Visual Art 4-20-2006

Exchange Issue 4: Kristin Makholm and Diane Mullin

The Jerome and McKnight Fellowship programs run by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design are important components of the Minnesota art scene. a+E speaks with their present and former directors.

Kristin and Diane
Kristin and Diane

Read on for a conversation at the Kitty Cat Klub among Kristin Makholm, the current director at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Galleryand the program director of both the McKnight and Jerome Fellowships; Diane Mullin, now curator at the Weisman Art Museum and former MCAD Gallery director and Jerome/McKnight Fellowship director; and a+E.

The topics ranged widely: How do the Jerome and McKnight fellowships work? What are they looking for? What are the differences between art in a market-driven environment and art in a public-funding environment? What’s the difference between private desire and public desire? Who serves on those fellowship juries? How do jurors pick the artists they do? (“K” is Kristin Makholm; “Q” is a+E; and “D” is Diane Mullin, who enters the conversation later.)

Q When do the fellowship juries meet?

K The McKnight jury meets in late April to early May—right around now. The Jerome jury meets in October.

Q How are the juries selected?

K I choose the juries, and for McKnight there’s a variety of people from different disciplines, geographic locations, I try to get a curator and artist and a critic—of course that’s not mutually exclusive by any means, artists are curating, curators are writing, and so on, nowadays. I try to get someone involved with artist practice and also people that it will be good for artists to know. The jurors do studio visits, and often they will bring artists into shows they do, even sometimes artists that that juror liked but who didn’t make it into the program.

McKnight is for midcareer artists and Jerome is emerging, so for Jerome juries, we use one inside person, that is, someone local, and two from out of town, and we get someone often for Jerome that has some school association. Often we ask a curator from the Walker or other Minnesota museum. I try to get a jury that will work well together.

Q The Jerome program has artists who are emerging, so the perception is more radical, but is that really true? I mean , at some times emerging artists are more conservative than older ones.

K Well, we get a real mix of work in both programs—that said, Jerome artists are often just out of school, they have less to lose, they have work that’s less matured, they’re just throwing it out there, trying things . . . McKnight artists are more established with their art, more matured.

Q Then are Jerome artists more characteristic of a tribe or a place or a moment, because you know as you age you become your own tribe, people belong to you rather than the other way round . . .

K Sort of. But a lot of people apply to both programs,

Q Do they send different work?

K No. They send the same work. So I want to tell them, look, what is it? Are you emerging or established?

Q . . . but that’s because artists in Minnesota are always emerging, it’s the capital of artistic breech birth, artists are emerging here for 20 years . . .

K They may have been doing art for years but they still don’t have a solid career, or they’re switching careers, starting a new mode.

Q so why does the Jerome draw only from the Twin Cities area? Is it the practicality of studio visits?

K Yes, it was set up that way originally. But we do get over 200 applications for the program, so it’s not like we need more applicants, and the bulk of the emerging artists are in the Twin Cities area.

Q Maybe 60 percent? But making the Jerome statewide would be an important change, because the Jerome is seen as the gateway to other grant programs like the McKnight and the Bush and State Arts Board fellowships. It would change outstate artists’ notion of foundation grants.

K Well, these programs aren’t written in stone, we do make changes, we’ve gone to digital submissions this year, and I did get more complimentary responses from artists than criticisms of the process. Though there’s stuff to iron out, formats and techniques. So we can rethink the guidelines, the eligibility—these programs were initiated by MCAD and we can work with the foundations to change the programs. I don’t think anyone wants the program to be static.

Grants vs. Markets: Does it make a difference?

Q it’s always intrigued me how the Canadian artworld differs from the American artworld, which is finally market driven. The Canadian artworld is funded by government money, and so performative and experimental works are far more important, as are collectives like General Idea and the Royal Art Lodge It seems like in Canada artists are seen as people who work at art, rather than people who make artworks.

K And that makes sense,

Q But in Minnesota, while there may be an idea of market-driven art, there’s more a presence of fellowships and other forms of public funding, at least there used to be. Do you see the role of the fellowships as driving a certain kind of artmaking, as shaping the art that’s made here?

K My impression is that the fellowships have less of a forming role in artistic production, but instead a nurturing and maintaining role, so that mature artists, and high quality artists, can stay in Minnesota, without the imperative of selling your work necessarily. The McKnight Foundation wants to ensure that work of high quality forms the climate of the state. And Jerome is of course trying to support that in its beginning, at more of a grass-roots level. So yes, I see at as not as much a shaping role as a nurturing role, to keep mature and able artists here and to keep Minnesota arts strong and stable and growing.

Q Both foundation support and government funds tend to support art that is seen as virtuous, as good for people; the market tends to fund art that gratifies desire and those are very different things. Is art in Minnesota a vitamin?

K Well, that’s partly true, and that’s why we ask for an exhibitions record, we’ll get applications from people who say, well I don’t have much of an exhibitions history but my work is selling all over the place, and that’s not really what we’re looking for. We ask for an exhibition record to show that the work is not just gratifying individual desire but has a larger role.

