Richard Meyer, associate professor of art history and fine arts and director of The Contemporary Project at USC, has been selected for the College Art Association’s 2009 Art Journal Award for his essay titled “‘Artists sometimes have feelings.’”
Published in Art Journal’s Winter 2008 issue, Meyer grounds his essay in Fogg Art Museum Director Edward Forbes’s 1911 account of the beauties and pitfalls of working with living artists. Forbes ultimately advised that museums should avoid contemporary art since “artists sometimes have feelings [and] we do not wish to be always in hot water, and make ourselves unpopular by refusing them if we do not think their work is up to our standard.”
Following a discussion of Forbes, Meyer turns to himself as a subject of inquiry in an effort to understand how subjective feelings structure the dialogue between artists and art historians. He explores how those feelings, even in their capacity to hinder and thwart communication, construct useful boundaries and limitations.
The case studies upon which Meyer relies are two videotaped interviews he conducted in connection with other curatorial projects — one of the L.A.-based, mixed-media artist Paul McCarthy, the other of the feminist painter and collagist Anita Steckel. Meyer’s first-person account details the dynamics that structured each interview, including the occasional disjunction between questions and answers.
“This was a meaningful essay to me because I was attempting to write about an issue that was at once broadly methodological but also social, professional and personal: namely, the challenges posed to the art historian by contemporary art and artists,” Meyer said. “Part of what I wanted to address was the difficulties and rewards of working with living artists, including the limits and protocols of what can be said — and what can’t — in the interchange between artist and scholar.”
Although not a direct excerpt, the essay is closely related to Meyer’s current book project, “What was Contemporary Art?”, which is due out next year from MIT Press and has been supported by the USC Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences Grant.
“At the end of the day, Meyer’s insightful, rich and personal essay provides us with a stunning example of how we ‘do’ contemporary art history,” the award’s jury panel noted. “Meyer gives an unusual measure of historical depth to his work and the issue’s topic, making clear that the ‘problem of the living artist’ is indeed not new.”
Meyer and other honorees will be formally recognized during the convocation ceremony, to be held during CAA’s 97th Annual Conference on Feb. 25, 2009, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The CAA’s Awards for Distinction recognize outstanding member achievements and reaffirm CAA’s mission to encourage the highest standards of scholarship, practice and teaching in the visual arts.
“The letter of notification I received from the CAA ended with the line, ‘Congratulations! There is no greater reward than to be recognized by your peers,’” Meyer said. “I think that’s a lovely sentiment and, now that I’ve been in academia for some time, I can appreciate how genuine it is as well.”