Artists Work in Series
Grinnell College has been building an art collection for nearly all of its existence, although, unlike some of its peer institutions, it does not have a museum in which to put its collection permanently on view. Since the Faulconer Gallery opened in 1999 its mission has been to present temporary exhibitions, most often of art that is borrowed from other institutions and private collectors. Still, the Grinnell College Art Collection continues to grow. In fact, the Collection is growing at a faster and more ambitious pace than ever before. With occasional exception, the focus of this collecting is works on paper, which, due to their relative fragility and susceptibility to the harmful effects of light, cannot go on long-term view anyway. It is for both its security and its preservation that the Grinnell College Art Collection will spend most of its existence locked up in the dark.
During the academic year, objects in the Collection enjoy frequent use by faculty and students in the Print and Drawing Study Room on the lower level of Burling Library. But on rare occasions such as this summer we like to put them up on these walls, if only to survey the progress we have made in building the Collection, or to see if objects made by different artists at different times and acquired separately over the decades are able to play nice together. (For many museum curators, the likening of art objects to children is pathological.)
Particular among the College's collecting interest are artists' portfolios and works in series. Comprised of multiple works, anywhere from a pair or trio to a multitude, portfolios offer the artist an opportunity to explore modes of narrative or to simply multiply and diversify examples, while they offer curators the opportunity to acquire more than one image or object by a selected artist. Some of the artists in this exhibition are known for their unique works in other media — painting or sculpture, video or installation art. For other artists, printmaking or photography is their stock in trade. Working in series offers them a means of experimentation, of animating an idea, establishing a theme or, as in the service of social justice, one of the hallmarks of the College's Collection, to bear witness or make a case.
I am one of three curators on the Faulconer Gallery staff who select objects for acquisition. Because I approach these objects simultaneously as works of art and items for purchase, my thoughts about them are not drawn purely from their history, ideology, aesthetic or monetary value, but impurely from the weeds and tares of all of the above, muddied further still by the covetous impulses of an acquisitive personality. The texts on the walls beside each object are drawn from this thicket, and are devised to provide a springboard for your own interpretations, not to tell you what to think. My relationship to works of art is sufficiently intellectual (I hope) for the purpose of qualifying me for my job, but it is also instinctive, personal, subjective, and emotional. If a work of art is hanging in this room right now, it's because I love it.
While some are a bit older, most of these portfolios are barely a decade old. A few have been made in just the past year. Like all art of a moment, their significance, history and meaning are not yet written. This ambiguity, mutability, or inscrutability — why should I like this? Am I allowed to not like it? What makes it good art? — is not meant to confound you, but to inspire you. The easiest way to discover art is not by making or reading, but simply by looking. The more you look, the more you will find.
So find your way into these objects however you can, and think of them whatever you like. Like a good curator, make them your own.
— Daniel Strong, Associate Director and Curator of Exhibitions