Since the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) named Mauricio Ancalmo, Colter Jacobsen, Ruth Laskey, and Kamau Amu Patton recipients of its 2010 SECA Art Award nearly a year ago, the artists have been preparing for their SECA award exhibition, which opens at the museum on December 9, 2011, and will remain on view through April 3, 2012.
Established to recognize Bay Area artists of exceptional talent with an exhibition, accompanying catalogue, and modest cash prize, the biennial award is administered by SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art), an SFMOMA art interest group celebrating its 50th anniversary this winter. The art award has been at the center of SECA’s multifaceted activities over the past half century, offering an inside look at the most promising art being made right here in the Bay Area.
Though chosen for individual conviction in their work rather than thematic overlap, this year’s SECA artists share some affinities. The current SECA award exhibition, titled 2010 SECA Art Award: Mauricio Ancalmo, Colter Jacobsen, Ruth Laskey, Kamau Amu Patton, will showcase four artists whose innovative works, while diverse in form and subject matter, reflect similar approaches in terms of conceptual rigor and skillful execution.
Mauricio Ancalmo combines various found mechanical instruments in film-based installations and kinetic sculptures to form a structural dialogue that is both poetically and philosophically inspired. Colter Jacobsen’s meticulous drawings, watercolors, and installations often incorporate found ephemera to explore reflection and longing. Ruth Laskey employs weaving, using a traditional floor loom, to expand on the painterly tradition of geometric abstraction. And Kamau Amu Patton synthesizes works in a range of media to investigate the inter-zone of sound, materiality, and perceptual experience.
For the 2010 SECA award cycle, the museum considered more than 250 artists working in a broad range of media who were nominated by Bay Area art professionals, including curators, professors, gallery owners, critics, SECA members, and former recipients of the SECA Art Award. Thirty finalists received studio visits, and the four winners were selected by SFMOMA assistant curators Apsara DiQuinzio and Tanya Zimbardo.
“We were struck by the artists’ singular emphasis on materiality and their focus on process,” DiQuinzio says “Each employs methods that are remarkable for their diverse formal attributes.”
Zimbardo adds: “An interest in perception, luminosity, memory, and spatial relationships are themes that each artist develops to different ends. We look forward to following these artists’ work for years to come.”
In his process-based film installations, Mauricio Ancalmo often incorporates found machines of various kinds—16mm film projectors, a sewing machine, a word processor, turntables, old medical equipment—and pushes these mechanical instruments to their material limit, so that chance, physical breakdown, and erosion become incorporated into his working method without being the end in and of itself. A hybrid of film, sound, and sculpture, Ancalmo’s generative installations (in some instances cameraless film) construct new encounters with salvaged analog apparatuses that inscribe film leader through novel means. His experiential assemblages redefine our associations with mechanical objects; he often modifies the objects’ functional properties, re-combining media to form a structural dialogue that is both poetically and philosophically inspired. Ancalmo says of his practice: “My intention is not to cause the instruments to break, but rather to have the machines form a new experience, one characterized by change, tension, and function.”
At SFMOMA, Ancalmo will present an elaborate room installation titled A Lover’s Discourse (2010). In the piece, a 16mm film projector suspended from the ceiling and tethered to a turntable below, spins in a circular motion around the room while casting the projected image across the walls of the darkened space. A warped love song playing on a turntable slows down and speeds up, spinning forward and in reverse in response to the projector’s gravitational force. Found footage of an anonymous young couple becomes fleetingly visible on the wall until the projector’s force draws the image away. Inspired by Roland Barthes’s philosophical text A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977), the work embodies the push-pull dynamic of romantic relationships, capturing what Zimbardo describes as “the dualities of cooperation and struggle, action and passivity, speech and silence.”
Raised in El Salvador and the United States, Ancalmo received an MFA in new genres from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2006 and a BFA in computer animation and sculpture from Southern Oregon University, Ashland, as well as a BS in geology from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. He has had solo exhibitions at Baer Ridgway Exhibitions, San Francisco.
Primarily culling ephemera and debris from the streets to use as source material, Jacobsen’s graphite drawings, watercolors, and collages often embody his strategy of searching for, finding, or creating nearly identical pairs. Recent subjects of the artist’s found images—vintage portraits of sailors, digital profile shots from online gay dating sites, newspaper obituaries—are charged with longing and desire, while the depictions of nature scenes such as seascapes and waterfalls nod to Romanticism and human identification with the natural environment. Jacobsen’s ongoing series of memory drawings study the process of recollection and reversal. Beginning with an intricately rendered copy of a found photograph, the artist presents it side by side with its imperfect, mirrored double drawn entirely from memory. While Jacobsen’s meticulous draftsmanship is evident in his remarkably faithful reproduction of the original, he emphasizes the subtle shifts, distortions, and softened details. He says of the act of remembering the original, “From seeing to drawing is a memory already. I think it’s this lapse in time and just our being human that begins to abstract things.”
