World Views
11:09 am
Wed August 21, 2013

Outgoing OU Museum Director Says Technology Will Define Art’s Next Generation

A mural at the Venezuela Pavilion at the 55th Art Biennale in Venice, Italy.
A mural at the Venezuela Pavilion at the 55th Art Biennale in Venice, Italy.
Credit Konstantinos Koukopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons

The departing director of the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art says 21st Century art will be shaped by music, video, and other mixed media to visually express ideas in new and exciting ways.

Ghislain d’Humières spoke with World Views host and OU College of International Studies Dean Suzette Grillot shortly before he takes over as the CEO of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

“It’s an exciting trend. There is absolutely no border on the canvas. Anything could be the canvas,” d’Humières says. “One could argue that every period had a very cutting-edge, contemporary time, but I think the period we’re living in right now has been seeing a huge amount of new technology and new ways to express art.”

Ghislain d’Humières
Ghislain d’Humières
Credit Shevaun Williams / Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

D’Humières called visual art an “open door” to a better world, and says it can train a person to accept the differences of a global society.

“Even if there’s something you don’t like because you don’t think it’s beautiful or you don’t think it’s art, you at least have the duty to make a little bit of an effort to say, ‘OK, what did this artist, or what was this culture thinking about?’”, d’Humières says.

Starting in June and running through November, artists, musicians, filmmakers and architects have gathered in Italy for the 2013 Venice Biennale, a showcase of contemporary artists from dozens of countries creating works specifically for the event.

“With technology, some of them, it’s unbelievable,” d’Humières says. “I couldn’t go this year, but a friend of mine was telling me about the pavilion from the Vatican. And they had new media and technology used there, which is not what you expect from the Vatican.”

D’Humières says the most influential contemporary artists aren’t necessarily the most well-known or the ones making the most money, but the ones having the largest worldwide impact on other artists.

WEB EXTRA: Watch and listen to Ghislain d’Humières narrate an audio slideshow of some of the works by Ed Ruscha, Miquel Barceló and Ai Weiwei.

“When you think about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei…he’s a very provocative artist and he’s a very political artist,” d’Humières says. “Because he uses the internet and the web, everybody around the world knows him.”

Earlier this year, the Speed Art Museum announced d’Humières will take over as the Louisville museum’s director beginning Sept. 3.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On how art contributes to international understanding

I would say it's beauty, or it's emotion connected with beauty. That being said, every, as you say, every country has its own art, and you cannot necessarily be sensitive to everything. And some art speaks better to you than another one, and you have things you like and things you don't like. But this perpetual need since the Stone Age when you look at the grotto, the Cave of Lascaux, you know, of designing and drawing on the wall, and representing visual art has been for every culture. We have so much to do, museums around the world, to prepare the next generation for a global world. You were talking about tolerance. You were talking about, you know, sensitivity and so on. Yes, art is there to also train you and make you ready to accept the differences of the world through the visual art.

On some of today’s most influential artists

We were talking the other day about Ed Ruscha, who is originally from Oklahoma. Mr. Ruscha, is now the most famous, I think, American living artist. He's based in L.A. I like that he really had an influence on the Beat Generation. But coming back a little bit before him, he's not living now, but he passed away only four years ago, was Robert Rauschenberg. And in my mind, Robert Rauschenberg, especially for the U.S. but also for the world, had an impact on so many artists. I want to say any artist from after, I want to say, the '80s, had a connection with Rauschenberg in one way or the other. So he's definitely a major artist, extremely successful and wonderful and so on. I mean, I don't know, I could go from different countries, I mean, Miquel Barceló is a great Spanish artist and wonderful in abstract and representing, I mean, the sensitivities through the painting. He's a really great artist for me, but some people will consider that he is not really a major one.

