USA Visual Arts Panel for 2009

Julián Zugazagoitia

Director and CEO, El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY

Doryun Chong

Associate Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Terry Adkins

Artist, and USA James Baldwin Fellow, New York, NY

Karen Moss

Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Programs, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA

Valerie Cassel Oliver (Chair)

Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX

Statement by Valerie Cassel Oliver

It isn’t hard to imagine an imperfect world. We encounter it every day. We live in it. Breathe it in and breathe it out. There are individuals living within this imperfect landscape, however, those we have come to call visionaries, creative minds who can find the humanity, humor, beauty, and even banality in imperfection. Through their eyes, imperfection is embraced, transcended, even twisted and wrung out to show the compassion that lies within the most absolute and fixed darkness. This is the genius of the creative mind.

In thinking about introducing the recipients of the USA Fellowships in Visual Arts for 2009, one phrase kept occurring to me—in an imperfect world, the power of imagination. If this rings a bit poetic, it is perhaps because the work of this year’s Fellows has shown a tremendous inclination toward the poetic. Although they have been called painters, sculptors, conceptual artists, and performance artists, they resist categorization by pushing the boundaries of disciplines and traditions. Taken together, the bodies of work that they have produced form an extraordinary repository of romanticism, engaging with the natural world; the political, social, and cultural histories of this country; celestial bodies; the human body; and the questions of who we are as a people and what we will become. In their work there is social critique, political commentary, laughter, song, movement, the elevation of the banal to the exceptional, and the molding of the exceptional into the ordinary.

This year’s USA Fellows in the Visual Arts have defined and continue to define generations, pioneered new methods of art practice, and forged new paths in the interpretation, experience, and embrace of art. They represent a continuum, a trajectory of experimentation rooted in the avant-garde practices of the 1960s but reinvented for the new millennium. They have sprung from the melting pot that defines not only America but now our ever-shrinking global landscape as well. They are men and women, born into generations who have seen despair and progress and a splendid future.

It has been an honor to participate in the selection process and to serve with my fellow panelists, who brought great knowledge, conviction, candor, and passion to the task of choosing this year’s recipients. This introduction serves not so much as a prologue but more as a poem dedicated to the brilliant talent that we are celebrating. It is this talent that enables the collective us—artists, curators, scholars, administrators, and the general public— to continue our work amid the stress of the everyday and through times of upending crisis. It is their imagination, in all its reflective and refractory aspects, that reminds us of the power that we hold to change the imperfect world, measure by measure.