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UMMA Launches Contemporary Art Series

Fold (70 degree directional light source), December 21st, 2006

Walead Beshty
Fold (70 degree directional light source), December 21st, 2006
Black and white fiber based photographic paper
Courtesy the artist, Wallspace Gallery, New York, and China Art Objects Galleries, Los Angeles

Among the many initiatives made possible by the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s expansion is the launch (upon reopening in late March) of a new signature exhibition series of contemporary art to be known as UMMA Projects. This recharged focus on contemporary creative practice complements the Museum’s more traditional mandate to study and preserve the art of the past and substantially expands the Museum’s role as an incubator and supporter of the art of our time and the future. The series will introduce UMMA audiences to a dynamic—and often challenging—range of positions within the current global dialogue on contemporary art.

It was in part with this mandate in mind that Jacob Proctor came to UMMA in late 2007 as the Museum’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art. From his arrival, Jacob has been strategizing the most effective means of injecting cutting-edge contemporary art into the museum environment. UMMA Projects is designed as an ongoing series of four to five annual installations that will be principally featured in the dramatic new Irving Stenn, Jr. Family Project Gallery, a glass-box space on the ground level of the new Frankel Wing, front and center along the Diag, UM’s well-traveled pedestrian path, and State Street, a main municipal corridor. Indeed one of the primary goals of UMMA Projects is to spark curiosity and creativity among the University student population and to develop audiences for contemporary art more broadly.

UMMA Projects will showcase the formal innovation and conceptual depth of some of the most gifted, creative, and provocative artists working today. The series is devoted to exhibiting and commissioning new, exploratory work by emerging artists—frequently giving important new artists their first solo museum exhibition—and to engaging established artists who are taking their work in new directions. Media will range from painting and graphic design to photography, fabric art, video installation, sculpture, architecture, digital technology, and performance. The reach of UMMA Projects will be global, looking to Asia and Europe as well as North America for some of the most important work being done today. While some exhibitions will be exclusively presented in Ann Arbor, others will subsequently travel under UMMA auspices to leading contemporary art institutions worldwide.

“We’ve conceived UMMA Projects as the museum version of research and development, with the intent to bring exciting new voices—voices which by definition will be largely unfamiliar to audiences in the region—into the conversation” said Proctor. “We look forward to generating fresh new discoveries and to offering emerging artists or those at critical junctures in their careers an opportunity to create site-specific experimental and project-based work in a gallery space where the scale is ambitious but not overwhelming.”

Among the artists with whom the Museum is currently collaborating for the first year of UMMA Projects exhibitions are: Walead Beshty, who inaugurates the series and whose shatterproof Fed-Ex sized glass boxes and monumentally scaled photograms reflect the artist’s ongoing investigation into the conditions and processes of artistic production; Lisa Anne Auerbach, whose irreverent approach to the feminist project to reclaim traditional crafts is embodied in her signature knit sweater-and-skirt sets; Heather Rowe, whose work sits precariously at the intersection of sculpture, architecture, and installation; digital media artist and classically trained musician Cory Arcangel whose work is informed by video games, popular music, and film; and Berlin-based sculptor Oliver van den Berg, whose work includes uncanny wooden replicas of such technical equipment as flight recorders, planetarium projectors, and microphones. In future years, small group exhibitions as well as monographic projects are anticipated.

Each exhibition will be accompanied by a publication with generous reproductions of the artist’s work alongside a substantive essay penned by the next generation of critical thinkers about contemporary practice. In many cases, this volume will be the first significant publication devoted to the artist, providing important early support for and critical framing of and interpretive engagement with their work. In this way, UMMA Projects will build a lasting impact within international contemporary art discourse.

Closer to home, each artist will participate in a public program during the run of their exhibition in Ann Arbor. Extending the reach of many UMMA Projects installations will be a vibrant range of complementary programs, presented by the Museum and our program partners, including mixed-media performances, avant-garde film and video, spoken word events, and lectures.

Finally, each exhibition will result in the Museum’s acquisition of a recent work by the artist, leaving a lasting marker of these exhibitions and supporting the growth of UMMA’s growing contemporary collection in a carefully considered way while at the same time demonstrating its commitment to the artists and art of today and tomorrow.

Stephanie Rieke Miller
Associate Editor