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ATC Lecture: JoAnne Northrup, Curator, Nevada Museum of Art, Dec 3

Within the contemporary art world a group of artists—including Erwin Redl, Leo Villareal, and Jennifer Steinkamp, among others—explore light, color, abstraction, and movement within a technological foundation. These artists might be regarded as the “black swans” of new media art (Richard Rinehart, 2012) since their work foregrounds the aesthetic, situating their work outside the dominant dialogue surrounding Post-Internet art. So what’s the point of making art that resembles Christmas lights, Las Vegas, Disney, 1960s light shows, lava lamps, screensavers, and Star Trek in the 21st century? Doesn’t the world we live in have more pressing concerns?

Or perhaps these artists are onto something important. In this presentation, “objective art” will be traced back to László Moholy-Nagy’s and Oskar Fischinger’s avant-garde films in the 1920s and 30s that probed the nature of perception. A generation later, “expanded cinema” continued to advance the potential of abstract art to reveal human consciousness and provide insight into human experience. More recently, the ubiquity of personal computers has enabled the “black swans” of media art to explore light, color and motion in three dimensions and create immersive environments. And now, as we rapidly approach what some have foreseen as “end times,” artists working both within and on the outskirts of the contemporary art world have made further advances, employing formal strategies resembling early Modernism. This recent work references nature and biological networks, incorporates data, and evokes emergent behavior through practices that exist at the juncture of design, technology, science, and contemporary art. Can this work harness technology to enable us to see, hear, and feel the patterns of the natural world as a profoundly aesthetic experience? Or have we simply returned to the 1960s light shows and lava lamps?

JoAnne Northrup is dedicated to bringing artists who use pioneering techniques and inventive materials into the mainstream conversation about contemporary art and innovation. While chief curator/senior curator at the San Jose Museum of Art, she organized the first touring survey exhibitions and publications on digital animation artist Jennifer Steinkamp (2006) and LED light sculptor Leo Villareal (2010). A former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, she was appointed director of contemporary art initiatives at the Nevada Museum of Art in January of this year. She was drawn to the Museum’s unique interdisciplinary program and the opportunity to explore uncharted territory through her curatorial work. In 2009, the Nevada Museum of Art established the Center for Art + Environment (CA+E), an internationally recognized research center that supports the practice, study and awareness of creative interactions between people and their natural, built, and virtual environments. http://www.nevadaart.org/