Thank You, Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation

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All of us at the Smart Museum are hugely grateful -- dancing-around-the-office-grateful -- to have received an Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation Exhibition Award for Feast. It's a wonderful grant: the foundation's exhibition awards are highly competitive, substantial, flexible, and designed to provided early support for experimental, thematic contemporary art exhibitions. By covering a significant portion of the exhibition cost, the grant allows us to move forward confidently with the project even given the current economic crisis and the fundraising challenges facing all museums.

I mention this not only because a shout out is due to the Tremaine Foundation, but also because I'm in the midst of the first of two brief research leaves for the project, and my travel during this time has been partially supported by Tremaine funds. This time away from administrative work at the Smart has been a rich experience for me personally and one that has helped expand the context of the project. Most of the artists on my initial working checklist -- the list that won the award -- were either a) European, b) American, or c) Asian artists working in Europe and America. I've been expanding that initial list quickly: usually as soon as I mention the project to an artist or another curator they say, oh, do you know about so-and-so who is doing such-and-such with the meal? But because most of my network of colleagues are European and American, up until February I learned mostly about other artists working in those same territories.

That's great, of course, and I hope to keep learning about Euro-American work on this topic (about which I'll write later). But the show needs a broader viewpoint, so I cashed in some frequent flier miles and spent much of the last five weeks on research leave in Southeast Asia. This allowed me to meet a number of artists who work with the meal or who had related things to teach. We talked about their work and its connections both to their individual practices and to their specific working contexts. They took me to artist-run cafes, to archives, to other artists, to local spots for favorite dishes. (No surprise that many productive conversations took place over coffee, over drinks, over meals.) They arranged invitations for me to help prepare food in humble village kitchens and took me to see the ritual pomp of the sultan of Yogyakarta's gift of food to the people. This experience of "other" places/art communities/foods/modes of hospitality has helped me to shift some patterns of thought and to widen the circle. (And yes, for most of the time I was in the tropics, it was gray winter in Chicago, and yes, I added some vacation time in the mix, and yes, I know that I am a lucky person).

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting about the artists I met, the scenes I encountered, and food, politics, and hospitality in Southeast Asia.


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This is an informal curatorial research blog for Feast: Radical Hospitality and Contemporary Art, an exhibition about the meal as a medium for contemporary artists. The exhibition opens at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art in February 2011. Many thanks to the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation for supporting this exhibition, to my colleagues at the Smart for their critiques and collaboration, and to all of my friends and accomplices who have shared ideas.

Stephanie Smith
smart-feast [at]


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