Empty walls still haunt the art building
Getting art approved: a complicated runaround
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 23:03
Walk through any college campus and you’ll know if you’re in the arts building. Paintings, prints, and sketches line the walls, there are photo installations down hallways, and sculptures in glass cases. However, here at Auraria, the Fine Arts building is comparatively sparse.
Blank, white boards occupy large sections of walls, and read: “Post approved artwork here.” Although there is the occasional class project, most of these canvases have nothing but old staples.
For about six months, these boards were collages of art, photos, doodles, and fliers, a laissez-faire jumble of student work.
The boards served as more than just a place to show off; they became a space for the communication of ideas publicly and simply on impulse.
Bill Thomason, a Metro alumnus who is now a professional artist and owner of Bitfactory Studios, heard about the open art boards and said that they were a wonderful idea as a forum for artists seeking public expression. “Anyone could write up their manifesto and put it on one of the bulletin boards; I’m not as good with words, but I [can use] image,” Thomason said.
The boards were originally funded and executed by Auraria Higher Education Center in the fall of 2011. Jerry Mason, Director of Student Facilities and Services, said the walls were originally designed to utilize some the art building’s blank space. “[AHEC] decided that they needed some space where students could post their artwork,” Mason said. “Going into that I think the assumption was that it could be self regulated by students, whether it was related to class [or] not.”
All this changed in February of 2012 when Estee Fox, a painting major at CU Denver, put up her work, “Garbage Vagina.” The piece depicted a deformed woman expelling trash from her genitals. Fox knew, and hoped, this would be a source of debate. “Art is extremely political. It’s about conversation,” she said.
Students posted responses to Fox’s piece—both praise and outrage—in the form of writing and art posted alongside it on the wall. However, things got out of hand when an unknown perpetrator stuck a knife and a proclamation into the painting, which argued that the First Amendment does not necessarily assure that any given piece of art has “validity, quality, or gravitas,” the proclamation read.
AHEC responded, mandating that all artwork be approved before posting. “The decision was made once we started to find that artwork would be defaced,” Mason said.
However, a number of works were thrown out in the transition. “That sounds like a huge step backwards,” Thomason said.
Rather than embracing dialogue on body image, post-feminist art, or even the effects of graphic content, the administration stripped the walls of their art and their immediate, impromptu nature. “There was a real energy surrounding those two months,” said Fox.
The document accompanying the art boards reads that work posted must be from a current semester class. Even if instructors or clubs were willing to ignore this rule, it would be difficult for non-art students to contribute. It was the free-for-all nature of the boards that separated them from traditional areas of student exhibition such as Emmanuel Gallery.
Phillips expressed interest in opening the boards to non-art students. “It’s something to consider in terms of a larger community having access to that venue,” he said.
For almost a year now the boards have been predominantly blank. “They’re like ghosts in the hallway,” said Fox. Although professors have used the space to display class projects, art on the walls is meager, aside from the occasional illegitimate posting.
After the restrictions were put into place, control of the boards was given to the CCD, Metro, and UCD art departments. According to Mason, each department is responsible for certain boards. Lincoln Phillips, chair of Visual Arts at CCD, said that compositions from his school are posted by instructors and that the Metro Art Guild, which organizes the juried student exhibition, has the authority to exhibit on the boards.
The UCD College of Arts and Media office gave the Advocate the names of a number of professors, none of whom had dealt with posting art to the boards. The professors in turn pointed toward other instructors or administrators. The blank walls symbolize that lack of communication, a stark contrast with their original form and purpose.
Many artists consider this lack of dialogue typical of the Denver art scene. While Fox has garnered success with her artwork and performance pieces in local galleries. “Art in Colorado is lagging behind,” she said.
Thomason agreed. “[There is an] incredible disconnect between artists, exhibitors, and the public,” Thomason said. “Aren’t the universities supposed to lead the way?” He noted that if he did not have studio space, he would find it difficult to exhibit at all.
EDGE gallery, a cooperative to which Fox belongs, is one of the venues where students can show their art. “We have more student involvement than most galleries,” said EDGE member Colby Brumit, “and we welcome controversial art.” However, galleries like EDGE can’t offer the same impromptu, non-professional draw that the Auraria art walls had. “There’s a cost for submission, and the art is currated,” said Brumit.