The journey is the destination in new MAH exhibition, ‘Work in Progress’
You can cut me off at any time, because I tend to ramble a little bit,” warns artist Ze Frank. More often than not, his responses to questions are a process: starting off in one direction, then making a detour down other avenues of thought, before coming back around to an insightful destination. His resulting answers prove to mine richer terrain than the relatively bland questions that prompt them.
Fitting then, that Frank is one of the artists featured in the exhibition “Work in Progress” at the Museum of Art & History, which opened on Dec. 14 and runs through March 17. Offering visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the work of artists and historians, the exhibition reveals the processes of both art and history.
“Most museums show work that is already done, right? By the time you see it on the wall the artist’s touch is completed,” says Nina Simon, executive director of the MAH. “But I think for a lot of people, the most exciting part of art is actually in the making of it, and not when it becomes a thing that’s on the wall, and so what we wanted to do was peel back the curtain and invite people to get involved in the process of how art is made and how historical research is done.”
Located in the Lezin Gallery on the museum’s first floor, Frank’s contribution to the exhibition works in conjunction with his online video project “A Show,” which invites participation from viewers and affords them the opportunity to collaborate with highly regarded artists and designers. “There’s a lot of focus on participation, and thinking about different ways that the audience can make things and be a part of the actual fabric of the show,” explains Frank.
Meanwhile, on the second floor, in the Solari Gallery, visitors can witness the work of painter/sculptor Thomas Campbell, who is in the process of turning a blank slate into his most ambitious work to date—a 75-foot long, three-dimensional mural—in just two months. “He’ll be working live in the space every day, so people can come in during the day and see how it’s changing,” says Simon.
In the third-floor Art Forum Gallery, the MAH and UC Santa Cruz are collaborating to present “Barn Raising,” an exhibition on the future of the South Campus Hay Barn. Also on the third floor, artists Kyle McKinley and Nick Lally of the building collective are transforming the space through a series of community workshops, called “building stories: secret spatial histories of santa cruz.”
Due to the nature of the exhibition, the displays will look different during each guest’s visit. “It’s very scary as a museum director to open exhibits unfinished,” admits Simon. “You’re supposed to open them and they’re done, but what we’re hopefully doing is creating a space that changes, and creates a conversation within the community.”
Creating that conversation requires artists who are willing to reveal their creative process to outsiders. “It’s a scary thing, for us to say to a professional artist, ‘No, we don’t want your finished painting—we want the sketch that came before the painting,’” acknowledges Simon. “But I think everybody understands that the more we can help all kinds of people—artists, non-artists, students, visitors, whatever—get in touch with the idea of how art is made, the more it unlocks both an appreciation and a real excitement about the final product.”
Excitement, in turn, breeds participation. But how do you encourage participation from those who don’t feel creative? “I think in general there’s a pretty big challenge in terms of people’s relationship between themselves and their creativity,” says Frank. “I definitely think that everyone has creative ability, and, yes, there is variance in natural ability versus what you can achieve when you really start to work on it. Exploring the way you think about making things yields so much growth compared to what you have naturally; it’s not something people should feel like they have it or they don’t.”
As such, Frank isn’t seeking the highest level of craftsmanship. “On the work that I do in the show, I’m not interested in the best drawer—I’m interested in people that can express the truths about the world or themselves in a very simple, straightforward, honest way,” he says.
He continues, coming back around to a thoughtful conclusion. “There’s sort of a line from the show that I do strongly believe in, which is ‘the things that make us feel the most alone are the things that have the greatest potential to connect us to other people.’ So I think that we all hang on to certain things about our experience which we think are unique to us, but a lot of the projects that we do are really designed to—in a fun way—let you express some of those things, and in the process feel connected to other people.”
‘Work in Progress’ runs Dec. 14, 2012-March 17, 2013, at the Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. $5/general, $3/students, teens and seniors. No cover/museum members and kids under 12. For more information, call 429-1964, or visit santacruzmah.org. Photo: MAH