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.
Michael A. Salter ,whose NEW/NOW exhibition Visual Plastic (on view until August 19th) sprouts from our dizzying world of pop culture and consumerism and speaks the language of advertisements and logos, joins us for a candid Q&A:
Q: Does your work belong in a traditional museum setting?
Michael A. Salter: My work can exist in any white box, whether it’s an alternative underground space or a museum. What’s important is that the work be allowed an entire space, treated by me. The space between pieces, the entrance or approaches, the exits, the sight lines – all of it goes into my installation plan and I am very deliberate about how the work is hung/installed and its relationship to the audience.
Q: Do you think your work gains credibility by being displayed in a traditional museum setting?
MS: Well, sure, museums possess the institutional, historical weight of validation and importance to art and art’s position in time and space. I do think credibility is added to my work when it’s in a museum. The art world and system still reveres the museum institution as the purest most ideal exhibition place. Simply the fact that the commercial paradigm is suspended and work shown in a museum is generally not for sale sheds a particular light of approval on the work.
Q: Can you describe the “ideal venue” for your work?
MS: Any white box, really, because I hold the experience of the viewer as the utmost of importance. I make the work and install it into an environment that creates an 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 make the work to engage the viewer in a conversation about perception and meaning. I install the work to challenge the viewer to participate in a formal, spacial dynamic that hopefully adds to the conversation about perception and meaning. Yes, the viewer matters, entirely.
Q: What is the ultimate cliché attributed to your work?
MS: It’s graphic design.
Q: Do you ever feel “misunderstood”?
MS: I’ve spent years developing language and writing that make my work and my ideas accessible. I believe it’s the artist’s responsibility to do so. If I, or my work, is misunderstood then I am not doing my job well. For me art is communication, perhaps it’s meant to confuse or challenge, but it is communication and if it’s misunderstood than the communication failing.
Q: Why should people pay attention to your work? What makes you different?
MS: I do not know if people should pay attention to my work. I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to look, experience, ask questions, play, think and talk about ideas. If my work incites any of that then I feel a certain sense of accomplishment as an artist. I have no idea what makes me different. Different than what, who? I like to keep my mode of operation as an artist pretty simple. I make what I want to see and then I show it to people. I have ideas about how we see the world and what it makes us think and I want the work to launch that discourse. I suppose it’s up to the world whether my work is worthy of attention.
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: Oh yes, I consider the artist to be a barometer for the culture at large. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my work is rooted in ideas about consumerism, advertising, branding, marketing and visual communication. These are the variables that have been so influential on my thinking and making for many years and I think they qualify as societal concerns. I intend for my work to raise a particular awareness of how visual culture functions and targets us all in some potentially hazardous ways. What do I see? What does it make me think? I experience a visual world that is often confusing, unclear and strange. I want a fluent visual literacy, I want to know who is responsible for everything I see and I want to know their agenda. If there is any connection between what I see and what I think and other people are filling the world with a visual, cacophonous array of media delivered distractions, then I should be pretty concerned with what I am looking at and why. I’d say in a time in history where we’re spent hunched over glossy digital devices that are spewing out news, entertainment and ungodly amounts of advertising, that we should be at least mildly concerned with what we see and what it makes us think.
Q: What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
MS: I’ve been drawing on a computer for 20 years, but everything starts on paper, its all just stuff as long as I can keep drawing that’s all that matters.
Q: Have you ever taken a major risk within your practice? What was the outcome?
MS: I have never NOT taken a major risk in my work; it’s not fun unless I feel the rush of making something new and putting it out there. This is why I avoid gambling.
Q: Some people fail to connect with contemporary art because there are no set rules or criteria – beauty for example – to determine merit. As is often said, “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: Perhaps in the beginning as I trained and schooled to be an artist I had some sort of criteria I required of a piece, but now I simply make what I want to see. My work has a particular momentum now as I continue to develop several series of works that have existed for many years. In general I’d say I want my work to have a slick, highly finished look that delivers a twisted, darkly humorous idea. I’d like it to be beautiful and smart.
Q: If you were asked to “cite your sources”, whatever they may be, what would be on your list?
MS: Nicholas Mirzoeff, Marshall McLuhan, Sarah Hak, Douglas Rushkoff, Naomi Klein, Dave Hickey, Buckminster Fuller