USA Visual Arts Panel for 2006

Jeffrey Grove

Wieland Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

Barbara Kruger

Artist and Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

Russell Ferguson

Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Programs and Chief Curator, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA

Thelma Golden (Chair)

Director and Chief Curator, Studio Museum in Harlem, NY

Paul Ha

Director, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, MO

Art comes from artists. This simple statement appears on the United States Artists website, where we can read about the compelling arguments and statistics that motivated those who founded this new organization, which directly funds individual artists—no strings attached. Currently there is powerful evidence that support for individual living artists is dwindling, and yet, conversely, there is nearly unanimous sentiment among Americans that they need art in their communities and in their lives. Art comes from artists? It seems that we like the concept of “art” but have forgotten where it comes from.

Particularly in the realm of visual art, it is so much safer and easier to support and seek out art that has stood the test of time. An artwork is a potent record of another time, and it can reveal the trends, emotions, and thinking of the time when it was created. Funding institutions so that they can continue to be the caretakers of these artworks seems like a safe bet. Supporting living artists can be controversial, particularly when public dollars are used. Artists make easy targets. More and more foundations and philanthropists are refocusing their giving to support institutions, education, and outreach programs in the visual arts. While this is certainly laudable, it is the innovations of individual artists that have given us some of the most vital voices in history.

Contemporary art has often been controversial and difficult to support. Much of
the art that hangs in museums around the world was at one time controversial. Artists challenge us to see and experience life in a different light, and this can sometimes make us uncomfortable. Supporting artists of our time can be a daunting undertaking. Without the reassurance of historical perspective, a leap of faith and a belief in the importance of contemporary art are necessary. United States Artists has made a powerful commitment to supporting living artists and, through its example, makes the rest of us wonder if we shouldn’t be doing the same.