Montserrat professors win major awards
By Will Broaddus Staff writer
Wow! And wow again!
Not one, but two faculty members at Montserrat College of Art have received important honors for their work.
Martha Buskirk (above left), professor of art history and criticism, has won a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship that will allow her to continue research on artists and the law.
Meredith Morten (above right), professor of sculpture, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant — her second — to do research in Austria and Hungary.
“This recognition is reflective of the high level of excellence of our accomplished faculty,” said Steve Immerman, president of Montserrat. “Our entire community is celebrating these distinguished awards alongside Professors Buskirk and Morten.”
The Guggenheim will let Buskirk take a semester off from teaching, and support travel for research in New York and Los Angeles.
In two previous books, she has looked at how contemporary art is shaped by the institutions where it is exhibited, promoted and sold. Her new work will examine the laws that limit and permit contemporary artistic practice, and what those laws tell us about our culture.
“I’m coming at it from two points,” she said. “One is a real interest in artists’ rights, sometimes talked about as ‘moral rights.’” These allow artists to protect their works from being altered, to disavow works that have been changed, and to have some say in where and how works are exhibited or published.
“That’s where the idea of artist’s rights comes up against very strong support for an expansive understanding of fair use,” Buskirk said. “It’s highly problematic if creative work, and discourse in general, are blocked by copyright holders.”
Rights in conflict
In other words, while artists want to protect their own works, they also want access to other people’s images, sounds and language.
“Basically, there are a lot of artists who draw from already existing images,” Buskirk said. “The question is, what is the impact of that?”
After looking at artistic works and court cases where these issues have emerged, Buskirk wants to examine why our laws support such contradictory values.
“I would say I’ve long been interested in the relation between art and its larger cultural context,” she said. “This would be pushing in the direction of the larger cultural context a bit further.”
Bronze Age inspiration
Morten, who has been at Montserrat for 21 years, makes ceramic works inspired by ancient artifacts.
“I don’t make pieces that are representational,” she said. “They draw upon a lot of references. The primary inspiration is prehistoric archaeology, and the secondary inspiration is anatomy, biology, geology, marine life — natural history stuff.
“But I purposely make them kind of enigmas to look at.”
Morten will travel to Austria, to a site outside Vienna where people once lived in the late Bronze and early Iron ages.
“The Hallstadt culture there was a huge find, and it was so large and so important that a whole epoch was named after it,” she said.
Morten immerses herself in artifacts, then goes into her studio, where “the muse takes over.”
“I will be working with an archaeological department within the University of Vienna,” she said. “They have a very large collection of artifacts I’ll be able to access, and they have a photographic archive of prehistoric sites.
“This is all just gathering inspiration. I look at artifacts and study them, then the work happens.”
The grant has two parts, allowing Morten to work at The International Ceramic Studio in Kecskemet, Hungary for two months, after looking at ancient relics for two months in Austria.
“In Kecskemet is a very well-known, and very good, ceramic center,” she said. “People from all over the world go to work there.”
Morten feels that tools, pots and other items from ancient times have a lot to teach us in the present.
“I’m real curious about who our predecessors were, who made such beautiful pieces with nothing but their hands, that rival what we have today,” she said. “I’m a real believer in looking to the past.”