to show my appreciation for SCAD. I’m honored to be here to get this award. I want students to takeaway that there are so many choices in contemporary art now, so please stick to what you really want. There is one experience of mine I really want to share.

I feel like everyone has his or her own strengths or limitations. The question is how you adapt your limitation into something that only you have and try to make the full use out of it. - Xu Bing

S: Sometimes we can’t make sense of our immediate surroundings until an outsider comes and puts them in perspective. What was the reaction in Durham when “Tobacco Project” opened there? How did it differ from the reaction in Shanghai and Savannah?

XB: I didn’t realize a difference in the audience feedback, however, I felt one thing really intensely and that is that people feel so connected to tobacco’s history and they felt very strong feelings about that connection. Through this piece of art they kind of reflect on their own history and their working situation. For example, a lot of people have a very close family relationship, memory or even personal memory of it. Also, through this piece they have a new understanding about art. Because these materials have nothing to do with art, after the show they start to see that these materials can be art and have artistic meanings. So they come up to a level where they realize a relationship between art and life, which is hardly something they recognized before.

S: What is your reaction to SCAD MOA, which embodies the same principles of adaptive reuse that infuse your work?

XB: I feel strongly that students really love this environment. For the students and other audiences, SCAD MOA has a strong connection to outdoor spaces, which helps them to share and enjoy art. This should be attributed to the architect who made the original designs, which preserve the original parts of the building. For example, the renovation of the out building creates spaces that are very special. The Poetter Gallery actually benefits contemporary artists who work there because it’s not easy to use. They need to figure out innovative ways to present their art. That’s how they’ll take further steps to develop their art.

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In honor of Fashion Week: career advice from Oscar de la Renta


The debut of Peter Copping’s first collection as creative director of Oscar de la Renta at New York Fashion Week reminds us of the designer’s timeless advice to students of the industry. During his 2001 visit to Savannah College of Art and Design to accept the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award, Mr. de la Renta emphasized the importance of fresh ideas. Hear what he shared below and see his philosophy embodied in the exhibition Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style now through May 3 at SCAD Musuem of Art.

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The world of Oscar de la Renta opens to admirers at SCAD Museum of Art


Savannah College of Art and Design opened André Leon Talley’s Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style (Feb. 5 – May 3) with a celebratory preview at SCAD Museum of Art. The fifty gowns, chosen by Talley for the first posthumous show to honor the designer, were the most illustrious VIPs in attendance. The dresses, loaned by Mr. de la Renta’s friends and clients, such as Taylor Swift, Sarah Jessica Parker and First Lady Laura Bush, were poised to show what all know about the designer’s pivotal contributions to the world of fashion:

Oscar de la Renta designed clothes for women who wanted to look and feel beautiful, at their most elegant best. -André Leon Talley  

It’s no wonder, then, that the garments seem to come alive under the gaze of their entranced admirers, and to interact with them in the way that any dignified and gracious woman would.



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The students of Oscar de la Renta


Legacy can be tangible and intangible. In the case of Oscar de la Renta, it is both, and it is flourishing in a place where young designers begin their careers.

During his 2001 visit to Savannah College of Art and Design’s fashion show to accept the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award, the designer shared this wisdom for breaking into the industry based on his own start with Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Everyone should seek the opportunity to go somewhere they can work and observe how it happens. - Oscar de la Renta

This is the story of how two industry hopefuls are living that advice and what they learned from hands on experience in Mr. de la Renta’s studio.

A prom dress and a purpose
Nikki Kaia Lee first encountered the tangible aspect of Mr. de la Renta’s legacy as a 14-year-old girl: a beautiful dress the designer chose just for her. This rare gift, which she later wore to prom, was a momento from a special day spent with him in New York. SCAD graduates, whom Nikki met through her mother, a SCAD architecture professor, conspired to bring her to New York as a distraction from cancer treatments. The dream trip grew, and soon insiders like WWD’s Bridget Foley were opening doors to opportunities such as lunch with Mr. de la Renta in his studio. 

