First Person: Jongil Ma and Christopher Smith

By Breyanne Urbin

On Thursday, April 20, the David Owsley Museum of Art was proud to welcome contemporary artists Jongil Ma and Christopher Smith who are both featured in our Spring 2017 special exhibition called SHIFT: Jongil Ma, Christopher Smith, Corban Walker. The two artists, along with Lisa Banner, curator of SHIFT, spoke together on stage in Recital Hall to tell visitors stories about Ma’s and Smith’s artwork, artistic processes, inspiration, and evolution as artists over the years.

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Lisa Banner and Jongil Ma with a visitor

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Jongil Ma, Lisa Banner, and Christopher Smith

Jongil Ma originated from Korea and started his career in business and accounting before moving to New York to start his life anew as an artist by studying at and graduating from The School of Visual Arts in 2002. At the beginning of his art career, Ma built monumental sculptures that he said were 30 to 100 feet tall. During the presentation, Ma mentioned how he was, “…interested in architectural sculpture because the form was so beautiful but tense which kept a building held together.” Not only is architecture an influence on Ma’s art but music is a big influence as well. Ma explained, “It’s a great mindset to express oneself.” In Ma’s current work, his art has sized down considerably.  In some of his work, he will repurpose previously used wood from large-scale sculptural installations.

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Floating in Blue Space, Jongil Ma, 2014

Just like Ma, Christopher Smith lives in New York, where he has lived for most of his life. Smith art focuses on using video to capture paint trickling down and dripping off Plexiglas canvases. During the presentation, he explained how taking his hand out of the art targets the viewers’ attention to the paint itself. Another element Smith adds to his videos is purposefully having no concrete beginning or end. Smith explained how he wants, “…to make the videos very accessible where you can walk into it and out of it at anytime.” If a viewer started watching the middle of one of Smith’s videos, they wouldn’t be confused about what’s happening because the artwork is meant to make sense at any point in the video without watching it all completely.

 

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Cutting In, Christopher Smith, 2011

While the two Ma and Smith are different, Banner said, “They are like brothers,” because they are continually supportive of each other.  After the presentation, the galleries were open for visitors to check out the SHIFT exhibition where both Jongil Ma and Christopher Smith’s art is on display until May 7th.  As this exhibition quickly draws to a close, I would like to say how honored I am to get to work with all of the artists in SHIFT, Jongil Ma, Christopher Smith, and Corban Walker as well as curator Lisa Banner. Thank you all for making great exhibition and making great art!

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Happy National Volunteer Week to our Docents

Docents are individuals who volunteer to connect art to visitors. Docents are volunteers that provide tours to the many visitors of the David Owsley Museum of Art. Here at DOMA we have an enthusiastic group of volunteer docents who are passionate about bringing art to the community through their well-prepared tours. This is a letter to the David Owsley Museum of Art docents:

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Dear Docents,

Happy National Volunteer Week!

Beginning in January, I became one of the education interns here at DOMA. With that responsibility came the pleasure of participating in the Docent Learning Program along ide many of you. After a semester of getting to know you, I am truly grateful for all that you do.

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I just wanted to say thank you for all the time, resources, energy, and brain power you put into being a docent here at the David Owsley Museum of Art. You each willingly give up an hour and a half each and every week to participate in the Docent Learning Program; you observe tours; you do extensive research both at the museum and on your own; you prepare your tours, putting in hours of planning; you are the heart of this museum. We couldn’t do what we do without you.

William Shakespeare once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

I would say that you all have found your purpose, as you are using your gifts as docents to serve the public and support the David Owsley Museum of Art. Ball State students and the Muncie community are so lucky to have you as part of their DOMA experience. Last year alone, DOMA docents provided 247 guided tours, serving a total of 8,637 individuals, a new record for the museum. That number is ever-growing and would not have been possible without volunteer docents, like you, so again I say, thank you!

Sincerely,

Alexa Hirt, DOMA Education Intern

Final Friday: Identity

By Alexa Hirt, Education Intern

I often find myself behind the lens of a camera. It’s safe, it’s comfortable, it’s a barrier between me and the rest of the world. When I zoom in with that lens, I can see things in people and expose them in their most intimate moments without them even realizing it.