Q I tend to see such desire as important, but grantmakers tend to see it as trivial, that kind of public desire. . . .

K But I’m talking about what you might call “private desire,” like, that painting would look just perfect above my couch. I think “public desire” is something quite different. Curators often have to make that distinction. I think that the public does desire art that enables them to question official virtues.

Q So you think that there’s a clear difference between a kind of collector’s private desirousness for a piece of art and public desirousness, which might be for something that’s interesting, or stirring, but not necessarily something you want to live with?

K Yes, I do think there is, because of the way the public consumes art, in public spaces and exhibitions, with the accompanying talk and discussion, as compared to the way art is seen and known in private or domestic spaces. You know, I come from a museum background, with the result that I have experience of the two ways that people relate to art. I would work with collectors, who chose very different works to pay for, to donate to the museum for public viewing, than they would choose for their own homes, to live with.

Q Do these overlap, are they like different countries with overlapping borders?

K Yes, I think so . . .

Q I’m interested in this now because the territory of desire has become very contested, what people have the right to, how desire is cultivated, what’s allowed . . .everything from marriage laws to abortion rights—the notion that people have right to private desires, whatever they might be . . .

[Diane Mullin enters–]

Q Hello Diane! We were talking about a difference between private desire for artworks and public desire: a market-driven economy is driven by both private desire for artworks—like, this would look great in the living room, or it reminds me of my grandmother, or it looks just like that spot at the lake, memory and harmony, so to speak—and public desire: like, this work startles me, it makes me think differently about my life, or this piece will make a dent in how the world things and feels, and I want to help it make that dent . . .

K when you’re acquiring work for a collection, someone might say, I’ll give you some thousands of dollars to buy that work for the collection, because I think that it’s a good thing, but I’d never live with it. But there’s overlap—sometimes a collector will say, I’ll buy one for myself and one for you.

D There’s different criteria for everyone—public institutions have different criteria for what matters, like the Jerome, it’s about emerging artists. We all [museums and foundations] have a somewhat public quality. When I was administering the fellowship programs, we tried to get jurors that were knowledgable about what‘s happening in the art world now, so that objective criteria for the public good were met, but you also wanted people who are actively subjective, who have an individual taste, or interest. That’s why you want three jurors, distributed over fields and interests.

Art collection is market driven—it’s not really immediately market driven, like just going for the resale, but it is market driven. It’s not quite the same in the museum world—you want things that will communicate, that have something important to communicate, and that can be conserved, can be cared for—little nitty gritty things like that too.

Q But isn’t the key way that curators make their reputation is to pick the winners? To serve as a sort of stock consultant for museum patrons and collectors?

K Well, kind of! That’s a factor, but that’s not how it would be presented . . .

D and no curator would ever say that was part of the mission of the museum,

D And you know the idea of a contemporary curator, a curator of a contemporary collection, is very new. There really wasn’t anything like that for a long time. . . But now there really is a kind of hybrid curator / gallerist who can do more things for an artist’s career. When you’re working with dead artists, obviously, there’s not so much you can do . . . And the one thing about history is that its results are pretty palpable—I mean, Napoleon didn’t buy the big David, he bought the little thing next to it, which now doesn’t have any reputation at all. And then sometimes reputations get restored, like pictorial photography, there’s a curator at the MIA who’s very interested in it, and who’s acquired a lot of it—he’s brought forward a lot of people, and now there’s a bit of a craze for it.

Q Sort of like real estate, there’s only a limited amount? It’s kind of fun to think that casting the right light on something can have such an effect.

Value and Values

Q To leave the museum world, how does this kind of valuation of artworks relate to the world of foundations, and how they pick artists? After all, value in that world has less to do with the value of objects than the value of actions, you’re funding something that doesn’t exist—the future actions of an artist. Is there a notion of the value of the function of making art in a community?

D Now, the Jerome and McKnight Fellowship programs don’t come with any requirements—other than to be part of the exhibition at the end of the year. You hope you’ve picked people who can’t help but make art, and you hope that the program has something to show at the end of the year, but really, you just have to have faith in the artists . . .

K And the fellowship programs are connected to the museum world because the jurors often are curators, and often they continue their involvement with fellowship artists outside the program. Sometimes jurors will ask artists who didn’t even win a fellowship to show in exhibitions they’re curating, and the fellowship programs do expose the work of artists to curators and the museum world . . .

D and the jurors, yes, they don’t always pick the work that they like, they pick the work that they think deserves the recognition.

K It’s hard to get away from curators as jurors, critics are curating these days, artists are curating these days . . .

D When I was first working on the Jerome in terms of organizing it, I was surprised that they always had an artist on the jury. Each type of juror, curator, critic, artist, brings different things to the jury. How stern the artists are sometimes! They were, they had stricter criteria, once there was a sculptor on the jury and there was no sculpture in the final show, no sculptor was chosen.

D Student shows, there’s often one juror, and that’s a really different thing, and the juror statement becomes really important to justify the choices.

Q It seems important to note that art is never fair—doing art is the only form of piracy that you don’t get arrested for.