I was just this girl from Georgia, but to him it didn’t matter where you come from. He treated everyone with such dignity and respect. - Nikki Kaia Lee

Nikki, now 20 and a junior at SCAD double majoring in fashion design and fibers, learned her first lessons from this dress, fitted for her right there in Mr. de la Renta’s atelier. Its lines, the slight variation in color, the way it made her feel. Her cancer long in remission, Nikki has spent the last four summers as a design intern for Oscar de la Renta in New York. Working in all areas of the studio – including stints with design assistants, in the atelier, and with the embellishment designer – has informed Nikki’s design approach and moved her to pursue a career in textiles. 

What I took from Oscar’s work was how he formed space around the garment. A lot of his garments, especially eveningwear, were like sculptures. -Nikki Kaia Lee

Needless to say, she eagerly awaits the opening of the exhibition, Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style at SCAD Museum of Art.

I think people have a preconceived notion about fashion. They think it’s frivolous. But I think that when people see his work in person they will truly understand why it can be an art form. - Nikki Kaia Lee

Thanks to the diligence of her fellow fashion student Sloane Mayberry, who is assisting SCAD Trustee André Leon Talley with the exhibition and corresponding catalogue, the public will have this opportunity.

Young hands help surface Oscar de la Renta classics

This summer, Nikki ran into Sloane in the elevators at Oscar de la Renta. Unbeknownst to her, Sloane was a merchandising and buying intern there. Organizing garments, assigning style numbers, and collecting sketches for the ODLR Spring 2015 fashion show put Sloane’s studies in perspective and conditioned her for the rigorous process of bringing the ODLR exhibit to SCAD MOA.

Learning of her internship at the designer's study and with his archive, Mr. Talley tapped Sloane to work on the exhibition. If her long days in New York didn't drive it home, then her apprenticeship on the exhibition did: fashion may be a glamorous, but it is also arduous. As Mr. Talley told her, “Put your gloves on and get to work.” And she did by taking possession of rarely seen couture gowns belonging to Mr. de la Renta’s wife, assisting with the exhibition’s layout and fitting mannequins to Mr. Talley’s specifications.

This project is like a class in itself. I am learning more than I ever thought I possibly could at such a young age, and in such a short amount of time. - Sloane Mayberry

Pouring over lookbooks and canvassing eBay and Google for custom gowns quickly paid off. Sloane’s trained eye prevented a photo of the wrong white jacket, worn by Laura Bush for the 2005 presidential inauguration, from making it into the exhibition. “It’s the pockets,” she observed. They were square.”

Messrs. de la Renta and Talley have taken Sloane a long way away from being that high school student who didn’t know anyone who attended art school. Now her education, reinforced by proximity to fashion legends, has raised her expectations for her career.

I think my exposure to such influential figures in fashion has changed my career path exponentially. This is the best education for what I want to do. - Sloane Mayberry

Along with the exhibition, these students, two paths indelibly changed, would certainly make Mr. de la Renta proud.

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A museum’s worth: artists’ perspectives on SCAD Museum of Art


This week, Savannah College of Art and Design brings home three honors from the American Institute of Architects convention: the AIA Young Architect’s Award, the AIA Fellowship for Emerging Leaders and the 2014 AIA National Honor Award for Architecture for the SCAD Museum of Art. The mission of the latter is to ‘establish a standard of excellence against which all architects can measure performance, and inform the public of the breadth and value of architecture practice.’

But what do artists think? Here, Kehinde Wiley, Liza Lou, Stephen Antonakos, Alfredo Jaar, Rosemarie Fiore and Trenton Doyle Hancock lend an artist’s perspective on the value of SCAD Museum of Art. They join the ranks of exhibiting artists like Jason Middlebrook, Fred Wilson and Nicola López who have responded to SCAD Museum of Art's distinctiveness by creating site-specific installations for the museum.

Congratulations, SCAD Museum of Art, for successfully connecting past and present, emerging artists with established artists, in both form and substance, and for being a magnet the draws the world in to contemplate the transformative power of art and design.

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Architecture: a return to art is the way forward


What would it look like if architects were allowed to be artists again; as comfortable in the manual and intuitive realms of drawing, painting and sculpture as with parametric modeling and digital imaging? What if we were to reject the limitations of product-driven, systematic design and production and re-engage the full range of tools innately available and refined over the course of millennia?

