As a nomadic contemporary art museum, Black Cube and its executive director and chief curator, Cortney Stell, have already proven that they're here to "turn the idea of a museum on its head," pushing limits in the contemporary art world. With the announcement of the 2017 artist fellows, Stell is prepared to shake things up once more.
All of this year’s artist-fellows — which consist of Denver-based Laura Shill and Joel Swanson; artist collective Institute for New Feeling; Adriana Corral of Texas; and recent Studio Museum in Harlem artist-in-residence Lauren Halsey — bring to Black Cube diversity, a political lens and maturity in their careers.
“There are two main differences between last year’s artist-fellows and this year’s class,” Stell says. “The first is that last year we had more projects that were Colorado-rooted. We only have two Denver-based artists — Joel [Swanson] and Laura [Shill.] The other difference is that those artists were on a more emerging level in their career. This year we have artists who have moved into a mid-career phase, with a few museum exhibitions and major residencies under their belt.”
Joel Swanson, digital artist and professor at the University of Colorado’s Alliance for Technology Learning and Society (ATLAS) Institute, works with text in ways that reveal binary thinking. His work includes sculptures, interactive installations and digital art.
Swanson will collaborate with fellow Denver artist Laura Shill, whose work primarily includes sculpture, photography, performance and installations, as she works to explore gender norms, “flipping the male gaze on its head.”
“Both works engage ideas of gender norms and binary thinking and how language readdresses binary thinking,” Stell says. “These are very formal, but I see it as very politically based.”
While Swanson and Shill are the only Colorado artists in the show, they’ll soon be the farthest from home when it comes to their exhibitions. Their projects will be part of a satellite exhibit that will take place during the 57th Venice Biennale, which is a first for Colorado artists. The Biennale is one of the oldest and largest international arts exhibitions in the world. They will travel to Venice in May to begin installing their exhibit, which will run through October.
“The piece I’m bringing is a large sculpture that says ‘She’ written out, and the ‘S’ is backwards,” Stell says of the collaboration. “The ‘S’ will blink on and off, reading, ‘she, he, she, he.’ It will oscillate between gender performances of male and female.”
Lauren Halsey’s career as an artist and African American activist made her stand out in both her master’s program at Yale and her sculptural program in Harlem; Halsey caught Stell’s eye early for the 2017 class of Black Cube artist-fellows. Her work in creating sculptures and celebrating urban communities lends voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, a larger national conversation that Stell says she felt was important to highlight in this year’s class.
“I really have a sense of diversity in artists that I wanted to procure this year because Black Cube has been really great about equality in gender representation, which is uncommon in the contemporary art world,” Stell explains. “This was a conscious focus, as I’m always trying to think about types of voices, whether male or female, and how they’re relating to the larger conversation. I think it’s important to celebrate African American artists, because there are so few who are celebrated in the Denver community, and Lauren is an amazing, promising artist who is adding to this important current conversation.”
Halsey's project is split into two parts: She will first create a pop-up exhibition in the form of a spread in Zing magazine showcasing lowrider-influenced parade floats. She will then build one of the three parade floats used in the spread and parade it down Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles for next January's Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Stell also selected artists dealing with international human-rights issues, which is why she chose Adriana Corral. Corral’s work includes performances, installations and sculptures that showcase violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Adriana is creating a bulletproof-glass monument, and we plan to do a lot of programming around it that focuses on protests and basic human rights,” Stell says. “We want to exhibit it first in Mexico, then cross the border and exhibit it in Texas before going to D.C. for a final exhibition.”
While Black Cube is planning a schedule of local alumni artist-fellow pop-up exhibitions and “rogue activities,” like Stephanie Kantor’s The Sometimes Pop Up Kiosk, the only Denver project will be that of artist collective the Institute for New Feeling, which comprises Scott Andrew, Agnes Bolt and Nina Sarnelle.
“These are three artists that work as one, and all of their artwork investigates new ways of feeling and ways of feeling new,” Stell says, adding that their focus is on the health and beauty industries. “They call themselves an institute because they look at art through a lens of business and a brand. They are so interested in building a brand identity that they’ve even gone to the point of producing products like neck pillows built out of concrete and contact lenses with text on top of them.”
The Institute for New Feeling's project will coincide with the Biennial of the Americas, and the collective has worked to develop a brand of water to be sold on the University of Denver campus, from a vending machine. The project includes a performance that relates the product being sold to the absurdity of the troubling water industry that sells a resource that flows freely.
For more information about the 2017 artist-fellows or alumni projects, visit blackcubeart.org.