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Defining art
Expect the unexpected at SCAD exhibition
Jane Alexander's Frontier with Ghost

The 2012 edition of SCAD’s deFINE ART exhibition series boasts an additional guest of honor this week as a bevy of multinational, multi–generational artists gather in Savannah to display their finest work. This year marks the first year that SCAD’s newly–renovated, 82,000–square foot Museum of Art will host the week–long event, through Feb. 25.

The third annual showcase calls upon some of the world’s finest photographers, sculptors, installation artists, and videographers to, quite literally, “define” art for communities in Savannah and across SCAD’s campuses around the world.

But this year, the definition is two–fold: Visitors will seek to define art based on the exhibitions, but the artists are similarly charged with the task of expressing, through various mediums, what it means to be an artist in the 21st century.

The task is no easy one, but if ever there were a selection of men and women apt for the task, this year’s menu of artists is sure to get the job done. SCAD Executive Director of Exhibitions Laurie Ann Farrell cites famed South African artist Jane Alexander and keynote speaker Fred Wilson as two major reasons to visit this week’s event.

“This series of exhibitions in particular will provide a really unique experience for visitors,” Farrell says.

“I think it’s important to do that, to bring new artists that haven’t been shown in the region, to commission works from important artists like Fred Wilson who speak to our community, to our museum and to the history of this location.”

Wilson’s installation piece “Life’s Link” testifies not only to Savannah’s history but to the strong friendship he still shares with world renowned art collector and SCAD beneficiary, Walter O. Evans.

Internationally known for his “institutional interventions,” Wilson will use personal documents and letters to reveal the position of Evans’ collection within Savannah’s history and a nuanced perspective of the collector himself.

The concept of “intervention” stems from Wilson’s attempt to challenge preconceived notions of representation within a museum space and how cultural institutions influence the language of artistic display.

Isolde Brielmaier, SCAD Chief Curator of Exhibitions, is just one of many who have become intensely intrigued by Wilson’s artistic process:

“He’s very research–based, and he’s known for coming into museums and actually using the museum space as his canvas,” says Brielmaier.

“He wants you to rethink what a museum is and how we present art, whose voice is represented, whose voice is not represented, how history does and doesn’t play into particular exhibitions.”

Savannah’s own history, for example, has been a major source of inspiration for Wilson, who plans to highlight the African–American experience as an instrument of change and growth for Savannahians of all cultures and generations.

“Life’s Link” will incorporate bricks as additional installation objects to symbolize unifying themes such as labor, protection, and revolt–all of which are highly representative of Wilson’s own experiences, his appreciation for Savannah and his closeness to the Walter O. Evans collection.

As keynote speaker and event honoree, Wilson’s exhibition will draw visitors of all artistic backgrounds to this week’s event, but once they walk through the SCAD Museum doors, Farrell hopes the remaining artists will likewise have their opportunity to shine:

“We’ve got an amazing playground where we can mount these amazing contemporary art shows and bring in these artists who we consider either emerging or mid–career.”

She notes that the SCAD Museum of Art is as much on display as the works themselves, citing South African artist Jane Alexander as a headlining sculptor who may shock viewers with her use of an entirely unexpected medium.

“Some of these shows inhabit these spaces so naturally,” Farrell says. “One might not think that dirt would work in a museum, but I think visitors will be very pleasantly surprised when they see the Jane Alexander museum when it’s done.”

Five tons of dirt will, in fact, be dumped into Alexander’s exhibit by its debut Feb. 21, in addition to staggering video installations by Sigalit Landau and a variety of other works by Stephen Antonakos, Mohamed Bourouissa and Kendall Buster.

Farrell is hesitant to reveal too many details before visitors flock to the exhibits themselves, but she urges them to take advantage of the entire week of shows, including the annual gallery hop 6:30– 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and the SCAD artist showcase at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.