Skoglund Is My Hero

This entry goes out to member Jose Ortiz Pagan who I believe first told me about this artist years ago…

While visiting the Denver Art Museum this week, I finally saw in person one of the installations by Sandy Skoglund that I have only seen in internet photos.

This large scale 1989 installation is in the permanent collection of the museum, and is rotationally on view in their modern and contemporary section. Composed of gray polyester resin cast foxes and red painted cafe scene, the installation photographs well, but is truly magical in person.

Skoglund, a photographer and installation artist, combines her passions by spending immense effort, craft, and time creating elaborate scenes that feel like snapshots.  And then she shoots them.  In a time when PhotoShop dominates as one of the art world’s favorite tools, Skoglund’s practice seems both old-fashioned and advanced.  Why?  Naysayers might wonder why Skoglund bother to fabricate her scenes at all when the computer could virtually build those scenes.  Yet, Skoglund doesn’t stop there, though.  She does double duty.  Her work is super-ready for the internet age when most people view art via google search, but also has a real physicality that can only be experienced in propia persona.

As Pine and Gilmore would argue, the principles of Experience Economy would say that Skoglund’s physical work appeals to our ever growing need to feel like we’re having a special adventure when we go to a restaurant, hotel, store, or gallery.  According to Pine and Gilmore, the thing we really take away is the memory of the experience.  Thus, the actual installation of Skoglund’s scenes is essential in meeting the expectations of the contemporary art consumer.  And these installations are powerful.  As I walked through Fox Games at the Denver Art Museum, I was exhilarated with every view: details, scale, the flatness of color, the obstacles of gravity, the relation of one part of the installation to the next, etc.  All that said, if it weren’t for the beautiful two-dimension pictures these scenes create, few of us would be able to appreciate Sandy Skoglund or even know to seek out her work.

In a 2011 Flavorwire article, Caroline Stanley writes:

Conceptual artist Sandy Skoglund has spent the past few decades creating fantastical, color-infused installations that look like what a person would dream about after eating too much cheese right before bedtime — think extraordinary scenarios like a Cheetos-covered cocktail party or a restaurant overrun by red foxes.  …[H]er detailed work becomes even more mind-blowing when you stop to consider that Skoglund doesn’t use Photoshop to manipulate her images; rather, these surreal tableaux are the result of months of meticulous construction.

I am not certain it matters how much time and effort go into a work when considering how effective it is as a piece.  The modernist in me appreciates efficiency too much to congratulate someone on taking the long road.  In many ways, the fact these scenes existed in reality was suspicious to me at first, though I understand that, to many people, art is about mastering a craft.

As much as time plays a factor in what makes Skoglund’s work so impressive, so too does the craftsmanship and level of detail.  I have heard some sculptural artists bemoan that too many art pieces are conceived of for the purposes of being photographed only and not enough attention is given to the objects themselves.  They see these works as wimpy and not worthy of exhibition; some might even say these objects are not fit to be called sculpture.  One might write this concern off as old-fashioned, but there is a point to be made–will we lose something if all of our art is exhibited in digital galleries?

Skoglund turns that whole concern on its head.  Her work is not one or the other, it is both–it is not just about the image or just about the object.  It is photography, it is sculpture, and it is installation.  For this reason, I think Skoglund’s practice is far and away one of the best, most modern practices I have had the pleasure to see digitally as well as in person.  I find it inspiring how her work lives in multiple worlds and, in all of them, makes a giant impression.

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