For the purpose of these interrogations, the Museum has developed a series of questions for exhibiting contemporary artists in an attempt to enliven and explore the discourse between the artist and the institution – with specific focus on site, interpretation, relevance, process, and sources.
Marc Swanson, whose NEW/NOW exhibition (on view until this Sunday, May 13th) has been a tour de force of mixed media constructions that serve as windows, partially shuttered, into his autobiography, joins us for a candid Q&A:
Q: Does your work belong in a traditional museum setting?
Marc Swanson: I think any artwork belongs in a traditional museum setting as long as the museum in question believes in the work and thinks it should be shown at their institution.
I’m happy to have my work in a traditional museum. But then again, it’s not really up to me. By this I mean that it can be up to me to not show at a museum if given the opportunity, but it is inherently the decision of the institution if I will have the chance to show at their museum.
Q: Do you think your work gains credibility by being displayed in a traditional museum setting?
MS: It is considered a good thing in the art world to show at museums because there is a sort of validation that comes along with that.
For me, it’s more of a personal validation. I grew up in New England and New England is lucky to be home to many traditional museums. These museums are where I first became interested in and learned about art. It was always a dream of mine to one day show at museums like those which first awakened me to the idea of being an artist.
Q: Can you describe the “ideal venue” for your work?
MS: The ideal for me is for my work to be shown in any place where it can inspire people. Where the process can come full circle. As I mentioned, seeing work displayed in local museums first inspired me and moved me to become an artist. The ideal for me would be to have my work seen where perhaps others seeing my work might have a similar experience.
Q: Do you see your work as self-centered or do you consider the viewer when you create a works of art? In other words, does the viewer matter?
MS: I try and keep the outside world out of my studio practice when I’m making my work. So I try very hard to not think about anything but the work itself and try to stay in conversation solely with the work. I try not to imagine any conversation the piece might have with an audience in the future.
Of course I ultimately hope the viewer gets something out of the work and enjoys seeing it, but that is not what I think about while I’m making it. In the end, it’s kind of a waste of thought because whether people appreciate it or relate to it or not is out of my control.
Q: What is the ultimate cliché attributed to your work?
MS: I’m not really sure.
Q: Do you ever feel “misunderstood?
MS: Not really. Sometimes people review things and declare very emphatically what the work is about and I hadn’t meant it that way or thought about it that way…But that’s the way it goes and I can’t really get upset if people bring their own interpretation. On the contrary, actually.
Q: Why should people pay attention to your work? What makes you different?
MS: I make work because I feel I have something to say…But like I said earlier, once I’ve made the work, I can’t make people pay attention to it. The artwork has to do that itself.
Q: Does your art engage with societal issues/controversies/trends? Do you consider it among the responsibilities of an artist to provide commentary on society at large? Why or why not?
MS: This is a very big question and difficult to answer well in this kind of forum. I think there would be many ways to look at this question and it is actually an ongoing conversation that is changing all the time.
For me, though the work I make is very personal, I’m sure the themes have crossover with many larger social issues and such. But that is not the intention of the work to engage in that way and on that scale. If it does, so be it.
I don’t think an artist has any specific responsibility to anyone or anything. I think it needs to be taken on a case by case basis and can’t really be summed up easily.
Q: What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
MS: I would have to say my computer.
Q: Have you ever taken a major risk within your practice? What was the outcome?
MS: I think making art is a big risk in general but I would like to think I take risks all the time.
But in general, I think the biggest risks have been financial. I’ve often had to jump off a cliff and see what happens by giving up certain securities. I had to take a chance to see if I could make my art full time…The result has been a good one and for a number of years I have lived solely by making art. I hope that continues.
Q: Some people fail to connect with contemporary art because there are no set rules or criteria – beauty for example – to determine merit. As they say, “anything goes.” When making a work, how do you tell if it is successful? Do you have your own criteria that you measure against?
MS: It’s very hard to explain, but I just know when it works for me. Objects are all around us. I try to make objects that are somehow transcendent, somehow special. They are few and far between but when they are successful to me, I just kind of know.
Q: If you were asked to “cite your sources”, whatever they may be, what would be on your list?
MS: To name a few…
Artists like Robert Rauschenberg, David Hammons, Robert Gober and Kiki Smith
Books such as:
“Against Nature” by Joris-Karl Huysmans
“Why Look at Animals” by John Berger
“Other Voices, Other Rooms” by Truman Capote
The play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee
Films like “Sunset Boulevard” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof