The Schneider Museum of Art, part of the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, is a vital force in the intellectual life of Southern Oregon University that promotes an understanding of the visual arts within a liberal arts education. Serving both an academic and community audience, it builds a challenging environment that engages with the visual arts through exhibitions and programs supporting interdisciplinary study, research, and discourse.
In this months issue of LocalsGuide we did an interview with museum Director Scott Malbaurn to learn more about the Schneider Museum’s important history, and vision as a part of our community.
Hi Scott, thanks for speaking with us today. Can you please begin by giving a brief history of the Schneider Museum here in Ashland?
The Schneider Museum of Art opened its doors to the public in the fall of 1986 following a five-year community fundraising effort. The museum was made possible by a gift from Ashland residents, Bill and Florence Schneider and many community members. You can see the names of the philanthropic donors on the bricks in front of the museum. The museum was designed by Portland architect, Will Martin who also designed Portland’s famed Pioneer Square.
The museum’s permanent collection is primarily focused on works on paper from the twentieth century, and includes artists Mark Tobey, David Siqueiros, Jack McLarty, George Inness, and Alexander Calder. There are other works in the collection such as lithographs by William Hogarth, Pre-Columbian ceramics from Costa Rica, Native American baskets, and woven artifacts from New Guinea.
The Schneider Museum of Art is a major resource for the visual arts in southern Oregon. Museum programs include gallery talks and formal lectures by visiting artists, curators and scholars as well as Free Family Day activities. We provide free docent lead tours of the museum’s exhibitions every Tuesday at noon and group tours can also be scheduled by contacting the museum. Past exhibitions and events featured such prominent artists as Chuck Close, Andy Goldsworthy, Deborah Butterfield, Dale Chihuly, and Jacob Lawrence. To connect with us, go to the website join our email list.
Scott, you yourself have had a long career in the arts. Please share a little about your own history and how you have become inspired to take the reigns for the Schneider Museum.
I was living and working in New York City just over a decade before coming to Southern Oregon. I received a Masters of Fine Art degree from Pratt Institute in 2004. Shortly after graduating I worked at the Isamu Noguchi Museum in the Curatorial and Collections Department as well as began teaching at Pratt Institute. During this time, I also exhibited my own work and independently curated exhibitions for commercial galleries. Later I became the Acting Assistant Chair person of the Fine Arts Department at Pratt where I was responsible for the undergraduate program. I was able to add new faculty members and work on new and exciting curriculum such as an Artist as Curator course.
My wife and I moved to Southern Oregon to assist family after the passing of a family member. We traveled back and forth from Southern Oregon to NYC for two and half years with extended stays here. I began teaching at SOU and became acquainted with some of the faculty. Just as my wife and I finished assisting family here, I was asked to step into the Schneider position. I fell in love with the place, the people, as well as what is possible at the museum. What I thought was temporary became permanent.
The Schneider Museum has a new approach of collaboration with outside organizations. What are some these relationships and how have they helped the museum?
This past spring we collaborated with the Ashland Independent Film Festival. I took note that their new Program Director, Richard Herskowtz, mentioned in an interview that he is interested in new platforms of showing film and video work including art installations. We met with Richard and started talking. We organized an exhibition that put forth video and installation art. We are hoping to do the same in Spring 2017.
Our current summer exhibition is PORTLAND2016 A Biennial of Contemporary Art which is presented by Disjecta Contemporary Art Center out of Portland, Oregon. It is not the first time that the Schneider has presented work from the Portland Biennial but it is the first time that we are participating simultaneously. We owe that to the curator Michelle Grabner who coincidently exhibited her work with us in our Fall 2015 exhibition, Breaking Pattern.
Compared to major arts hubs such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the visual arts in Oregon is strong but small in comparison. How can we get the word out beyond our borders? Working with other like-minded organizations creates alliances and a stronger, louder voice. We can canonize our artists as well as bring in great talent. I believe that this assists Oregon’s arts ecology. We want to help create and cultivate the visual arts and culture here in Oregon.
Scott, with three to four shows per year, what are you looking for when selecting what will be featured in the Schneider Museum?
Common practice for the Schneider Museum of Art is four shows a year, one each season. This is because of the University’s schedule. Students work within the museum and exhibition changes are normally coordinated with student breaks between quarters.
A SPECTRUM is the key word for what we are looking for. The art world is large, vast and extremely pluralistic. We want to show blue-chip work by well renowned artists, artwork by mid career artist as well as young emerging artists coming into prominence.
Last summer’s Chuck Close exhibition was a successful one. We had many viewers because Chuck Close is sort of a household name. But, we have to remember that Chuck Close was once a young emerging artist and a mid career artist. I ask, how can we serve our academic and community groups as well as the artist community? Through this spectrum of showing young emerging, mid-career, and blue-chip artists, we are participating in the art world on multiple levels.
Please talk more about the role you see contemporary art today playing in the museum world.
Today, contemporary art is conceptually rich. Art being made today is often times more about the ideas and less about the aesthetics. Although the sublime and subjective beauty is still important.
Within the museum, I have witnessed viewers quickly judge a piece as a ‘dislike’ and then read the artist’s statement and change their mind within minutes. With contemporary art, do not just ask yourself “do I like how this looks” but also ask “do I like the idea that the artist is working with”. If you do, then perhaps you like the artwork.
