College Art Association Meets in New York City

New York’s Fashion Week may be all the rage this week, but last week artists, art historians and educators from all over the world worked it at College Art Association’s annual meeting in the Big Apple. While it was impossible to attend all the sessions, the ones I did delivered big time and I heard the same from other colleagues who followed different tracks. On COLOR—participants were treated to amazing images of cutting edge designs from students at Art Institute of Chicago, and later asked to stretch our perceptions by looking at a 3-D color map in contrast to the flat 2D one we normally employ. At a Getty Institute session, attendees were challenged to reconsider and reframe museum leadership skills in a global context. Similarly, other sessions sought to apply a global “lens” to other perspectives those of and from the “Other;” and not just “non-Western” voices but also from the perspectives of post-Colonial peoples such as Guatemala and India. A session considering Islamic contemporary art began by examining just what is “Islamic”–Arab, Persian, Mediterranean, or Muhammadan—all terms that demonstrate a moving brush rather than a fixed point, or as one historian aptly put it “just where does the North meet the East?” The term “contemporary” turned problematic as well for its very use implies something implemented in the past; yet, if it is also to be inclusive it requires bringing a comprehensive (or narrow) frame to works of the “now” distinguished from those of the archival past. From there, it was on to a session on “Realism” to hear nineteenth-century art historians cover topics ranging from its beginnings with Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) on up to the present day. As summarized by Gabriel Weisberg, “realism” is still a slippery term about works seemingly concrete but decidedly abstract. The latter was demonstrated in both Burton Silverman’s (b. 19280) study and painting of the Jazz Musician. Silverman who joined the panel told his process of working directly from the model for both works. While there is no mistaking both study and finished painting are one and the same individual, there is a marked difference in their handling: the realized painting’s subject is younger, slimmer and more upright as if looking expectantly into his future, while the musician in the study is older, stockier a bit more collapsed into his relaxed pose—or is it one of acceptance that comes over a long time of finally coming to terms with an endless string of false starts, career setbacks and rejections, encapsulating, at least for this viewer, Weisberg’s “fictive illusion.” (to be continued)

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