Nicole J. Caruth is a freelance writer and curator living in New York. She is a frequent contributor to the Art21 blog. ArtPrize hired Nicole to chronicle the 2009, 2010, and this year’s events. Nicole’s thoughts and opinions are her own and in no way represent an endorsement or objection from ArtPrize toward an individual artist or venue.
Glenn Harper is editor of Sculpture magazine, and formerly editor of Art Papers. He visited ArtPrize earlier this week to present in the Speaker Series, as well as to determine the winner of the award for 3D, a category that includes nearly 600 entries. In the following interview, I ask Harper a few questions about sculpture, technology, and ArtPrize in general.
Nicole J. Caruth: I was just reading your article Is Sculpture Dead? There’s a question that you asked in piece that said, to paraphrase, if sculpture is dead and everything is permitted, does anything count? I feel like that gets at one of the questions here, which is, if anyone can call their self an artist and call their work art, whatever it may be, does it really matter what the results of the top ten are? Does it matter when it’s really, supposedly, about the dialogue that takes place around art? Does it matter that the top ten looks – well, however it looks?
Glenn Harper: I think everything is permitted but not everything is convincing. Because there’s not a movement or a fixed set of ideas that artists have to deal with, an artist has to make a case for what they’re doing, because nobody else is going to do it. Whether they’re a professional artist or not, anybody who is making work and putting it in the public, trying to initiate a dialogue, has to set the conditions for what they’re doing are. They have to make a case for it as sculpture if it’s sculpture. They have to make a case for it as art, because there’s no mutually agreed definition for what art is. And an artist who is successful in this sort of media is someone who is able to make a work stand out and communicate on its own without the viewer having any particular foreknowledge of art or any fixed notion of what the thing is that they’re looking at.
NC: Has what you just outlined been hard to find at ArtPrize?
GH: No, there were several pieces as we went around. Actually the first couple of places we were in, as I was being guided around, there were some things that I thought were interesting. I was waiting for something to knock me out of my shoes and it was about halfway through my total tour before I saw something that was doing that for me. And I wasn’t making a decision ahead of time, but I was confident at that point that there would be something I’d be comfortable awarding the prize too.
One of the discussions we’ve been having since I’ve been here is how to give artists the jurors and the public recognized as valuable, but who were not prize-winners, some kind of recognition for what they achieved in their work. There were some things that I saw here that I could have given a prize to, and there were artists whose contact information I’m taking with me because I want to follow what they’re doing in the future. So maybe the conversation may continue with not only jurors like me, but also the public who has had a glimpse of these people. When they see them again they will recognize and see how they’re continuing to evolve their work, and continue the conversation. Any time it’s possible for artists to catch somebody’s attention, there’s a value in that.
NC: I heard you were skeptical of ArtPrize before you got here, and I’m curious what your reservations were and after your experience this week, what your thoughts are now?
GH: I don’t know about skeptical. We covered ArtPrize in the magazine last year. The points that we were most interested in in the article are reinforced by being here, which is the huge participation. Getting people interested in art is one of the most interesting aspects of the whole program, getting the large numbers of participants. If the top ten isn’t necessarily what I would have picked, it’s still interesting to see how the public is interacting and what they’re choosing.
I did a short list based on what I could see from the website before I got here, just as things I wanted to make sure that I saw, and there were actually a couple of things on my short list in the top ten. So I’m not necessarily dubious about the choices. It will be interesting to see what the winner is.
Just as a personal thing, and I’ve said this to some of the people at ArtPrize, I would encourage the prizes to be more leveled out so that it was not such a big drop-off after the first three of the popular vote winners and the rest of the awards.
I was reading some of the artists’ own blogs that I was referred to after seeing their work here, and the artists themselves are expressing an interest in winning something here, even if it’s not the top prize. That recognition in this kind of venue will mean something to people. Which is why I think there’s some interest among some of the people who’ve participated in making possible some recognition that may not even be associated with money; which ones are voted highest in the various venues, or which ones were on various jurors’ short lists or something. It might encourage artists to see that people were responding to their work, and also give them something to talk about on their resume. Everybody has ideas about what ArtPrize should be. I’m offering my two-cent’s worth just like everybody else.
NC: I haven’t fully formulated this question but with that said, I think this event and the way it’s organized is very much born of our culture today, with people voting by way of their phones and social media, and there’s this fundamental desire for different communities to interact with art on different levels. I’m curious where you see sculpture, or the future of looking at sculpture, where social media is concerned.
GH: There’s an old story about a painter in the 1950s who defined sculpture as what you trip over when you back up to look at a painting. That’s not true any more, but there’s a truth in that, because it is something you trip over. It’s something that lives in the same space you do. It has a tactile quality and a physical quality that isn’t as much there in a painting and certainly not as much in an online media.
So I think of sculpture, speaking broadly – and we define sculpture pretty broadly – as offering a kind of 180-degree different experience from interacting in social media or looking at stuff online. I think any kind of art really doesn’t give you in a reproduction or an online photo what the work itself is like. There’s a lot of painting that if you see it online, when you see it in person it’s a totally different experience. That’s definitely true with sculpture.
But at the same time there are things going on now with social media that are very interesting with regard to sculpture, like QR codes. People are posting QR codes on their work and with public work that allow a viewer to interact more deeply with the work or its story or what the artist has done elsewhere.
A lot of public art in the past has been unlabeled even, or if it’s labeled, it gives you a title and an author but doesn’t give you any more information than that. So social media and new media and new opportunities like QR codes give the public a way to know more but also interact more, as a QR code is not necessarily just a passive thing. And new media is certainly going to be developed to make it possible to encounter a work in a physical space and interact with other people or the artist or the person who put it in that space, whether it’s a public agency or private developer or whoever. So everything, including social media and the physical world is going to be a continuum, a continuous back and forth.