USA Visual Arts Panel for 2007

Hugh M. Davies

The David C. Copley Director, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA

Michael Joo

Artist and USA Nimoy Fellow 2006, New York, NY

Tosha Grantham

David C. Driskell Research Assistant, University of Maryland, College Park, and Assistant Curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA

Russell Ferguson (Chair)

Chair, Department of Art, University of California, Los Angeles, CA

Rina Carvajal

Adjunct Curator, Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL

Statement by Tosha Grantham

The artist never entirely knows. We guess.
We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap
in the dark. —Agnes de Mille

Most of us serve our ideals by fits and starts.
The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. —Cecil B. DeMille

I have borrowed these quotations from another discipline but find that they apply broadly to all art making. Art, as a remarkable gesture of the human hand—or of the body in combination with space, time, and materials—when seen or experienced objectively, can create an effective exchange between artist and audience. The myriad forms of visual art allow for a tangible record of these moments, to be held, evaluated, and reviewed by present and future generations. Whether abstract, conceptual, or formal, the visual arts provide messages that tend to be clearer in hindsight. As a result, it is crucial that qualified artists who work broadly, challenge boundaries, push buttons and materials, create discomfort, talk about the untalked-about, and delight in underserved or invisible communities are brought to the center and not overlooked.

In an era when artistic concerns are increasingly marginalized, it is ever more necessary that the artist be very present in society. It is also critical to engage and support artists at all stages of their careers so that their voices become (or remain) vehicles for projects that would otherwise be silenced.

Each of the visual artists selected this year to receive a USA Fellowship addresses the conditions mentioned above. Whether beautiful, elusive, substantial, haunting, painful, or stark, the messages that these artists collectively convey suggest that the arts are an excellent barometer of where society is at a given moment; they plot a course to address the politics of the border, moving what may appear to be a subversive vision from the margins to front and center. In some cases the work attempts to mediate and piece together histories that have been selectively removed, damaged, or erased. In others the effort involves using silence as a medium; making us mindful and deliberate in a society in which the pace of life runs counter to such an intention; and questioning the role of the individual and humanity while conversely acknowledging the increasingly blurred lines imposed by an overload of analog, digital, Web, and interactive information.

In addition to commitment, technical excellence, and access, artists need adequate resources, space, and conditions to make their work. United States Artists provides critical funding that fulfills this need for a highly qualified and dynamic group of artists. The conservative funding climate of recent years has limited public sources of funding for the arts. To fill this gap, private philanthropic organizations have become increasingly valued patrons of the arts, as well as vehicles for sustained dialogue and critical discourse. As a relatively new grant-making organization with ambitious long-term goals, United States Artists deserves wider attention so that more artists know about this opportunity. This will help ensure acknowledgment for brilliant and diverse artistic statements that are being made not only in our major art centers but throughout the country as well.