Thursday, September 20, 2007

Art Space Talk: Jennifer Dalton

We all know that there is a great deal of controversy in the artworld in regards to business practices and how artists are marketed. However, it is rare for an artist to have a concentrated focus on this issue and to directly reflect it within the context of his or her work. Installation artist Jennifer Dalton has done just that. One could say that she has brought this attention to the next level by devoting entire bodies of work to this theme. Since graduating from Pratt in 1997, she has created bodies of work that take a critical look at various angles of the business of art. The auction market, influence of the press, and art collectors have all been a target of Jennifer's work-- installations that appear to be a form of documentation of her experiences while engaged with the art world's trends and expectations.

Would You Rather be a Loser or a Pig?- 2006

Brian Sherwin: Jennifer, you received a BFA in Fine Art from U.C.L.A. and an MFA from Pratt Institute. Who were your mentors at that time? Have you remained in contact with those former instructors?

Jennifer Dalton: I did have some great professors at both places. At UCLA I was strongly influenced by the photographer Connie Samaras, who introduced me to feminist theory and taught me to conceive of art from a conceptual basis. At Pratt my strongest influence was Robert Zakarian, a sculptor who was brilliant at helping students learn how to analyze artworks, including our own, and he taught us how to see what makes great art great and where to aim to attempt to make great work.
How Do Artists Live?, 20-image slide show- 2006

BS: Can you tell our readers about your recent solo exhibit, 'What is the Art World Thinking?' at Smack Mellon Gallery. Tell me... what is the art world thinking?

JD: "What is the Art World Thinking?" is a project I'm doing at Smack Mellon Gallery in Dumbo, Brooklyn. It's an ongoing series of anonymous short surveys I'm creating to query the art world (or at least a segment of it) on various subjects that interest me. Sometimes the surveys relate specifically to the current exhibition at the gallery, or other times they just reflect ideas that I'm interested in at the moment. So far I've asked people about the necessity of all-women art shows, what it takes to be a mid-career artist, and what artgoers' philanthropic habits are. The next survey is going to have two simple statements and viewers are asked choose the one with which they agree more strongly: "I am inspired by art" or "I am depressed by the art world." We'll see what they say!
The Collector-ibles- 2006
BS: Jennifer, you are no stranger to asking questions about the artworld with your art. Would you like to discuss some of the concerns you have with the artworld at this time? Perhaps you could discuss you piece, 'The Collector-ibles'?

JD: Well, "The Collector-ibles" consists of five large cabinets containing little figurines representing the top 200 art collectors according to ARTnews magazine. I really enjoyed the feeling of turning the tables on these very important people whose tastes influence so strongly the kind of work that is created and shown, turning them into trinkets and containing them in a cabinet. It made me feel momentarily omnipotent, which is an unusual feeling for a young(ish) artist.
The Collector-ibles- 2006(detail)

BS: When I attended the Scope, Pulse, and Armory Show press previews a few months ago I heard many people say that the traditional gallery system is being over-shadowed by the "huge art fairs". Do you think that Scope, Pulse, and other major art fairs are dangerous for the stability of the 'artworld' and art market? Or do you think these concerns stem from gallery owners who fear that they will have to compete with other galleries on a yearly basis just to stay in the market, so to speak? Do you think the stability of brick and mortar galleries are at risk due to these fairs? Do you think this shift will harm artists or does it place more power in the hands of artists?

JD: Hm, well at first I was fearful about the rising importance of art fairs because I felt that they rewarded only artwork that was the most sensational, that had the fastest read, and that could compete instantaneously to stand out from the very crowded walls as people strolled by. And perhaps it is stating the obvious to say that that work might not always be the most ultimately rewarding or worthwhile. But I am now thinking that we are witnessing an evolution in the creating, viewing and marketing of visual art, and that interesting things might come out of it. It makes me think of the record companies and newspapers, who are being forced to evolve quickly to respond to new technologies, but ultimately there could be exciting new opportunities if we rise to the challenge and respond creatively. Of course I do hope and believe that galleries will continue to exist as physical addresses, because it is very hard for artists to be satisfied with working so hard for a 3 or 4-day "exhibition," and most of us believe that our work warrants more sustained attention, and benefits from a quieter environment, than art fairs can provide.
What Does an Artist Look Like? (Every image of an artist displayed in the New Yorker magazine 1999-2001)

BS: You have been reviewed in several major art publications- ARTnews, Art in America, Artforum... just to name a few. Did you expect that your work would have the impact that it has had in art-related media? Or does it still come as a shock?

JD: I never expected to get much attention at all from my work, but I think that since some of my work directly addresses the art world as a subject it's very easy to write about and I have benefited from that.

Getting to Know the Neighbors

BS: Jennifer, you obtained a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2002. Do you have any advice for artists who desire to obtain grants or other funding?

JD: Keep trying. Get in the habit of applying and apply for everything. I only get about one thing for every ten that I apply for, and I have had many other people tell me the same is true for them.

BS: I read that you were involved with the Yaddo Artists' colony. Can you tell our readers about that experience?

JD: I have visited a few colonies and always had wonderful experiences there. It is heavenly to have all the time in the world (for a few weeks, anyway) to focus exclusively on your work, except for the time you spend socializing with all the other fascinating smart people around you. Yaddo in particular was great because it is on such an incredibly beautiful old estate.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the artworld?

JD: That's all I can think of. Thank you very much for inviting me to participate!
You can learn more about Jennifer Dalton and her work by visiting her website: You can read more of my interview by visiting the following page:
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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