The Contemporary Art Scene and Jacksonville.

September 1, 2012 10 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

As the Museum of Contemporary Art moved into a new era with its partnership with UNF, a closer look at the ideas and dynamics surrounding the Museum was in order. George Kinghorn made a pretty gutsy move when he decided to redefine the mission of the Jacksonville Art Museum by devoting it to Contemporary Art. The Museum has gone through a lot of craziness over the past few decades. From losing its home on Art Museum Drive in the crash of the Koger empire to barely maintaining a golem existence in an office on Riverside while the Cummer stored its collection, to getting gifted the old telegraph building downtown. Probably in honor of the Museums wealthiest and most enthusiastic supporter and his respectable personal collection and tastes, the Museum had been christened the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art. or JMOMA. This was a (thankfully) shortlived recipe for disaster.

Metrojacksonville will begin exploring the works of our cities contemporary artists in the coming months ahead.  We think many people will be surprised by the inventive and polished arts that are available from amongst our city's creative class.

The emergence of a Cultural institution which has the power to bring those artists and works to a larger audience is a particularly hopeful sign for all of us.  

The first thing to consider, when discussing art in the present day and age is what people actually mean by the term "Contemporary Art".

Luckily this is one of those terms whose literal meaning tells you what it is.

Contemporary Art means art which is being produced at the present time, although for the sake of classification, galleries and museums and collections generally mean: Art produced between the end of World War 2 and the Present.

In my mind this creates two different types of Contemporary Art:  Recognized, fixed and Categorized and Emerging Contemporary Art.

The Museum definition would include all the movements in the meantime since the end of the last world war.: Pop Art, Fluxus, Postmodernist, Conceptual, Abstract Expressionist,  Graffiti, Nouveau Realisme, Post Minimalism, Neoexpressionism, and of course, the British conceptual movement and installation art of the past 20 years.

Dylan at Tommy Armageddon's Springfield Studio creating street art.

But Emerging Contemporary Art would include New Media and Street Art primarily-----although there are still some very exciting new contemporary painters.

Contemporary Art is in the middle of unfolding and it is still an open form that has not yet been closed and defined before the next great wave of ideas transform how we make and perceive Art itself.

Without getting to stuffy, Art is the Zeitgeist of the age it is within, and I think shares the same kind of a definition.  

Zeitgeist is the experience of a dominant cultural climate that defines an entire age, one that cannot be observed while it is happening,  only be recognized through seeing past events.

For example, consider the revolutonary nature of the ideas which took hold after the emergence of the the sciences:  Photography, Film sound recordings and professional journalism replaced the need for art to capture the reality of a person, place or thing.

Instead all the arts became suffused with the need to capture the essence, feeling, and spirit of the life around the artist.

Impressionists tried to convey how the light and mood felt, for example.  Romantic Composers worked to convey the emotional passion and create tone poems of the spirit of the moment.  Debussy presaged modern music through a basically impressionist musical approach.  The Beat Poets, starting with Rimbaud (in my own personal opinion) and continuing on to Ginsburg and Bukowski gave enervated verses and evocative one word invocations to sum up the contradictions and earthy spiritual experiences of the moments rather than a recitation of the event itself.

The idea of trying to express the experience of something rather than the physical recreation of it revolutionized all the arts and sustained a century of artistic brilliance and creation.

But even while that was happening, the rise of the science of Psychology and the introduction of the idea of The Observer (meaning you and me, I suppose) only being able to experience through pre-existing filters which imposed meanings on everything, led to the attempt to create randomness and the adoption of strategies to produce something outside our own experience.  

Dada ( was and still is a quest for randomness, which is still commemorated in the modern Experimental Noise Movement here and in Asia.  While the history of DaDa is a protest against the logic and reason which enabled what the early proponents labeledl as Warmaking Capitalism, the movement was based on the idea of doing away with the filters of perception and training and starting over with an original (and hopefully better) pattern.

From these widespread ideas came Burrough's idea of The Cut Up, with random words placed together in 'poems' so as to enable an original thought out of randomness.

Also the idead of experimental 'noise', explored by musicians since the 50s.

I don't think many of the artists in all the different genres all over the world would have told you they were driven by some widespread social reaction to the fairly challenging ideas coming out of the sciences.  

Most artists move out of an instinctive drive.  

But one cannot deny the connections between these massive art movements and the social developments that immediately preceded them.  And they seem counter intuitive as well.

For example, while in hindsight it makes sense that an artist would react to photorealism by capturing an internal experience that no camera could ever capture, it certainly isnt a logical extension of using a camera.

