The Polymer Collection Project and Terra Nova Exhibition at the Racine Art Museum
written by Elise Winters
Are the reception and the symposium on the opening weekend at RAM by invitation only or open to the public?
The Racine Art Museum (RAM) is still in the process of planning a variety of activities that will allow people to participate at many different levels. The weekend festivities, October 21-23, 2011, are NOT by invitation only. RAM’s intention is to accommodate as many people as is logistically possible. Participation in these events may look something like this:
Members’ Preview: Friday evening: As is their normal practice, this event is open to all RAM members. Symposium attendees will also be admitted. RAM may offer a reduced-rate out-of-town membership prior to October 21 for others that wish to attend this reception but who are not currently members.
Terra Nova Symposium: Saturday from about 9:00-5:00. Registered Symposium registration will include the preview on Friday evening and discussion panels on Saturday. Enrollment will be open to any interested person; Symposium facilities can accommodate up to 100. Registration fees for the 1-day symposium are not yet determined. There are a variety of hotel options in Racine.
Public Opening: Sunday afternoon. Gallery tour and talk with RAM director, curator and/or several exhibiting artists. Open to the public for the price of museum admission which is currently $5.
How were the pieces selected for the Polymer Collection and for the museums?
Initially I hoped to donated my own personal collection to a museum in exchange for certain considerations (see section below). Nan Roche, Lindly Haunani, and Carol Watkins pooled their own collections with mine. It was this consolidated body of works that was offered to museum curators – works which we personally owned. In a couple cases I asked individual artists to add a piece to my “virtual” collection, a work from an artist that, if I’d had more time and more money, I would have owned.
The aggregate collection of more than 2000 works was presented to 9 museum curators . From there, interested curators made their own selections. As a result about 300 pieces were placed in 6 different museums. All of those works were officially acquired by the respective museums almost 2 years ago. Museums that received donated works include:
- Museum of Art and Design, NY, NY – 5 pieces
- Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA – 12 pieces
- Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA – 12 pieces
- Newark Museum, NJ – 40+ pieces
- Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA – 50+ pieces
- Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI – 180+ pieces
How can I add a piece to the collection?
Artists have emailed asking me to add their work to the collection. The most I can do is to forward their images to curators. Each curator has their own personal taste and each museum has its unique collecting criteria. But now that these curators have a better understanding of the medium, I expect they will be more receptive to adding additional polymer works to their collections in the future.
Why is Racine’s collection the focus of attention?
My original intention was to give my collection to a museum that was willing to establish a center for the collection of polymer art. I expected that museum to accept, protect and preserve archival materials in a study collection, – a very costly commitment for any museum. The Racine Art Museum was the only museum both willing and able to take on this task. Furthermore I expected the museum to produce an academic hardcover book on polymer, another huge financial commitment. Hence, my desire to help RAM with the cost of a book.
Who is represented in the RAM polymer collection and who will be represented in the Terra Nova Exhibition?
RAM’s polymer collection is a work in progress. It is not yet a comprehensive survey of polymer art because it is comprised of works from the personal collections of individual donors. For example, my collection was small but included a major work from artists I most admired. Nan’s collection was much larger, but included many samples of technical innovation. Neither of us had the intent of documenting the field – we each bought what interested us. 42 artists are represented in the group selected by Bruce Pepich, RAM’s Director; in time, this list is sure to grow. Additional artists are represented in the collections at the other museums.
Once the collection was given over to the museum it became their property and their purview. RAM’s Exhibition Curator, Lena Vigna, will be selecting works for the exhibition. I have not seen the exhibition list. But we do have certain understandings. Since the main purpose of the exhibit is to introduce their new collection, I expect that only pieces designated as study samples may not be included. The collection itself is not really a cohesive body of work. Bruce Pepich decided to anchor the exhibition with a constellation of works by artists he calls “Boundary Breakers.” Bruce defines “Boundary Breakers” as polymer artists who have pushed polymer into the fine craft world – ie represented in museums, at SOFA and in prestigious galleries. So complementing the collection exhibition, there will be 10-20 works each by those artists, some of which RAM is borrowing works from other institutions and/or collectors.
What/Who will be in the Terra Nova book?
Rachel Carren has written an historical essay for the book which attempts in a mere 7000 words to give a historic survey of the field. I think this represents the bulk of the text. I’ve been told the book will also include commentary from each of the curators at the other museums which received work from the collection. There will be a short interview with me about the collection project. Apparently Bruce Pepich and Lena Vigna are also contributing thoughts about the evolution of polymer as an art medium, and about what the future holds for polymer in a museum context. Lena mentioned that images from the collection will be spread throughout the book to illustrate the text. To parallel the exhibition, each of the boundary breakers will be featured in a short section. Penina Meisels has done the photography for the book and Jeff Dever is doing the design.