Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fruit from a Long Dialogue with Artist Ann Klefstad

Forest Deer by Ann Klefstad
It wasn't long after I came to Duluth in 1986 that I discovered how many interesting people have transplanted themselves here from various parts of the country. East Coast connections included a pair of ad agency folk from Greenwich Village, a photographer from New Jersey and myself... and the West Coast connections seemed equally numerous. 

Actually, artists and writers have been coming here for decades, enjoying the clean air, spectacular views and a city that's easy, for the most part, to call home. (Though it does test one's mettle when we get a minus 30 cold snap.)

One such addition to the community is Ann Klefstad, who was deeply immersed in the L.A. art scene before bringing her sensibilities here to the Midwest. Many of us in the arts noticed her byline in the Duluth News Tribune as she covered the arts for several years, first as a freelance art reviewer and then as the arts and entertainment reporter. She is articulate and a very talented artist herself.

EN: What was your role in creating mnartists.org?

Ann Klefstad: Mnartists was an idea that Neal Cuthbert (who was arts program head at McKnight Foundation) and Steve Dietz (who was then curator of net art for the Walker Art Center) came up with. They soon enlisted Robin Dowden, who headed the programmers at the Walker. After the initial website had been set up as a database of Minnesota artists, they realized that they needed more frontpage content to drive traffic to the site.

They hired me to do that. The initial idea was to run some writing, articles on art. I developed it into a regular online journal, eventually with a ten articles every week. We hired a couple of other people as well, an admin manager and a community manager, and eventually we did, among other things, What Light, the poetry contest, and a monthly print magazine called 10,000 Arts, in partnership with the Rake magazine.

I should tell you the story of my interview for the job of editor at mnartists. I sat in a meeting room at the Walker with Neal, Steve, and Robin and we talked for an hour. It was really fun. I walked down the hall afterward thinking, I really like these people. And before I got to the door my cell phone rang and they offered me the job. It was a good fit.

I was there from 2001-2007, when I quit to take the job of arts and entertainment reporter at the Duluth News Tribune.

EN: How did you become interested in sculpture and what do you like most about this kind of work you that have been doing for schools and public spaces?
AK: I've always done sculpture. My degre
e is in sculpture, writing, and aesthetics, but my primary practice was sculpture. Everything else took the lead from that. I really like designing and making things, not just ideation. I like the way that materials tell you things.

What I like about making public art
, there's a need. People are coming to you saying, we need a work of art and we need it to embody certain things about us, our site, what we do. And l like designing things that will do that. I'm a communicator and an editor ­ I enjoy the voices of others, I like finding form for meaning. I welcome the ideas of the people I work with on public art projects. I find that if I really hear them, they almost always make the work better.

EN: You spent a decade or more in the L.A. art scene. How would you compare what is happening in the Twin Ports to what you saw and experienced there?

AK: That was a long time ago now: I was in LA early '80s to early '90s. We did see a fair amount of the art scene then and there, but LA was at the time struggling to create a more cohesive scene. During those years, New York was very much the center of things in the US and Berlin and Koln were very hot in Europe. LA still thought of itself as a bit of a backwater, at least in the early part of that decade. The gallery district moved from established galleries on La Brea, to more artist-centered spaces downtown (especially after the Temporary Contemporary, an old bus garage refitted by Frank Gehry, opened), to the gallery district that eventually became a more viable scene in Santa Monica.

There were at least 5 fairly important art grad programs in the area, though, and they (especially Cal Arts) became important in supplying young artists who energized the scene—but they tended to leave for New York or Europe after a few years.

Various things became hot and then evaporated: "bad drawing", revivals of painting, Baldessari-derived conceptual uses of photography, invocations of pop culture, reversions to classicism . . . almost all, though, were at least somewhat calculated to sell in the quite heated art market of the time, which really snaffled up very young artists. It was a very fashion-driven scene.

There were, like here, a few artists' collectives, but it was a much more every-man-for-himself scene than here. There was a sense that the stakes were high in terms of individual careers, but low in terms of the broader cultural relevance of artmaking. In other words, artists were making art for arts professionals—gallerists, curators, critics, art departments, other artists. No one else took much notice. Peter Plagens' art criticism was really the only writing on art in the popular media (like newspaper, magazines, etc), in the very large city of millions of people and likely thousands of artists. There was the sense that if you could catch the right eyes, you could be launched, be a fashionable artist whose works sold for tens or hundreds of thousands, and if you didn't, you were nothing. It felt kind of desperate and sweaty.
EN: Were you doing public art in L.A.?

AK: I didn't do art publicly in LA. I did ink paintings on paper of plants in my backyard. They seemed massively irrelevant to what was going on in the local artworld. A friend of mine was the curator of contemporary art at LA County Museum, and he kindly looked at this pile of ink drawings and said—I can't remember, exactly, but I think it had to do with establishing a critical context for the work and finding some way of presenting them other than a roll of paper.
What is happening here—some similarities with that era in LA in that the former critical contexts that people sort of half-know are not really relevant to what is being made, and there don't seem to be discussions that establish some critical footing for work other than individually.  So there is no sort of stylistic discourse, work doesn't talk to other work, which creates a kind of amateur's paradise in which every man or woman can be his own Dali or Pollack or Salle or Schnabel or Basquiat.
Ever since about 1980, it seems, concurrent with the rise of the internet, art history went from being a sort of arrow shot into the future, unraveling a series of styles inhabited in turn by artists who talked to each other, to being a market-driven free-for-all in which artists' works are conceived as individual hopeful gestures, walled away from discourse with the culture and with each other. This could be seen in LA then, and in Duluth now.



Marian said...

This is a great interview.... thanks for doing this!

TeriPower said...

very refreshing....more