How Stones & Tumbleweeds Inspired an Exhibition

After Latifa finished installing her Currents exhibition, we had a chance to sit down together and talk about her work. Our Currents: Latifah Echakhch exhibition is the first solo museum show for the Moroccan-born artist. Her project had already brought so many ideas to my mind, but it was great to hear how many different ways Latifa considered the ideas she was interested in. I was even more excited to later find out that the Schiller Collection and her time at the Columbus Museum of Art inspired her proposal for the Frieze Projects at Frieze New York 2012. Excerpts from my discussion with Latifah can be found here.

Tumbleweeds and Contemporary Art

One of the greatest parts of my job is being able to get away from my desk during installation week.  Besides the fact that I can wear my comfortable jeans and high tops, I watch an artist I respect and admire work with my colleagues and create a new experience for our visitors.  Since October I have anxiously been waiting to hear from Latifa Echakhch and find out the final details of the exhibition.  Over the course of the last three days, I have been in awe of her careful consideration of every detail.

In 2010 I invited Latifa to participate in our Currents series.  Each artist in the series is provided access to our permanent collection and asked to present a body of work that is inspired by what they find.  Latifa chose to consider lithographs from the Schiller Collection. Made from 1930-1950, most of the prints look at economic, political and social issues in America.  Over the last several years Latifa has created projects that consider cultural icons and the ways in which people use or abuse ideas around difference.  Her interest in the democratic nature of printing has been a part of a few of these projects, and I was please to know that our collection inspired her to think about these ideas more deeply.

Last year I sent her a list of the hundreds of prints included in the Schiller Collection.  Latifa carefully considered each image, choosing 16 as reference points for her latest installation.  In addition, she has found the perfect icon of the American West to spark our imaginations and encourage us to rethink our assumptions.  I mean really, when is the last time you’ve seen a tumbleweed?

Columbus Museum of Art’s Currents: Latifah Echakhch exhibition will be on view January 13, 2012 – April 1, 2012. The Currents series is supported by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Free Syjuco Fabric

Syjuco Fabric
For Stephanie Syjuco: Pattern Migration, the artist had 5,000 meters of plastic fabric manufactured in Beijing. The fabric design was inspired by an American coverlet from CMA’s Stuck Collection of coverlets from the nineteenth-century. The exhibition perfectly dovetails with the rise of the “Maker Culture” (see the recent CMA blog post “If You Can Dream It, You Can Make It”).

From August 23 through September 4, 2011, you can take home your own piece of Syjuco’s plastic fabric for your own creations. Just stop in the Museum and ask for up to five yards of free fabric. As a special benefit, CMA members can request up to 10 yards of fabric for free. Just show your membership card.

In a recent staff meeting ideas bandied about for the fabric included a Slip ‘n Slide, a tent and the shopping bag that also served as inspiration for the exhibition. Stephanie Syjuco commissioned local Columbus artist Sharon Stewart to create things to inspire our visitors. Look for her clutch, wallet and cape creations next week.

Share photos of your Pattern Migration creations with Stephanie, CMA and the world by uploading them to: and tag with CMASyjuco.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Behind the Scenes: Stephanie Syjuco

Stephanie Syjuco: Pattern Migrations

A week before an exhibition opens is always an exciting time. It’s when vision becomes reality.

This year, as part of our CURRENTS series with living artists, I invited Stephanie Syjuco to exhibit a new project.  My hope for the series is to provide a platform for artists to create new work as well as find creative ways to explore the Museum’s collection of more than 10,000 objects. Syjuco has received wide acclaim for her work in sculpture and installation over the past 15 years with exhibitions at SFMOMA, P.S.1/MOMA and more. I was excited to be able to bring her work and ideas to the Columbus community.

I sent Stephanie information about our collection, and within a few weeks she told me she was particularly interested in the African and Asian sculptures. Stephanie’s work often reappropriates designs to question ideas of authenticity, value and economic globalization.  Her initial thought was to consider the difference in perceived value between sculptures considered “high quality” and those thought to have been made for the tourist trade.