On what he hopes to accomplish at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum

They want to change the concept of the museum. They want to take it from a traditional encyclopedic museum, they want to make it a 21st century cultural stage with a lot of different types of art happening, and so and so. That's very exciting. And also, as you mentioned, the University of Louisville is just around the corner, and they never really collaborate. So they want a director who knows how to collaborate with students, which, guess what? I know how to do. And I love to do that. And, of course, I will have to raise a little bit more money for the endowment and also bring international exhibitions to Louisville. So all of that, really, are challenges I like and I love.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Ghislain d'Humieres, welcome back to World Views.

GHISLAIN D’HUMIÈRES: Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be here.

GRILLOT: It's great to have you back. It's been a couple years and we know each other well, but you know what, Ghislain, I really don't know how or why you really became interested in art.

D’HUMIÈRES: Oh, gosh. It's a long story and I'm going to make it very short. But I was very fortunate in my life to have key people in my family and in my surroundings who were always interested in art, including, in fact, my grandmother on my mother's side who was herself an artist. And I think she took me to my first museum when I was five years old, my first antique dealer when I was also five, and my first auction when I was six years old. And, guess what? I worked 15 years in auctions, and after that I worked for the international art market for 15 years and decided to leave and went to do work as a volunteer in Guatemala because I really wanted to do something non-profit. And that's where I discovered my [unintelligible] of education in a way, and  wanted to do education and art? It’s a museum. And this is the reason I moved to museums. But I would say I give an amazing credit to that grandmother who was really an unbelievable influence in my life, yes.

GRILLOT: And your grandmother is Belgian?

D’HUMIÈRES: Yes, okay, that's a complicated one. The Belgian/Austrian-Czech part of the family.

GRILLOT: Okay, I see. But European….

D’HUMIÈRES: But definitely European. But very, uh, she moved around Europe a lot and had really a kind of, you know, it was the time of the two World Wars. So, she was an amazing person. And there were also several other persons in my life who had a very strong influence in my love for the arts, what it is to look at it. And funny enough, I honestly looked at it as an aesthetic first, but I looked at it with a historian's background because I've studied history more than art history in a way. And I was looking at works of art to learn the history of the object or the history of the painting, then got into the art side of it. So my background is more of a historian than an art historian.

GRILLOT: So, given your international background and your background in art and art history, what is it about art that really contributes to our intercultural awareness and sensitivity and tolerance? I mean, there seems to be a connection between them. I mean, everybody does art. Every culture has some form of art. So it's something that binds us together, is it not? Is there a way in which art really contributes to our international understanding?

D’HUMIÈRES: Yes, and even, I would say it's beauty, or it's emotion connected with beauty. That being said, every, as you say, every country has its own art, and you cannot necessarily be sensitive to everything. And some art speaks better to you than another one, and you have things you like and things you don't like. But this perpetual need since the Stone Age when you look at the grotto, the Cave of Lascaux, you know, of designing and drawing on the wall, and representing visual art has been for every culture. And this is what I love in my job, because as a director of a museum I'm not there to represent one type of art. I'm here to really try to show expression of artistic talent in every culture, every century. The museum, the museum in general, is a repository of cultural or visual art. Of course you have museums that are more contemporary museums and so on. In the case of university museums, we are universal. We are here to really show and exhibit work from every civilization. Why? Number one – because we are here to teach, and all of the students and the public need to be able to be exposed to every category of art if it's possible. For them to react, and they will not necessarily react to everything, they will react to some of them, but that reaction is going to generate a thought. And that thought is going to generate a conversation with a member of the family. That reaction to the works of art is going to trigger consequences later on, for example during a business meeting, or so on. I mean, the aspect, and the impact of visual art is really something that has consequences on your own life all the time. What I like is we are all, I mean, we're speaking so much about the global world. And very often people consider museums as a kind of dusty place. Well, guess what? There's no better place than a museum with a kind of universal collection to prepare the next generation to be ready for a global world. Where on a campus in Oklahoma can you find Chinese art? And Native American? Well, of course that's kind of easy because it's here. But contemporary European and so on. We have so much to do, museums around the world, to prepare the next generation for a global world. You were talking about tolerance. You were talking about, you know, sensitivity and so on. Yes, art is there to also train you and make you ready to accept the differences of the world through the visual art.