Watercolor by Christian Sottile.

The evolution from humanities to technology
Once considered to be among the principal arts, Architecture has passed through a technological revolution over the course of a century, moving from the art based approach of the famed French academy, the École des Beaux-Arts, to the functional dictums and objectivism of the German Bauhaus that would forever alter the course of design and education.

This revolution in education culminated during the digital era. Both the product and process of design entered the last phases of a radical transformation, unmoored from centuries of humanistic origins. Its success proved the potential of something distinctly other, with little emphasis on anthropomorphic, geographic or cultural connection; thereby embracing the full, expansive possibilities of the virtual and the synthetic. This last stage of the revolution has now passed its third decade, and we have grown increasingly detached from humanistic concerns.

An opportunity within reach
Firmly planted as we are in the digital era, the opportunity exists to reconsider the practices that preceded the revolution, to rescue tools that may have been set aside too quickly; tools that will prove essential in charting a way forward for architecture and design. What was jettisoned in the exuberance and upheaval of unprecedented technological innovation is the elusive quality that allows our buildings to speak to us: their humanity - evident and embedded in the pursuit of beauty and the art of making.

Today, this places the architecture profession at an extraordinary moment in history, an era in which we may now synthesize the best of the past with the victories of the digital revolution to embrace a truly hybridized future. It’s not the tired old debate between the École des Beaux Arts, a school of art, or the Bauhaus, a school of building, but rather a ‘BeauxHaus,’ a School of Building Arts.

Activating a fresh approach
At Savannah College of Art and Design, this approach to architecture is reflected in the SCAD Museum of Art. Built in 2010, SCAD MOA embodies what has long been taught in the SCAD School of Building Arts: the dissolution of boundaries between design disciplines. The museum is a place where the highest ideals of urban design, architecture, interior design, architectural history, historic preservation and furniture design all find distinct yet integrated expression.

SCAD Museum of Art: a case study
So how would a renewed emphasis on the tactile art of making - on the real - change the design process and the built environment?

Returning to SCAD MOA as a case study, at its core, the museum is a testimonial to synthesis, created using a design process that included the full spectrum of available tools and methods, from digital modeling and BIM, to physical model making, in situ mock-ups, sketching, painting, and digital collage. It’s a building brought about through a construction process that included full scale enlargements of hand-drawn details to create field templates; that included prefabricated modular building envelope components, integrated with local craftsman, practicing the most ancient of building trades, hand-crafting the building using the human hand and eye as their primary tools.

The confluence of disciplines embodied by SCAD MOA makes it one emblem for a new order of design that will allow architects to create the next generation of cities, to reject the soulless, placeless design strategies that characterized city centers created or recreated in the latter half of the 20th century; that will empower architects instead to create new places that come alive with a synthesis of art, humanism and delight, as well as technology and innovation.

This is the way forward.

Christian Sottile (M.Arch., 1997) is the dean of the School of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design where he oversees programs in architecture, urban design, interior design, historic preservation, furniture design and architectural history. He is also design principal of Sottile & Sottile and the design architect for the SCAD Museum of Art.

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Inside the mind of Theaster Gates


Award-winning artist Theaster Gates began his lecture “An Analog but Very Important Conversation” with a slow, soulful prayer, which he sang, his rich voice filling the crevices of the packed theater at SCAD Museum of Art.


Then, playing Nina Simone’s "To Be Young Gifted and Black" on vinyl from a turn table on the desk from where he spoke, Theaster turned his pulpit into a parlor, inviting the audience into his perspective on space, race and art. He punctuated his narrative about salvaging the interiors of Crispus Attucks Elmentary School in Chicago – where he is implementing a philosophy of radical urban revitalization - with an image of his work, "A Maimed King."

I'm not mad at the museum. It just won't do more than it can do. I'm not mad at the 'hood. I just expect more from my 'hood.

