Food for Thought: “Polymer: The Journey to New Terrain” Symposium

Food for Thought: “Polymer: The Journey to New Terrain” Symposium
Polymer: Journey to New Terrain, October 21-23, 2011at Wingspread

Seeing polymer exhibited in the Racine Art Museum‘s elegant environment was a feast for the eyes, but the accompanying symposium, “Polymer: The Journey to New Terrain”, was like an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Beginning Friday and lasting through Sunday, attendees gobbled up plates of ideas about the current and future state of polymer art.   Topics were juicy, open ended and conversation flowed.

Here is a sampler of what was served:

Friday afternoon’s topics on the table:

•    How the polymer museum collection project evolved.  Why RAM
•    What does it mean to have polymer in major museums?  How can artists and museums bring greater public appreciation and recognition?
•    Polymer in university settings- why not?  How?  What might be included in a curriculum?
•    Mini culture clash as non-hierarchical, open polymer community meets inherent structure of museum world

Panel: Bruce Pepich, Lena Vigna, Elise Winters, jeweler/educator-Teresa Faris

Saturday Morning’s topics on the table:

•    Who- visual introduction to Boundary Breakers
•    Significance to artist’s career of high end show experience, top gallery representation and museum credentials.  How are these related?
•    How did diversity of polymer artists’ backgrounds affect the field?  Help, hinder or both?
•    Why polymer in a museum raises issues of classification, conservation, and integration for curators
•    Public image of polymer
•    What is museum worthy work?
•    When is poor craftsmanship okay?
•    Return of beauty- what is the difference between beauty and prettiness?  Is beauty related to value?

Panel:  Pepich, Vigna, Rachel Carren, Kathleen Dustin, Tory Hughes, Pier Voulkos

Saturday afternoon’s topics on table:

•    What does it mean to collaborate?
•    How might critique provide a form of collaboration?
•    In art jewelry the brooch is the standard, why is so much polymer jewelry related to the neck?
•    Sustainability- environmental issues for artist and for earth
•    Activism – content in polymer art?  Bigger statements?  Personal statements?  Does narrative exist in polymer art?
•    Identity- why the curatorial choice to use only “polymer” dropping the modifier, “clay”?
•    Where now, what next for polymer?  Building momentum
•    Can diversity of intentions co-exist with camaraderie in the polymer community?  Is stratification inevitable?

Panel:  Pepich, Vigna, Bonnie Bishoff and J.M. Syron, Steven Ford and David Forlano, Cynthia Toops

Sunday Morning’s topics on the table:

•    Collective effort to move forward between artists and museums.  How to support artists?  How to support the museum?
•    Professional standards- documentation, photography
•    Potential for another symposium?

Panel: Pepich, Vigna

By the end everyone was full to the brim.  Much had been discussed, resulting in more questions than answers, but participants left with appetites whetted for more.

photo courtesy of Debra DeWolff

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.