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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