Summer Salon Series

Clockwise from top left: "Capitalism Works For Me!" by Steve Lambert; "Get Mad at Sin" by Andrew Dinwiddie; The Yes Men; Agitprop Reading and Performance Series at SDMA (pictured John Pluecker and Omar Pimienta).

For three years (2010-2012)  Agitprop partnered with the San Diego Museum of Art to co-curate the Summer Salon Series.  The Summer Salon Series was an approximately fourteen-week-long series of one night events that took place from Memorial Day to Labor Day every summer.  These evenings consisted of performances, films, installations, talks, music, workshops and more.  In addition to Agitprop co-curating the themes and artists involved each year, the Agitprop Literary Arts Series, curated by K. Lorraine Graham and James Meetze, relocated to the museum for the summer months.  The series transformed the museum galleries each week into a space of conversation about art, culture and important issues of our time.  Below is an excerpt from The San Diego Museum of Art’s website on the history of the series:

As mentioned on page i, the Summer Salon Series was billed as an experimental laboratory for presenting contemporary art within the specific context of the San Diego Museum of Art and its encyclopedic collections.  Moreover, the Salon became a site of conversation in multiple ways. As part program and part exhibition, the Series brought curators, educators, and artists together into a direct, collaborative conversation on how to program the Museum’s late summer evenings through contemporary performances and presentations that would relate back to other works on view. At the same time, the Salon also became a weekly hang out for many local artists and art-lovers.  The format for the Series was to transform the Museum into a salon for four hours every Thursday night between Memorial and Labor Day, by presenting some combination of lecture, reading, performance, concert, installation, film and/or workshop. Often the presentations themselves combined several of these elements, and very often they also pushed up against institutional limits.   

The Museum’s main collaborator in the concept, creation, and implementation of the Series was David White and his organization/artistic practice Agitprop, a local, alternative art space whose goal was to “blur the lines between the individual Artist, the Studio, the Gallery, and the Neighborhood as a way of creating spaces of dialogue and pointing to sites of institutional contention; and to re-imagine the form of the Gallery as tool for long term engagement with a particular locality.” Partnering with an organization that took seriously the responsibility of institutional critique was not the conflict it looks like on paper. Rather, this relationship only pushed the Series to try things that hadn’t been tried before in the Museum, and produced some basic and overarching goals for the project: 1. Create an environment where failure was allowed and praised in a setting where risks were not usually encouraged. 2. Create visible links between art of the present and art of the past, thus reinforcing the special ability of an encyclopedic institution.  3. Bring great talent from around the world and pair it with talent from Southern California to make plain the incredible capacity of local practitioners not yet validated by the larger mechanisms of the art world.  4. Blur the line between exhibition, performance, and program.  5. Vigorously explore the possibilities of a partnership between an established institution like the Museum and an alternative space such as Agitprop.

The first year of the Series took inspiration from the Museum’s special exhibition of the work of Toulouse Lautrec, and focused on exploring the format and possibilities of the Salon.  All throughout the summer, artists forced us to think about topics as diverse as artists’ role in gentrification, the possible sites for hosting the Salon; John Benson’s modified RV, The Bus, became a mobile concert venue in the Museum’s parking lot; Richard Gleaves’ Darkroom invited visitors into the pitch-dark basement of the Museum; Matthew Hebert turned the men’s bathroom into exhibition space; and Carla Repice and Geoffrey Cunningham’s Office of Blame turned a Renaissance gallery into something that looked like the DMV.

Based on the Museum’s special exhibition of Gustav Stickley’s furniture and home designs, the second year of the Series took inspiration from  Stickley’s grander plans to design entire neighborhoods and towns. Each week of The Summer Salon Series 2011: What Does a City Need? explored a different answer to that very question, such as Shelter, Access to Resources, Green/Civic Space, Identity and History, and Dialogue, among many others.

Ash Smith’s interactive and roving performance Shooting People kept destroying and rebuilding the fourth wall with Museum visitors throughout its duration; Natalia Calderon’s public, cartographic performance Tracing Passersby foreshadowed the transformation of a parking lot into pedestrian space that is currently taking underway outside the Museum’s front steps; and the summer’s keynote lecture for the season came from an individual far outside the field of art-Dr. Geoffrey West is a scientist that has studied the innermost workings of urban centers, and he mesmerized lots of art lovers with his explanation of our inherent urban future.

The final year of the Salon found its inspiration in an exhibition of 15th century European tapestries from Pastrana, Spain, which served as historical propaganda in their own day.  We asked artists participating in the 2012 Series to address issues surrounding the fictions of history, the access to news information, and the ways in which art can help shape public discourse. Despite the fact that the Series was ending, The Summer Salon Series 2012: Beyond the Banner featured a great many firsts for the program that will continue for 2013.  The third year of the program, for example, kept the Museum open overnight and the new Summer Break will again see the Museum stay open for a straight 31 hours from August 8-9.  The 2012 Series also saw the program’s first intervention into the permanent collection, when a sculpture, photograph, and video by Yinka Shonibare M.B.E. were inserted into the permanent displays of 18th century European art. Information on this year’s intervention, titled Double Portraits, can be found on page xx.   The 2012 Series featured outstanding projects by Mark Tribe, Steve Lambert, Andrew Dinwiddie, Pierre Bismuth, The Border Corps, and Periscope Projects, just to name a few, but what might have drawn the most attention that summer was the Museum’s project with The Yes Men. The media uproar over the Museum’s project with the Yes Men once more emphasized the Museum’s role as a facilitator of conversation-here specifically for one on the intersection of art and activism.  It is the type of difficult conversation the Museum is proud to help facilitate, both then and now.

Many thanks to SDMA and especially Alexander Jarman for the three year partnership.

Summer Salon Series 2012: Beyond the Banner

Summer Salon Series 2011: What Does a City Need?

Summer Salon Series 2010