GRILLOT: So even though we may have different tastes in the kind of art we prefer, that we have a different idea of what beauty is, for example, or what is artistic expression, we still all have ideas about what we think is beautiful and artistic. So we share those common emotions, I guess. When you mentioned beauty and emotion, that's what really struck me. That there's something universal about the emotion that can be provoked, evoked, by a work of art. So even though we may not like the same kind of art, I may not prefer, you know, art from a certain region, or that region, or this country, or that style, contemporary versus traditional, or whatever, but that we're all still reacting and feeling things about it. And that's what kind of binds us together and creates this sense of universality?

D’HUMIÈRES: Absolutely. And also if you consider yourself to be an open-minded person, if even there's something you don't like because you don't think it's beautiful, or you don't think even think it's art, you at least have the duty to make a little bit of an effort to say, "Okay, what was this artist, or what was this culture, thinking about?" And that's, again, will push you above your limit about trying to explore something different and a different civilization. So, it's, for me, again visual art is an open door to make it a better world. It seems a little bit tacky to say that, but it's true.

GRILLOT: So speaking about what artists are thinking and what motivates, perhaps, their art, let's talk about artists today. Who are some of the most influential artists, do you think, in the world today? Is that a really difficult question to answer?

D’HUMIÈRES: It is. Because this is completely subjective. And what do you mean by influential? Are they necessarily the most famous ones? Or the ones who are the most successful ones? Or so on?

GRILLOT: Right, the ones that make the most money versus the ones that are most well known versus the ones that have the most…

D’HUMIÈRES: In this world right now it's not necessarily money, but more the person who had the largest impact around the world. When you think about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, okay. Everything is priced pretty high. I like him because he's a very provocative artist and he's a very political artist. And because he uses the internet and the web and so on, everybody around the world knows him. I think he's an influential and definitely one of the best artists today, but many people are going to disagree with me, thinking his art is not really relevant or his art is not pretty. We were talking the other day about Ed Ruscha, who is originally from Oklahoma. Mr. Ruscha, is now the most famous, I think, American living artist. He's based in L.A. I like that he really had an influence on the Beat Generation. But coming back a little bit before him, he's not living now, but he passed away only four years ago, was Robert Rauschenberg. And in my mind, Robert Rauschenberg, especially for the U.S. but also for the world, had an impact on so many artists. I want to say any artist from after, I want to say, the '80s, had a connection with Rauschenberg in one way or the other. So he's definitely a major artist, extremely successful and wonderful and so on. I mean, I don't know, I could go from different countries, I mean, Miquel Barceló is a great Spanish artist and wonderful in abstract and representing, I mean, the sensitivities through the painting. He's a really great artist for me, but some people will consider that he is not really a major one. So, it's a difficult question. Everyone will have a different kind of opinion. But those are three of them that are important.

GRILLOT: So just to add to the difficult questions, then, from the most influential to the most well known, I suppose artists, to some of the trends, how you would characterize art today. It seems like you can find just about anything out there. I mean, multiple different media. You know, it seems to be very eclectic. I mean, is there any kind of way in which we can characterize art today as, you mentioned abstract art. How do we even make sense of what art looks like today?

D’HUMIÈRES: Well, especially because you have what we call "new media" and "new art" and so on. What is interesting is painting on the wall or painting on canvas is still going on. Painting on the wall, in fact, when you think about street art and graffiti. Well, people in caves, again, back to the cave stone people, they were painting on the walls. That kind of medium of expressing visually. But what's very interesting in the last 10, 20 years, or a little bit more is all the new media, with the video, with, you know, with virtual works and so on, mixed music and media, all of that is pretty, groovy, I would say. An exciting trend. And because freedom, I mean, there is no, absolutely no, border on the canvas, anything could be the canvas. One could argue that every period had a very cutting-edge, contemporary time. True, but I think this one, the period we're living in right now, the 21st century, has been seeing a huge amount of new technology and new ways to express art. So is there any one trend? No, there are multiple trends. And I don't think that's going to stop. It's still going to grow with new technology. There will be artists using this new technology to do something even more creative. So it's a pretty exciting time to be here.