Jacobsen’s SECA presentation will include a new wall piece incorporating collage elements, which he will create on site at SFMOMA during installation. It will also include new drawings from 2011, a pair of which are inspired by documentation of Diego Velázquez’s (1599–1660) two nearly identical paintings of a kitchen maid. In addition, a selection of his memory drawings will be included, such as Claire de Lune (2008) and L’s Godddaughter (2007). These works are, according to DiQuinzio, “more accurately described as reflections from the past than images of the present and seem to emanate an ethereal glow.” For River (2009), the artist made a drawing of a remembered river scene once a month for a year, and inscribed related texts on the back of each—a facet of his work that the viewer rarely sees and adds to its enigmatic qualities.
Jacobsen (born in 1975 in Ramona, California) received his BFA in 2001 from the San Francisco Art Institute. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Corvi-Mora, London; Tibor de Nagy, New York; and Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco.
Though trained in painting and drawing, Laskey is interested in the relatively unexplored territory that weaving occupies within the context of art history. Although she began painting on canvas, eventually she shifted her practice in favor of a more primary relationship with her materials, abandoning paint and premade canvases in order to work the abstract form directly into her weaving process. “I wanted to be involved in the creation of the entire structure of a painting,” she states, “and to consider all elements of the work integral to its final physical form.” Laskey makes her small linen textiles with a traditional floor loom. She determines the twill pattern for each work ahead of time, making precise mathematical calculations and executing preparatory drawings on graph paper. Using a limited range of colors and basic geometric shapes to heighten the interplay between figure and ground, she simultaneously imbeds the forms into and places them against a white field. “The vibrant delineations she creates are both the subject of each composition and part of its underlying structure,” says DiQuinzio.
For the SECA exhibition, Laskey will install a group of six new weavings that continue her ongoing Twill Series, which she developed according to the idea of shadows and overlapping geometric forms. Complementing these new pieces will be two earlier works—Twill Series (Jet Black) from 2009 and Twill Series (Imperial Blue) from 2010, both of which were inspired by a change in gradation from light to dark.
Laskey (born in 1975 in San Luis Obispo, California) received a BA in art history from UC Santa Cruz in 1997 and a BFA and an MFA in painting from the California College of the Arts in 1999 and 2005, respectively. She has had solo exhibitions at Ratio 3, San Francisco, and Galerie Cinzia Friedlaender, Berlin.
Kamau Amu Patton
Synthesizing different elements within his multidimensional installations to a dynamic combined effect, Kamau Amu Patton’s interdisciplinary practice investigates the conditions leading to a perceptual experience of a given site. He often brings into dialogue diverse media—steel sculpture, drawings, paintings, video, sound, and performance—collapsing the tangible and the ephemeral. Patton’s recent projects have explored the abstract qualities of light and sound in relation to performer-audience interaction, movement, and digital processing. Describing his site-responsive approach to creating experiential environments, he says: “The basic unit of my practice is the room, the space of which I consider a potential reality construct, to be engaged and occupied by an idea.”
For the SECA exhibition, Patton brings together a series of new works primarily produced during his recent residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. These process-oriented works are distinctly shaped by the conditions of their creation. They include unframed works on paper characterized by their dark, richly textured surfaces; large abstract acrylic prints on canvas; and linear sculptures that both hang on the wall and rest on the floor. “Patton’s interest in generative systems extends to these works, which originate from and manipulate the ever-shifting complexity of feedback patterns,” says Zimbardo. A selection of new steel sculptures will be periodically activated by amplified sound throughout the exhibition.
In 1995 Patton (born in 1972 in Brooklyn, New York) earned a BA in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania, and in 2007 he received an MFA in art practice from Stanford University. He has had solo exhibitions at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Queen’s Nails Projects, San Francisco; and Machine Project, Los Angeles.
In conjunction with the 2010 SECA Award exhibition, SFMOMA’s Education Department will present several live performances with the artists on Thursday, March 15, 2012, as part of the museum’s Now Playing series. The four awardees will each energize the museum in distinct ways that evening: Patton and Laskey will activate their installations with live in-gallery performance elements; Ancalmo will present live cinema in the Phyllis Wattis Theater; and Jacobsen’s band Coconuts plays the Haas Atrium. Details will be available at sfmoma.org at a later date.
In addition, the 2010 SECA Award exhibition catalogue (2010 SECA Art Award: Mauricio Ancalmo, Colter Jacobsen, Ruth Laskey, Kamau Amu Patton; softcover, $9.95) will be available for purchase at the SFMOMA MuseumStore beginning in early December. The publication features cover art by Jacobsen, texts by the curators, and interviews with each artist.
2010 SECA Art Award: Mauricio Ancalmo, Colter Jacobsen, Ruth Laskey, Kamau Amu Patton is funded by SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art), an SFMOMA art interest group, and the Graue Family Foundation.