Smithsonian Awards Fellowships to 10 Artists to Conduct Research at Museums and Research Facilities

January 31, 2008
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The Smithsonian Institution has awarded fellowships to 10 artists to conduct research at Smithsonian museums and research facilities as part of the Institution's Artist Research Fellowship Program. The 10 artists are Rachel Berwick (Hamden, Conn.); Abraham Cruz Villegas (Paris); Sam Durant (Los Angeles); Elizabeth Huey (New York); Runa Islam (London); Marcia Kure (Williamstown, Mass.); Rodney McMillian (Los Angeles); Maggie Michael (Washington, D.C.); Douglas Ross (New York); and Dan Steinhilber (Washington, D.C.).

The Smithsonian's Artist Research Fellowship Program was launched in 2006 to award research fellowships to established artists.

"The success of the pilot program highlighted the importance of research for many artists," said Susan Talbott, director of Smithsonian Arts. "Their experiences at the Smithsonian enabled them to work with specialized experts in art, science and history. While some fellows created new work during their residence, others will develop their ideas throughout time. We welcome a new and larger group of fellows for the program's second year."

A panel of art curators and administrators from the Smithsonian and other institutions reviewed the applications. They selected the artists from 47 applicants nominated by art curators and museum directors from around the country. The fellowships are paid and will last two to three months.

Connecticut artist Rachel Berwick will conduct research about ornithology and its history in order to locate stories of migration of both bird and man. Her research at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries will investigate the writings of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century naturalists and explorers. Additionally, she will conduct a detailed study of ornithology specimens in the National Museum of Natural History collection and work with staff at the National Zoo who currently are involved in the process of designing a new migratory bird facility. The research gathered during this fellowship will help Berwick create a series of sculptural installations.

Abraham Cruz Villegas, from Paris, will research objects at the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History. His research, influenced by German art historian Aby Warburg, will investigate iconography across cultures.

Sam Durant, from California, will focus on the San Blas Kuna Indians of Panama and how their relationship to U.S. anthropologists has been represented in Kuna culture. Durant also will explore how Kuna culture has been represented at some of the Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of Natural History; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the National Museum of the American Indian; and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

New York-based artist Elizabeth Huey will investigate the imagery associated with the rise and fall of mental asylums in the United States. Huey will begin her research at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, where she will study architectural history and wall coverings. The majority of her research will take place at the National Museum of American History, where she will work with the collections relating to medicine, science, politics and reform. Huey also will work with individual curators at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the National Portrait Gallery.

British artist Runa Islam will focus on the exploration of the central role of historical archives in capturing historic facts and narratives. A handful of the Smithsonian's millions of artifacts will serve as inspiration for her next series of projects. Islam plans to use objects at the National Museum of the American Indian; the National Museum of American History; the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; and the National Air and Space Museum.

Nigerian artist Marcia Kure will work in the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, where she will research the Lakota Winter Counts collection. Her study will investigate the political, social and cultural context of the counts. Kure also plans to compare the Lakota Winter Counts with collections at the National Museum of African Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Rodney McMillian, from Los Angeles, will conduct research on the interpretive materials and narratives used in conjunction with Smithsonian exhibitions. He will work with the education and collections departments at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Archives of American Art and the National Museum of American History.

Washington, D.C., artist Maggie Michael will conduct research at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Her research will focus on how abstract concepts of the Hindu Gods Shiva and Vishnu are represented in sculpture and film. These images, along with concurrent themes of life, death, passion and time will play an important part in Michael's paintings and drawings.

New York artist Douglas Ross will focus on the historical representations, definitions and delineations of territory in American history. Working within three Smithsonian museums—the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum—he will conduct research to support his future sculpture projects. By examining such items as Japanese folding screens, the Star-Spangled Banner and space-related photographs, Ross hopes to better understand the diverse concepts of territory.

Dan Steinhilber, from Washington, D.C., plans to study theories of buoyancy and gravity. At the National Museum of Natural History, he will work with scientists to study underwater life, the mechanics of suspension and the movement of plants and animals in the sea. At the National Air and Space Museum, Steinhilber plans to study similar theories as applied to environments with altered gravitational forces.

This fellowship program is a collaboration of the Office of the Under Secretary for Art and the Office of Research Training and Services. For more information on the fellowships, artists may call (202) 633-5090.