Of the crumpled image of the civil rights icon caught in a lock, Theaster explained that he wanted to preserve this "mutilated" depiction of “the King” just as he’d found it. He recalled shooing away his assistant who dutifully went to wipe away the thick layer of dust coating the glass and frame because, to him, all of it symbolized an ideal trapped, half-realized, then abandoned. A metaphor for the reality facing black schools in Chicago.

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Jason Middlebrook defies gravity at deFINE ART


The recyled materials artist Jason Middlebrook employed to bring his site-specific installation Submerged to SCAD Museum of Art - lumber salvaged by Southern Pine Company - remind him of his childhood home of Northern California, where majestic Redwoods soar. As high as those mega trees stand hangs the centerpiece of Submerged. Contrary to the exhibition’s title, though, Jason’s spectacular chandelier is the first piece to be hoisted up into the museum’s signature 86-foot tall steel and glass tower. Giving the historic lumber such a prominent position in the tower that’s been described as a beacon of Savannah was Jason’s precise intention.

To construct his chandelier, Jason will fasten the tips of lumber, weighing between 20 and 50 pounds each, to steel rings using heavy-duty flathead screws.

Thread: What’s the story behind the reclaimed lumber?

Jason Middlebrook: For 200 years these logs were in the Savannah River and the points of these logs were made and driven down into the river to build all the pier system that basically built Savannah. So I saw the logs, but first I saw these points. I was like these are so cool and they have this incredible history to this city

T: How did SCAD MOA and the tower itself inspire you? What made you think chandelier?

JM: Well the verticality of it, the light, the fact that nothing had ever been hung in there. It’s a brand new museum. I love that it’s the maximum height of anything that can be built in Savannah. It just cried out for an object that has a functional intention, and then when I saw the points I went home and I started drawing. I actually drew a chandelier here in my hotel in Savannah. I started looking at chandeliers and they’re tear drop in shape.

T: Tell me how you preparred the wooden tips for the sculpture and your use of color.

JM: We tape the wood off and then we seal the tape with a matte medium and then we do three coats of color. We have really uneven surface so Frances Russell (B.F.A., fibers, senior) and Anna (Jason's assistant) have been helping to clean up the edges for me because I want them to be crisp because the material is so rough in its manner. When you see the planks the color will make more sense because they’re really vibrant and this color is more understated. I only painted 24 and there are 55 of these points in the chandelier.

JM: The colors were designed to reinforce the planks and my palate. So there’s a lot of primary color, a lot of engaged color and it’s really just accents. I like color. I think color contextualized it in a contemporary art sort of way and it allows the viewer to engage in it more than just found wood. It starts to have a dialogue when you add some color. Even the black and white planks will feel engaged.

T: Someone told me that this is the first time you’ve painted both sides of the planks. Why just one side, previously?

JM: Well, for years they’ve just leaned. They occupy a space that's both sculptural and painting. This gives me a chance to treat them like Calder-esque…they’ll be like mobiles in the way that they’re suspended.

Untitled Painted Plank 4 by Jason Middlebrook. Jason will hang five cypress planks in the lobby of SCAD MOA to complement his chandelier.

T: What’s your advice for new artists who want to work with natural materials or found objects?

JM: I think the thing is to be super conscientious with everything, like place, site, material, history. Really think about where the materials came from and what that signifies. And be thoughtful about your decisions before you go head first, before you rip up a tree or cut down a tree. Think about, “Oh, this piece of furniture is broken. Maybe it can be fixed and circulated back into the community.”

T: Does deFine Art (Feb. 18-21) represent a unique opportunity for you?

JM: The best part is that the museum is trying to create a spectacle this week. That’s kind of how art works. That’s the art fair model. If you build it they will come. I think it’s a really good model because people won’t go somewhere unless…it’s like a P.T. Barnum thing. You gotta do a "thing" for people to come.

T: Especially in this age of over the top entertainment.

JM: Yeah, and this way they’re like, “We’re going to put all of our eggs in one basket for one week. And then we’ll get some energy and then learn from it, and next year it will be better or different." I love being a part of those things because there’s energy.

See Submerged at SCAD MOA from Feb. 18 - Aug. 3, 2014. The fifth edition of SCAD deFine Art runs Feb. 18 - 21 in Savannah, Atlanta and Hong Kong.


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