PC, BUT NOT TOO PC
BY TOMMIE HOWELL

The Sculpture Center

And a plug for Internet Radio



Introduction

I thought this time around, I would write about a couple of items. Some news and commentary will occupy this article. There is a lot influencing polymer clay in both the art world and in the general creative community. I am going to tell you the tragic tale of an art center in New York City. We will also take a look at the introduction of polymer clay to Internet radio.

The Last Days of the Sculpture Center

In New York City, there is a school and studio space that is devoted exclusively to sculpture. It is the creative home to around 150 students and masters of sculptural art. More than 50 years ago the Sculpture Center was incorporated with the mission to encourage and facilitate the study of sculpting by amateurs and professional artists. Today this venerable institution is probably on the way out.

The board of directors has decided that they wish to sell this building in Manhattan and purchase a quite different facility in Queens. This new center will concentrate on the experimental aspects of modern sculpture. Students will not be welcome. Only outside sculptors will display their work in this new space. They will feature works like "Perforated Cube Study," a cube of caramelized sugar by Gay Outlaw. They will have performance art works such as artist William Pope sitting mostly naked on a toilet eating pages of the Wall Street Journal. Oh, did I mention that Mr. Pope then, as part of his performance, regurgitates this meal as part of the artistic process?

The board of directors of the Sculpture Center was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "Sculpture has become the most vibrant of the art disciplines in the last few decades. This is in large part because artists have expanded the vocabulary of sculpture in terms of form, material, scale and its relationship to architectural space." The board's chairman, Armand Bartos, believes that the Sculpture Center belongs on the "cutting edge" of contemporary art. He said, "The very traditional sculptural courses were not addressing what sculpture is about at the end of the 20th century. We wanted to be more attuned to what really is happening now."

The artists who currently work in the Sculpture Center, using metal, clay, wax, stone and wood, say that they don't mind the idea of more "cutting edge" work. They simply maintain that the charter of the group mandates that the center teach and provide workspace for students. They feel that the board has no interest in the school and is using the sale of the structure to finance their own agenda rather than to further the mission of the organization.

The board responds that they will be fulfilling the educational mandate by educating the public in general about sculpture. They believe that the artists currently working at the center can find other places to study and practice their art. They cite places like the YMCA, which only offers a minimal amount of space, time and equipment.

A young sculptor by the name of Dorothea Denslow started the center by inviting children in the area to come and learn in her studio. Soon budding artists joined her on a regular basis for what Dorthea called "The Clay Club." As the group continued to grow, it was incorporated as the Sculpture Center, with a charter that states the center is to "provide adequate and congenial studio facilities for amateur and experienced sculptors."

The first sign of the death of the Sculpture Center as it was back in Dorothea's day was when the board decided to cancel the annual exhibition of teacher and student artwork in the center's public gallery. Mr. Bartos said, "We felt it was really running contrary to what the exhibition space should be about. We decided that we were not about amateur art, for want of a better word."

So what filled the exhibition space, you ask? Nothing resembling the work of the teachers and students, that's for certain. In addition to the aforementioned cube and Wall Street Journal regurgitation works, Gay Outlaw exhibited a piece made of plaster stuffed dishwasher hoses called 'Black Hose Mountain.' The New York Times tells us of a featured work that comprised of artist Patty Chang sitting on a stool with a basin of soapy water who "lifted her hefty skirt and proceeded to shave her groin vigorously as well as defiantly." When asked about this, Bartos said, "I thought it was a fantastic exhibit. It's sculpture as a multidisciplined enterprise at the end of the 20th century. It's not just welded metal, stone and wood."

Okay, gentle readers, I have to go out on a limb here. I certainly do not wish to offend the avant-garde, but I am going to anyway. In the original New York Times article on this issue, they carried pictures of some of the amazing work that students were doing at the Sculpture Center. These people were doing busts and full figures that any gallery should be proud to exhibit. But the very board of directors that was entrusted with the preservation of this wonderful facility have become traitors to the charter and have embraced something foreign to the stated mission of the organization.

The board is tossing out traditional sculptural artwork in favor of this bizarre, and in my opinion, nearly insane idea of what sculpture should be in the modern age. I mean, really. Any one of us could strip off our skivvies and shave off our pubic hair in public if we really thought that was something we wanted to do. Is it art just because this one woman had the guts and/or psychotic state to want to do it? In my experience, this isn't so much performance art as it is a live sex show. Has art simply become the willingness to be outrageous and repugnant in public? If so, I know a few state mental facilities that are holding some masters for no reason other than they are artists.

I know the lines and can repeat them by rote: Art is in the eye of the beholder. We cannot judge what is art; if the artist says that it is, then it is. I know these things. I also know a big load of hogwash when I see it. All I can really say is, in bringing this segment to a close, if that is what art means in the 21st century, I will continue to be a hobbyist and a crafter.

Polymer Clay Invades Internet Radio

Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. PST and 9 p.m. EST, there is an Internet-based radio show dedicated to polymer clay. Rachael Cuttill and I go under our assumed names and host The Wild Bunny and Ghoulie Polymer Clay Show. This is an exciting new way for people to exchange ideas and information about our medium. It is broadcast weekly and covers a wide range of topics. The difference between this Net-based radio program and others that have been out there is that this service allows the listeners to call in! This is brand new. There have been places where one could broadcast before but not where you could take calls from those listening in. The software is produced by Wonderhorse and is made available on the Lycos Talk Show Network.

I have been told that it works better with Internet Explorer than with Netscape, and that to call in it is advisable to have headphones in addition to the required microphone. But even if you don't have a mic, you can still call in with questions by typing them in. It's an amazing set up, my gentle readers.

The folks at Polymer Clay Haven have also opened up their chatroom for people who would like to participate that way. On IRC, you go to Dalnet and join #polymerclayhaven while the show is broadcasting. Rachel and I will be there to talk about your topic on the air. You can also get to the chat through a java-based application on the Polymer Clay Haven site.

I can't tell you how excited we are about being able to do this. I think it is a great boon to our community to have yet another avenue for sharing our craft. Not only are we graced with a monthly publication, but now we also have a big time radio show. How cool is that!

Until Next Time

That's going to wrap it up again for me. Thanks for all the wonderfully supportive comments on the Polymer Clay Safety article last month. I put a lot of research into that, and I am glad it was useful for some of you out there. So for this month, this is me, your cranky old man in the Emerald City saying have a great month and keep your hands in the clay.

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