So Contemporary Art is the art that we are producing at present, driven by forces we don't necessarily recognise, until a revolution in ideas changes art vitally into something we can't predict.

Everything else comes from an already defined and categorized era and movement.  Its zeitgeist has been experienced and absorbed.

George Kinghorn, Former Executive Director of MOCA Jacksonville

When George Kinghorn became the director of the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art, he took on a mantle that he was destined to fail miserably beneath.

Genuine works of established Modern Artists,----of the caliber which people would travel to see, or even be educated and comprehensively enlightened by----were categorically too expensive for the limited means of the Museum.

After the financially painful purchase of two minor Miro works, the museum was exhausted.

George Kinghorn decided to put the Museum into play as part of a living and developing art movement, one in which Jacksonville could still play a part.  After all, having an institution devoted to the Artform during the time that it is developing gives a city access and cachet, if properly handled.

Lee Harvey's Jesusville Series  "Welcome to the Westside"

Jacksonville has a handful of serious Contemporary Artists and a backdrop of people who have already made their mark in Contemporary Art.

Consider the work of Memphis Wood, the fabric artist.  Or the contemporary sculptures of Marilyn Taylor, one of the guiding forces behind Jacksonville Coalition for the Visual Arts over the past 20 years.

And we also have genuinely important Contemporary Artists whose work s beginning to find recognition in the main stream.

Although Ronnie Land no longer lives here his R. Land creations are a very unique and distinctive body of work.

Lee Harvey's Jesusville Series:  The Police.

Artist Lee Harvey, self taught (in the finest tradition of contemporary artist) has produced some of the most significant work of the past 15 years.  His (locally infamous) Jesusville pieces, his Republican period and his newest series are deeply relevant and vitriolically funny works of social satire mixed with a contemporary and fun aesthetic.

Tommy Armageddon and Lee Harvey collaboration.

The work of Tom Pennington aka Tommy Armageddon, makes Jacksonville a serious contender in the street art revolution.  Not only is he mastering the techniques of the new medium and creating his own trademark work, but he is also experimenting in untried formats of the sort which has so far only infected the largest cities of the movement.

Thursto Mural art.

Similarly the work of Chris Thurston, aka 'Thursto' gifted Jacksonville with a brief but significant body of pieces signifying the beginning of his promising carreer.

Ryan Rummel, untitled.

Ryan Rummel's work, with its brilliant contemporary Arts and Crafts nods similarly moved the arts conversation along unanticipated lines.  His eponymous gallery Czigan and Rummell not only introduced a number of Contemporary artists to the rest of the city but also helped to establish the tradition of what has become the "Art Walk".

Jonathan Lux's work in a recent duo show with Brittni Wood

Though not as visible, the work of Jonathan Lux, with its watery fifties sensibilities and flashes of real color and texture are unique to our city and deserve participation in the larger art world.

All of these artists are Contemporary Artists, and there are quite a few more whose works we will explore further.

The past few years of the city have been somewhat retrogressive, and in many ways we will have to make up for lost ground.  But we have proven that this city has the ability to produce and deliver significant talent and opportunity.

Consider the seminal and electrifying history of the Brooklyn Contemporary Arts Center.  So many new painters and artists emerged from that cocoon and they were fed by a city which offered opportunity for advancement and recognition.

For example, not only did Brooklyn sponsor both solo and group shows with its artists, but artists series enough to launch an independent show were then featured at the Emerging Arts Show sponsored at the Florida Theater and in local shows arranged by the Cummer.

There were a number of contemporary galleries who sold and encouraged the art patron set to invest in new artists.  Places like Czigan and Rummel, the many incarnations of Steve Williams and Jim Draper, The Lee Harvey Gallery, and restaurants throughout the Riverside and Avondale area like Biscottis who would feature an solo art show as part of their regular programming.

More importantly there was a body of writers and press that could popularize the work and lives of the artists.

Much of that disappeared during the past 5 years.  Cutbacks at the paper took out an entire class of local arts writers.  A string of bad decisions on the part of the arts community in regards to galleries and exclusivity contracts eliminated many of the venues which had made a large spectrum of openings and sales possible.

The Brooklyn Arts Center was demolished, and the move of the arts community to Springfield into multiple venues was strangled by real estate speculators.

Now a new constellation of circumstances has opened the door for a resurgence and the possibility of regaining lost ground.  Its an exciting new start.  The JMOCA / UNF collaboration in downtown combined with the timely demise of real estate speculation and the rise of a new class of online media sites has set the stage again.

And the arrival of a Whitney Museum alumni in the person of the new director of JMOCA, Marcelle Polednik is a terribly encouraging sign.

Its a good time to be around.

Stephen Dare