It was clear, however, that Stephanie needed the opportunity to see everything in person, so last summer she visited the CMA and began to carefully look through our collection. This time became crucial to her creative process, allowing her to discover what would instead become the basis for her exhibition, the Don and Jean Stuck Coverlet Collection. Consisting of more than 300 nineteenth-century hand-woven coverlets the textiles provided the visual basis for Stephanie’s most recent research, the impact of the Industrial Revolution on skilled craftsman. With the advent of machines capable of creating more and more products, faster and cheaper than could be made by hand, many craftsman of consumer goods found themselves losing business and unable to provide for their families in the late nineteenth century. The Stuck Coverlet collection was created by European immigrants to the US who came here with the hopes of creating a cottage industry that could continue to thrive.

Syjuco used the inspiration of the CMA coverlets as the basis for Stephanie Syjuco: Pattern Migrations, which opens June 24, 2011 at CMA. It’s a mind-bending take on labor, capitalism, immigration and cultural biography. Stay tuned for more.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Lisa Dent, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

Thank you, Contemporaries!!

This week we had the pleasure of finally receiving one of our newest acquisitions, an amazing drawing by Ahmed Alsoudani.  The Contemporaries, our support and interest group that focuses on contemporary art and photography, voted to acquire the work for the museum last April.  The work was scheduled to be included in a solo exhibition at Goff + Rosenthal ‘s Berlin space this Fall, so we had to wait until the show closed to receive the work.


Alsoudani left Bagdad in 1999 after he and his family lost everything during Saddam’s regime.  After arriving in the United States, he worked his way through the Maine College of Art and later received his MFA from Yale University.

Alsoudani’s imagery is based on his experience of intense political turmoil, but also belongs to the long tradition in art history of depictions of war and atrocity.  In reference to Alsoudani’s work, critics have cited Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Disasters of War paintings.  Alsoudani’s paintings are similarly monumental in size, but contain a fluidity and vibrancy all his own.

We’re excited to be able to include this drawing when we unveil our new installation of the permanent collection after renovations have been completed.  In the meantime, pick up Ahmed Alsoudani, a monograph with an essay by Shamim Momin, recently published by Hatje Canz Verlag.

~Lisa Dent
Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

Studio Visit: 2

On Monday I had the pleasure of meeting a young artist named Danielle Julian Norton.  Danielle has been working with a variety of materials that are usually found in the home (such as rice, sugar and soap) to create her work, which largely consists of sculptures and installations.

While many of her works were not in the studio and had to be discussed while huddled over her laptop, it was clear that her command of the materials and consideration of the ideas she was grappling with was impressive.  As she put it, Daneille is “fascinated with how everyday materials can be manipulated” and considers artist Lee Bontecou as a key inspiration.   She often incorporates motors in order to activate her sculptures.  In many cases I thought her additions of those elements made her works that much more enticing.

She’s in the midst of preparing for an exhibition at Cynthia Reeves Gallery.  I am excited to see what she will come up with next.  From the looks of the experiments I saw with sugar in her studio, her works will be palatable to anyone who comes through the space.

Lisa Dent
Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

Studio Visit

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Melissa Vogley Woods’ studio.  I first saw her work at the HERE and Beyond exhibition at the Riffe Gallery this Summer.  Over the past several years her work has largely focused on the image of Sun Bonnet Sue, albeit with Melissa’s own contemporary and whimsical twists.  In Melissa’s world, Sun Bonnet Sue no longer stands by politely but participates in the actions and arguments of her time.  She has taken an iconic image from the history of quiltmaking and turned it on it’s head, creating mixed media drawings, sculptures and photographs.