GRILLOT: It seems like there's a lot of kind of combining of different methods and approaches. So, for example, I was in Scotland a couple weeks ago, and there was a brand new mural, very large mural, outdoor mural, that was to celebrate the, in Glasgow, the celebrate their hosting of the Commonwealth Games coming up. And it was an incredible painting of swimmers and divers and, you know, things, you know, athletic, but it was done by a street artist who painted it with spray paint. And you would never know that by looking at it. I think that was the incredible thing. It was that there was this mixing of kind of graffiti artists, a beautiful mural that was really something you couldn't imagine being done, being produced in that way. There really seems to be this kind of an explosion of that sort of activity.

D’HUMIÈRES: Absolutely. And you see that around the world. And we were talking just before today about the Biennale in Venice, which happen every two years, which is a place where every country of the world has their own pavilion, bringing their own contemporary artists, creating works of art specifically for that. And it's an amazing time to go in Venice right now because you see the creativity and the creations from all around the world. With technology, some of them. It's unbelievable. I couldn't go this year, but a friend of mine was telling me about the pavilion from the Vatican. And they had, again, new media and technology used there, which is not what you expect from the Vatican, you know. And there was every country, including Angola, for example, who had also a very creative pavilion. Technology again, and new technique are going to be really what's going to drive this century about art. It's also difficult for us museum people because we have to stay in tune with everything, and it's difficult because you have so much going on.

GRILLOT: And that's not, like, and piece of art that you can put in a museum.

D’HUMIÈRES: No. Well, some of them you could, some of them you can do re-installation, but it would also have a lot of logistically challenges.

GRILLOT: Much more challenging.

D’HUMIÈRES: Yeah.

GRILLOT: Well, Ghislain, I hate to say this because you're leaving us here at the University of Oklahoma, and I'm just, you know, about to shed tears. But you're leaving us soon for your next adventure. You've been here at OU for over five years now, I think, and have done an incredible job with our Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. We just can' t thank you enough for all that you've done for the University of Oklahoma. But you're on to your next adventure. You're going to be directing the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. What is your plan there? There's a tremendous amount of renovation, expansion, exciting things going on. Will you continue to work with students? What are any parting thoughts you might leave with us here in Oklahoma?

D’HUMIÈRES: Well, first of all I want to thank the University of Oklahoma and President Boren. And all of you, my colleagues, to have been working with you has been an amazing experience. And very exciting, especially to see all the possibilities we were able to do. All the new programs we've created, you know, education and so on. And that's one of the reasons, I guess, I was hired in Louisville because, yes, the new building to build, which is something I did before, but it's bigger. But they want to change the concept of the museum. They want to take it from a traditional encyclopedic museum, they want to make it a 21st century cultural stage with a lot of different types of art happening, and so and so. That's very exciting. And also, as you mentioned, the University of Louisville is just around the corner, and they never really collaborate. So they want a director who knows how to collaborate with students, which, guess what? I know how to do. And I love to do that. And, of course, I will have to raise a little bit more money for the endowment and also bring international exhibitions to Louisville. So all of that, really, are challenges I like and I love. And yes, I'm extremely sad to leave Norman because I've really built wonderful friendships here. I know I will be back, because you don't give up friendships like that. But it was time for me to move on and to participate with a city community, because here it's more like a university community. I’m very proud, and I want again to thank all my friends and my colleagues here, but also my staff because everything I've been able to do in these five years, I would never have been able to do it without my staff. So, it's to them.

GRILLOT: Well, we are so sorry to see you go. Obviously Louisville's gain is our tremendous loss. But you've left an amazing legacy here. You've built a foundation upon which future directors can, I'm sure, thrive. So thank you so much for all you've done for us, and for being such a good sport on World Views, and giving us your thoughts about art around the world. So thank you, Ghislain.

D’HUMIÈRES: Thank you. And thank you for having me again today.

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