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Last week’s Final Friday: Identity PechaKucha presentations sparked an interesting thought: is my identity found behind this camera lens and am I able to capture aspects of other’s identities that they may not even know exist? I like to think that I specialize in the “candid” shot. That meaning, I capture images of people in their most natural state; when they are laughing, contemplating, observing, eating, sneezing, etc. Some may find this intrusive, but I find it fascinating and thrilling. If I can capture the exact moment someone’s emotion changes from a frown to a smile without their knowledge, I believe I have captured the purest form of their identity and who they are.

While one of the PechaKucha presenters suggested that identity is only something that you choose for yourself and others can only base their perception of you based on your chosen identity, I’d like to suggest something slightly different.

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My personal definition of identity comes down to the idea that your identity is what you portray yourself to be even when no one is looking.

I think that who you are as a person is best seen when you don’t think you are being seen. The moments when joy overtakes you, or sadness overcomes your entire being, or confusion overrides all things that make sense; your reaction to those moments reveals your identity. Your identity is the purest form of yourself, just like a candid photograph. So, to answer my original question, I ask myself again… Is my identity found behind the lens of my camera? Well, yes, I think it is.

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In the moments that I forget about the rest of the world, and zoom in on what I find to be intriguing, beautiful and pure, I am revealing my reaction to those moments, thus putting on display, my identity, maybe, without even knowing it.

The next Final Friday will be April 28, 2017. Check out the Facebook event for more details.

Painting conservation and its many layers

By: Cassi Amman

Have you ever wondered how works of art can survive through centuries of existence? Have you ever seen a painting or sculpture in a museum that has been taken down for “conservation”? If you have, that means a conservator deemed the artwork unstable and in need of intervention by hand to restore it.

Conservation by definition:

Conservation is the process of analyzing works of art and taking proper measures to ensure that they endure for more years to come. This process is careful to consider the original intent of the artist and the materials that were used when creating the artwork. In a field working with art of every age, medium, and size, it is natural that conservation has many different divisions in order to address the complexities of a given object. These categories generally fall under paintings, prints, photographs, textiles, and objects. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on paintings.

Conservators working in the field of painting focus their attention on studying the history of the paintings in their care. However, there is more that goes into restoring a painting than just touching up some paint. Here are some basic steps:

  • To begin, the conservator must become well acquainted with the materials and intent of the artwork. With this information, they will know how best to approach restoring the painting.
  • Close examination is the next step. Conservators harness natural light, ultraviolet light, x-radiography, and infrared technology in order to see the under layers of paint and canvas. Doing so, they can better see the artist’s process in addition to any painting that has been added by previous restorative sessions.
  • Before contemporary conservative ethics and processes were established, previous restorative additions were intrusive, unethical in relation to artist intent, and possibly damaging over the long-term life of the painting. Now, with better research in chemical and ethical aspects of paintings, conservators are better able to restore paintings for extended survival.

As Indianapolis Museum of Art’s painting conservator, Linda Witkowski states, “In art conservation, all good things take time.”

  There are many different restorations that a painting can go through:

Conservators look for condition issues such as peeling paint, bubbles on the surface, holes punched in the canvas, old and discolored varnish, excessive crackling, loose frame marks, and many other surface malfunctions that indicate age or structural instability. Now, conservators even look for previous restorations that go against artist intent or museum practice and intervene to bring the piece back to what is was meant to be. One of my favorite restorative processes is the removal of old, dirty varnish in favor of new, clean varnish. This allows the viewer to see the original colors and image the artist had in mind that had been blocked or discolored by old varnish.

Here in the David Owsley Museum of Art:

There is currently four-sided, painted, wooden altar panels being conserved in the West Gallery on the upper floor. If you have visited the museum recently, you have probably seen these panels are noticeably covered with rectangles of Japanese tissue paper. The work is titled, Saint John the Baptist with Saint Lawrence on the reverse; Saint John the Evangelist with Saint Catherine on the reverse, by Marten de Vos and is located near the middle of the West Gallery.

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The paper you see on the paintings is a restorative measure in setting the paint chips back down to the surface of the board it was painted on. When paintings experience a sudden difference in environment, humidity, or other external factors, they can expand and shrink. This movement causes paint to bubble, crackle, or flake. In the case of the de Vos, the paint had started bubbling and flaking. Since conservation is a long process and takes much planning, it is often required to create preventative measures while set times are planned out to restore. Then, painting conservators Michael Ruzga and Linda Witkowski will return to the project and remove the paper in favor of a more long term restoration.