Melissa will be at the Riffe Gallery again on Sunday, November 13 from 2-4pm as part of the Quilt National ’09 exhibition programming.   She will be teaching some basic quilting techniques to children rather than speaking about her work, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind a few questions!  Take the opportunity to meet this young, local artist if you can.

Lisa Dent
-Associate Curator of Contemporary Art


Some of you may have read one of the many recent stories about artist Shephard Fairey.  Fairey recently admitted to lying to investigators regarding the use of an Associated Press image in his artwork and in doing so has once again ignited conversations around inspiration, appropriation and fair use.

On the exact same weekend, artist Stephanie Syjuco set up her project, “Copystand: an autonomous manufacturing zone,” at the Frieze Art Fair.  In what she calls a “counterfeiting event,” Syjuco and a team of artists took over a booth at the prestigious, international art fair.  Over the course of the 4 day event the artists re-created other artworks found within the fair and displayed them as they were completed.  All of the”copies” were for sale, and for a fraction of the price of the original.

As someone who grew up in the age of hip-hop, and later became educated in the ideas of conceptual art practice, pulling inspiration from other sources sometimes feels as natural as sleeping.  And when you hear Syjuco talk about the project, she is clearly aware of the historical, artistic and economic forces around her.  It’s the lie that Fairey told that seems to get to people.  Syjuco, on the other hand, puts it out there for all to know and see.

I’m curious to see where all this will lead.  Are you?

-Lisa Dent, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

The Craft of Making Art

Next month CMA will open the fall season with the exhibition Chihuly Illuminated.  Although I did not organize the exhibition, I am spending the next several weeks giving lectures about Chihuly and his life, creating educational information to use in the galleries and following the installation of the works throughout the museum.  In preparation for all of this I have spent a great deal of time thinking about Chihuly’s work and his influence on the debate over craft vs. art.

In 2002 I had landed back in my hometown of San Francisco just a year before California College of Arts (CCA) announced that it was dropping “and Crafts” from its name.  The chaos and confusion this created among artists in the area was palpable.  While CCA seemed to be making an effort to provide an atmosphere of integration and mutual respect, there were other signs that the merging of aesthetics was challenging, awkward and sometimes forced.  For instance, when I met Julie Travis, a young MFA student who had been accepted into the program through the ceramics department, she needed to remind me that in order to find her studio I had to visit the Oakland campus.  Her studio, inside the early 1922 campus building, was far removed from the San Francisco campus created in the 1980s, where all but two of the MFA students were given studio space.  The other student who was placed in Oakland worked in glass.  As the two navigated through the rigorous work schedules and ongoing criticism necessary to complete their degrees, both seemed to have the added endeavor of providing plausible reasons for working in glass or clay in the first place.

Dale Chihuly has spent the better part of 40 years within this critical debate, albeit without the discussions hindering his artistic output.  He has even created a haven in Washington state, his own little part of the world to explore and encourage working with glass.

In his essay written in 1997, Donald Kuspit writes, “…Chihuly effects an iconic reprise of the problematic relationship between craft and art-ultimately the relationship between the decorative and the expressive-in the very act of reconciling them.” His extensive list of projects and output can cloud some of his earliest successful examples.  The best aspects of Chihuly Illuminated highlight these successes, and show his formidable desire to push past long held ideas as to what the glass arts were and are for many of us today.

Lisa Dent
Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

The Muralist

Recently I was forwarded an email from a Columbus Dispatch reporter asking for suggestions of  murals in Columbus.  Being new to town, this wasn’t easy for me to answer, but I did know about something else.  Keturah Bobo, my current curatorial intern, is a CCAD graduate and artist.  She is currently teaching at the King Arts Complex and as part of her work there helped design a mural that she and her students are creating this summer.  The Dispatch editorial department, in their infinite wisdom, decided to run an article about the project with a great picture of Keturah at work.

Keturah Bobo at the King Arts Complex

Take a look at the article here.  Go Keturah!

Lisa Dent
Associate Curator of Contemporary Art