Dr. Louise Siddons, Curator
What happens when you bring together twelve artists from across the country, give them studio space in an emerging arts district, and ask them to work for twelve months? The George Kaiser Family Foundation established the Tulsa Artist Fellowship in 2015 to enhance the local art scene by retaining and recruiting artists to Tulsa. I’ve been involved in the contemporary arts scene in Oklahoma since I moved here in 2009, as a writer, curator, and juror—and I was thrilled to see that the TAF’s mandate recognizes and takes advantage of the incredible richness of Oklahoma’s existing art scene as the basis for its innovative residency program. When I was invited to curate the first-year exhibition, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
I teach modern and contemporary art history and criticism at Oklahoma State, and I encourage my students to ask questions about the structures and institutions within which artists work. What stories do we tell about regional identity and opportunities, and what responsibilities do artists have to the communities they become a part of? How do art collectors and philanthropists have an impact on artists and their work? With the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, the Kaiser Family Foundation is asking—and answering—those questions very directly.
As the announcement of the inaugural class noted, the 2016 group of artists came “from nine different states,” and included people “specializing in weaving, sculpting, installations, painting, and public art.” (http://108contemporary.org/tulsa-artist-fellowship-announces-inaugural-class-of-12-artists/) As promised, the Foundation brought together regional artists with many from further afield, and they’ve reached out to the community through a variety of programs and informal conversations since the program convened in January.
The first year of this unique residency has been full of adventure for everyone involved. From a curatorial perspective, it’s also presented a quirky challenge: artists, pre-selected for reasons that have nothing to do with the criteria that would usually inform a group exhibition, are to participate in one. How does a curator put twelve excitingly different artists together in an end-of-year show? As I explored the artists’ websites, read reviews and interviews, and thought about the size and shape of the gallery at 108 Contemporary, I started looking for visual and conceptual connections.
I also began to think about the exhibition’s purpose. With limited space, it’s impossible to curate an exhibition that surveys the breadth of work made by each artist over the past year. My goal for the exhibition is to showcase the very diversity that strikes most people I’ve talked to as the project’s Achilles heel. Part of the fun of my first round of studio visits is discovering the unexpected connections between artists whose work seems radically different from a distance—and I can’t wait to bring it all together!
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