The process entails using a safe, chemically stable substance to adhere the paint back to the panel. The conservators will also look at the varnish to ensure that it is even, clean and matches the other panels. Lastly, sometimes with paintings, conservators will touch up paint with expert color matching skill. However, and the materials used are reversible and can be removed in the future if necessary.

Challenges to conservation:

More pressure comes from societal expectations that a work must remain pristine. This causes conservators to start preserving artworks much sooner than they usually would. For example, conservators must keep in mind if it is ethical to try to maintain a work of ephemeral art that is meant to deteriorate. In a video on contemporary art conservation at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, conservators explained that a piece such as “Fishman,” created in 1969 by Paul Thek, was not created to survive but for the experience of viewing it. The sculpture, created out of latex, has already started falling apart due to the firming nature of latex over time. Conservators question whether it is appropriate to attempt repairing the artwork or whether the experience of viewing it in the moment is more of the objective.

It will be interesting to see how conservators will tackle these new issues in years to come. In the meantime, please stop by DOMA to see how the altar panels evolve. Michael Ruzga and Linda Witkowski will return to work on the panels March 25-March 29, 2017.

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Observation: Corban Walker

By Breyanne Urbin

Art lovers joined us at the David Owsley Museum of Art on Thursday, February 23 to welcome Corban Walker and Lisa Banner. Walker is one of three featured artists in SHIFT, a contemporary sculpture exhibition at the David Owsley Museum of Art, curated by Dr. Lisa Banner. The two of them presented and talked about the masterful artwork of Walker to David Owsley Museum of Art’s visitors in Recital Hall.

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Pictured: Corban Walker and Lisa Banner on stage at First Person: Corban Walker (Photo by Emma Rogers)

Born and raised in Dublin, Corban Walker stays busy all around the world working on his art. Linearity dominates his art style; sometimes, Walker likes to make chaos with linearity but a majority of his work tends to be very orderly and simple. To explain why his art is usually so simplistic, Walker quoted Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957, Romanian Sculptor) in his presentation saying, ‘Simplicity is complexity resolved.’ Walker will also involve his viewers into his art whether it is by making his art an obstacle for the viewer to overcome or by using translucent material to catch the viewer’s eye. The art becomes interactive.

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Pictured: Observation, 2012, Corban Walker (Photo from corbanwalker.com)

Standing at four feet tall, Walker uses his art to challenge his viewers’ mindset on what “normal” really means which he mentioned this idea during his speech. Since I have been involved with SHIFT, this semester, I personally found it interesting to learn more about Walker’s art outside of SHIFT. I loved hearing about his art process and how he makes the viewers such an important element in his work.

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Pictured: The second gallery in SHIFT. (Photo by Steven Talley)

Lisa Banner, who joined Walker on stage for his presentation, is a professor at the well-known Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Director Dr. Robert La France describes her as, “A scholar and curator of old masters.” Near the end of the event, I was able to interview her about her decision to curate SHIFT. Banner explained to me that she saw a relation between Christopher Smith and Jongil Ma’s work as the work of both speak the same artistic language and share visual similarities. She added Walker into the mix as the three artists focused on architectural structure and linearity.When Banner talks about SHIFT, it’s obvious to me she has great passion and dedication to art.

The work of Ma and Walker both share the interesting element of tension as no adhesive is used in some of their artwork, which Banner said, “Attracts me, so delicate and vulnerable but so convincing all at the same time.”

Pictured left to right: MINUS WITH CLAMPS, 2014, Jongil Ma (Photo by Steven Talley);  Untitled (Stack K), 2010, Corban Walker (Photo by Steven Talley)

Once the presentation concluded, visitors were able to mingle in the Sculpture Court and visit the SHIFT exhibition. Before leaving, Walker voiced his appreciation for all the student helpers that made the exhibition possible. Everyone was also given an opportunity to individually speak with Walker or Banner at this time. People seemed to have a pleasant time during the event. Jongil Ma and Christopher Smith will be here at the David Owsley Museum of Art for their First Person presentation on April 20 and SHIFT will be open through May 7.

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