November 20, 2009

Two art scholars up for for $100K prize

A U of C professor and a Renaissance Society curator were both nominated for the Ordway Prize this month, an award honoring contemporary artists who have not yet received widespread recognition.

Tania Bruguera, a visual arts professor and performance artist, and Renaissance Society assistant curator Hamza Walker (A.B. ’88) were nominated for the artist and writer/curator categories, respectively. The prize awards $100,000 each to two winners with careers spanning at least 15 years.

Walker is the director of education for the Renaissance Society, a non-collecting contemporary art museum on the fourth floor of Cobb Hall.

“I was always interested in contemporary art, but it wasn’t until my last year of college that I caught the bug,” Walker said in an e-mail interview. “When I was an undergrad, the [art history] train only went as far as the Weimar Republic. Anything past that, you had to walk the rest of the way.”

Walker, who has been working at the Renaissance Society since 1994, is also a faculty member at the Art Institute, and writes for a number of publications on contemporary art criticism, short fiction, and experimental music.

Candidates for the Ordway Prize are selected through an anonymous nomination process that draws from a global pool of curators, writers, artists, and museum directors. “I am touched to have that acknowledged by my peers,” Walker said. “I have a genuine passion for what I do.”

Walker added that the prize money, which carries no restrictions, would be put to good use, paying off his debts and giving his 1990 Subaru Justy a “major tune-up.”

Bruguera is a political and interdisciplinary artist who focuses on the relationship between art, politics, and life. Her pieces depict art as an experience to be walked through and felt, according to her University biography.

In one installation in Havana, Bruguera constructed a dark tunnel-like space and filled it with rotten sugarcane husks, which her visitors could walk through. Visitors were directed towards a light, which was revealed to be footage from one of Fidel Castro’s speeches. Once visitors reached the end of the tunnel, several naked male figures walked towards them making bowing and slapping gestures.

At another installation in Columbia, Bruguera distributed cocaine to her audience while actors playing left-wing guerillas and right-wing military officers tried to speak over each other in a panel discussion.

Since 2002, her pieces have addressed the structures and resources of power, and her aim has been to utilize political power techniques rather than just representing how they function in political situations.

Originally from Cuba, Bruguera now splits her time between Havana and Chicago. Besides her position at the U of C, Bruguera is the founder and director of Arte de Conducta, an alternative art school project that focuses on behavior art, in Havana. She is also a faculty member at the University Iuav in Venice.

Bruguera was unavailable for comment.

A jury of leading arts professionals will decide the two Ordway Prize recipients, and the winners will be announced in early 2010. Three individuals are nominated in each category.

“Being nominated with another University colleague speaks volumes about the national and international profile of our visual arts program,” Walker said.