State of the Art

Jimmy Baker and Terence Hammonds on their inclusion in Crystal Bridges’ upcoming survey of American art

click to enlarge Jimmy Baker and Terence Hammonds represent Cincinnati in Crystal Bridges’ State of the Art exhibition.
Jimmy Baker and Terence Hammonds represent Cincinnati in Crystal Bridges’ State of the Art exhibition.

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wo Cincinnati-based artists — Assistant Professor of Painting at the Art Academy of Cincinnati Jimmy Baker and Rookwood Pottery artist Terence Hammonds — are included in the upcoming Crystal Bridges national survey of contemporary American artists, State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now.

The exhibition, which opened at the Bentonville, Ark., museum on Sept. 13, is the first of its kind for the museum, and the unique curatorial process of Crystal Bridges’ President Don Bacigalupi and Curator Chad Alligood has already received a lot of press. 

In late 2013, the two traveled around the country in search of “what’s happening in American art today,” logging thousands of miles crisscrossing the United States to visit nearly a thousand artists in their homes and studios. Out of this process came an exhibition comprised of 102 artists, 54 males and 48 females who range in age from 24 to 87.

With the aim of discovering “artists who had not yet been fully recognized on a national level,” Bacigalupi and Alligood stopped in Cincinnati this past fall, visiting galleries and several artists’ studios. Two of those artists were Jimmy Baker and Terence Hammonds, both of whom were selected for the exhibition.

CityBeat spoke with Baker and Hammonds about their works for the show and what the experience of working with the Crystal Bridges curatorial team was like.

CityBeat:

You guys already know each other; did you know that both of you were speaking with curatorial staff from Crystal Bridges?  

Both:

No (simultaneously, laughing).

CB:

Was that a weird part of their process?  

Jimmy Baker:

Well, they were super secretive.

Terence Hammonds:

Super secretive!

JB:

The email honestly almost slipped past me. It almost looked like junk mail to me.

TH:

It totally looked like junk mail. 

JB:

I knew about [Crystal Bridges] but it just wasn’t on my radar yet. It just opened in 2011 so it’s not the first thing I’m thinking about on a Monday morning. 

CB:

How did they find out about your work?

JB:

[Bacigalupi and Alligood] didn’t say, but eventually I found out it was through (former Cincinnati Art Museum Executive Director) Aaron Betsky. I don’t know if he gave everyone’s names. They basically were finding regional contact points that they knew. They eventually pooled 9,000-10,000 artists, give or take, and narrowed that down to 102.

TH:

I knew (ceramicist, University of Cincinnati professor and co-collaborator) Katie [Parker], so she told me that they got called and Mark Patsfall got called to show Tony Luensman’s work. 

CB:

I found it odd that in the show copy they mention finding artists who had not yet been recognized on a national scale. Yet both of you have had shows on a national level outside of Cincinnati — was that weird to you?

JB:

That’s kind of a statement that I think might haunt them. I’m sure it maybe is true about some of the artists involved. Maybe it’s just their way to say, “We used a broad scope.”

TH:

I do know of an 80-year-old artist [in the show] from Louisville, Ky.

JB:

So they’re trying to throw that wide net. But there’s people in L.A. that already are showing and there’s one who’s already shown in Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco. 

CB:

Beyond the nationwide search, was there an overarching curatorial paradigm for the show?

JB:

We don’t know. It’s secret.  

TH:

(Laughing) They haven’t told us anything.

[Note: In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Bacigalupi said they were “looking for art that filled three criteria: virtuosity, engagement and appeal, a more populist filter than those of many other contemporary art museums.”]

JB:

They have not formally released an artists list yet. They are doing an artists website 

— it’s going to be its own interactive thing — and they’re doing a cool flashcard catalogue. We had to do a selfie for it! They’ve been super supportive; it’s cool.

CB:

In terms of the curatorial team, though, did you have a good experience?

TH:

They were awesome.  

JB:

Yeah, Chad and Don — it’s so insane that they took all this on. And they’re fast at responding to emails! I can’t imagine responding to 102 artists. 

TH:

Every interaction with them I felt like I was the only artist in the show. 

CB:

There was that New York Times article where the writer mentioned the Whitney Biennial three different times as a kind of barometer or foil for what Crystal Bridges is doing outside the scope of the traditional art hubs on the coasts. In a day when curators and collectors can virtually engage with artists from around the globe, is it more of a possibility that we won’t need art centers that are dictated by geographic locations?  

JB:

There’s a lot of things happening in the last few years that are trying to circumvent the structures that exist — whether that’s digital media or other outlets for creative practice. It seems like the art world lives and dies by maintaining control and convention, so I don’t think they’re going to even acknowledge the exhibition because that would destabilize what it is that they do. 

TH:

I just think about Marfa, Texas, and other places outside of the stations that people have tried to make. People go there but you don’t really stay…  

JB:

It’s like a pilgrimage.

TH:

Exactly!

JB:

Which is awesome, and they are really highly regarded. There are models for it, for sure. I don’t know, it seems like Crystal Bridges really has infinite support. [Note: The museum was founded by arts patron and Walmart heir Alice Walton in 2011.] So if they wanna make [the museum] big, they can make it big. It’s weird being in the experimental guinea pig one, so we’ll see. That’s cool if it becomes a thing. I would imagine the process would evolve in the future. ©
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