August 18, 2020

SMoCA Docents Respond to Contemporary Art in the Contemporary Moment

This summer, the docent training program transitioned to a virtual format to maintain an active sense of community and provide a forum for this dedicated group of art lovers to explore contemporary art. At the same time, new art installations at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) by Kristin Bauer and Felix Gonzalez-Torres used a pop-up format to adapt to the temporary closure of the museum’s galleries.

Multimedia artist Kristin Bauer’s new series of text installations—Untitled Gestures (2020)—are poetic phrases that aim to facilitate a feeling of human connection within an atmosphere of concern about physical contact. Credit: SMoCA

Formats for engaging with, creating, and displaying art shifted in response to the global pandemic and calls for social justice, and the docents decided to examine these changes in their summer series, Contemporary Art in the Contemporary Moment. Through presentations and discussion they addressed questions including: How do artists respond to moments of crisis? Do artistic practices change in relation to current events? Is there a distinct shift of style or tone in the art of 2020?    

SMoCA’s docent program has moved to virtual meetings. Zoom screen capture: Scottsdale Arts

The series began with a historical survey of artistic responses to pandemics and social justice movements. In the video below, Deborah, who also teaches for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Arizona State University, introduces the broader theme of art in the time of crisis.  

A historical introduction to art in the time of epidemics.

During the presentations, docents posed questions that the group responded to using the chat feature, simulating the types of conversations typical of gallery engagement. In response to the question posed about JR’s work Finding Hope (2020), one docent responded, “I like how the piece also suggests a pedestrian crosswalk—the idea to keep moving forward, keep going, even during social isolation.”  

Deborah then introduced the group to the ways in which artists have responded to calls for social and racial justice, including artists who have been exhibited at SMoCA, such as Kara Walker (currently on display in Unapologetic: All Women, All Year) and Betye Saar. In the following video clip, she discusses Kehinde Wiley, Jammie Holmes, and Banksy.  

A thematic survey of art for social change, specifically ending racism.

Following this historical and thematic introduction, several docents volunteered to engage the group about a work of art from 2020 that resonated with them. In the video below, Dena introduces the group to The Lookout (2020) by South African artist Olivié Keck. The group responded positively to the bright, vivid colors in the work, as well as the sense of childlike playfulness. Instead of representing the feeling of confinement some may have felt during stay at home orders, one docent noted: “The girl is choosing to magnify nature.”  

Spotlight on artist Olivié Keck

Dena was excited to have an email conversation with the artist to learn firsthand about her work. They discussed details such as Keck’s use of the black silhouette as a “kind of ‘blank’ slate for people to project themselves” into the work. In their email conversation, Keck responded, “Thank you for giving me a platform in your world, a million miles away,” providing another example of how going virtual has heightened our connection with others across borders and space. 

Kelly introduced us to the textile art of Simone Saunders, who lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Treaty 7 Territory, Canada. Her work It Matters (2020) incorporates both text and image in what one docent described as “an interesting juxtaposition of the two most pressing and concerning issues right now.” Take a look at the video clip below to compare the tone and message to the previous art works. Again, this piece encourages the viewer to complete it by filling in the missing letters.   

Spotlight on artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders.

After watching the video clips, reflect on the art you have viewed, either physically or virtually, this year. Can you identify an artwork, artistic practice, tone, or emotion that characterizes art in 2020? How do you think the creation and exhibition of art will evolve in response to this year’s cultural, social, and political events?

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