One of the Museums goals is to elevate its context. Please say more.
Going back to the SPECTRUM, when showing young emerging, mid-career and Oregon artists, we help them by placing them within an elevated context. Our museum is identified by our exhibition track record and the context is elevated when we exhibit blue-chip artists such as Chuck Close, Deborah Butterfield and Jacob Lawrence. As we have become a gatekeeper of sorts that others pay attention to, this is an important role and responsibility. A great example is when an artist has a gallery exhibition, their gallerist will include that this artist has exhibited in the Schneider Museum of Art. This gives collectors and investors more confidence in the work. The same can be said for these artists when they apply for grants and residencies. A committee reviewing the applications will take note of museum exhibitions.
Scott, you are also very ambitious in finding new exciting and dynamic ways to connect with artists on different levels. What are some ways you are going about doing this?
Since starting the position, I have visited many artists in their studios, met with other arts directors and attempted to connect the dots and fill in the blanks. We have brought in curators to connect them with the artists. We have had artists hold meaningful residencies with us, and others stay for multiple days so that they can conduct critiques in student studios, give lectures and classroom presentations. By bringing in curators, the curator may possibly use Oregon artists for exhibitions beyond Oregon. This past winter our visiting curator selected an Oregon artist for a solo project at an arts center in Wisconsin. I saw that as a success.
How do you see The Schneider Museum continuing to evolve and grow into the future?
We want the Schneider Museum of Art to be recognized as a contemporary arts center that is participating at a national level. We are taking a micro/macro approach in addressing the local, regional and national needs. We want to physically grow adding more storage and exhibition space, new positions, better parking and a new outdoor sculpture garden. We want to be more present and visible with our community through new marketing initiatives. We also want to be an arts destination for visual artists through an expanded artist residency program.
Please talk about the educational programming that is offered by the Schneider Museum.
We provide Free Family Days with hands on activities curated by local artists made possible by an Economic, Cultural, Tourism & Sustainability Grant from the city of Ashland. Our Tuesday Tours at noon is extremely informative for our community audiences and many enjoy our visiting artist, curator and scholar lectures. You have to join our email list to receive much of this info or visit our website often.
Right now you are running a great show entitled Portland2016: A Biennial of Contemporary Art.
Take us behind the scenes and share a little bit about this show with us.
We are excited to be a part of Disjecta Contemporary Art Center’s groundbreaking Portland2016: A Biennial of Contemporary Art curated by Michelle Grabner. The Museum is one of twenty-five exhibition spaces across Oregon presenting works this summer. At the Schneider Museum of Art you will see diverse works by five artists selected to show here. Mike Bray’s interest in cinematic worlds is converted into clues of photographic images, ephemera and camera mechanics. Abstract/representational wall mounted assemblage pieces by David Eckard feel like an array from a surreal archeologists lab. A large-scale painting that explores themes of interconnectivity and imminent ecological collapse by Giles Lyon reaches 210 inches long. Brenna Murphy uses an arrangement of nested computer graphic programs to construct virtual realms, generate textures, and sculpted forms. Storm Tharp gives us a series of personal cubistic portraits and color field works all on paper that feels very emotive and stirring. As a whole, the work touches on a cluster of contemporary art made in Oregon today.
I am curious to also hear about upcoming exhibits that you have in the works.
Following that SPECTRUM, this fall we will have an exhibition of blue-chip artwork titled, Art on Paper: 10 Women Artists showing works by Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Ann Hamilton, Louise Nevelson, Judy Pfaff, Sarah Sze, Pat Steir, Barbara Takenaga, Polly Apfelbaum, and Jennifer Bartlett. The work has been selected from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation. There will be an accompanying exhibition catalog with an essay by writer Trinie Dalton. It is set to open on Thursday, October 27th. This winter will be a Creative Arts faculty exhibition curated by NYC based guest curator Kelly Worman and we are meeting with Richard Herskowitz from the Ashland Independent Film Festival to talk shop on our spring exhibition.
Often times it might take an audience some time to warm up to a show. Can tell us one such show that has turned around into a much loved success.
Our spring 2016 exhibition, In Scene had some challenging work in it. Through our docent tours, our audience quickly learned of the common thread between the works, dealing with environment and social practice. Artist MK Guth’s installation had books on shelves that the viewer could pick up and read. I think it was hard for some visitors to be okay with touching the art. Once the books were read, the context for her dinner table in the middle of the gallery was understood. Artist Jesse Sugarmann had a twenty-two-minute video of laid off assembly line workers pantomiming their daily body movements for their jobs. It was like an odd choreography. The viewer had to sit with the video long enough to figure it out. Much of today’s artwork deals with ideas over aesthetics, there may have been too many ideas happening in this show and that can be a bit overwhelming for viewers who were looking for a quick stop at the Schneider.
Scott I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with us today. Are there any last thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Thank you, Locals Guide for the opportunity. We would like to thank our members, volunteers and patrons for supporting us. We cannot do it without them. A special thanks to David Humphrey, the Director of the Oregon Center for the Arts here at SOU for his guidance. Provost Sue Walsh for making a University commitment to the museum. Our staff Nancy Riggs and Jason Hayes as well as the students that work with. Please connect with us online and in person often.
Schneider Museum of Art
1250 Siskiyou Boulevard
Ashland, OR 97520
Museum Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm