Jessica Stockholder

September 24, 2013 | Published Articles, Writing

A feature from the September 2013 issue of Art ltd:

Color Jam / 2012 / Installation view at Adams and State Street / Photo: courtesy Chicago Loop Alliance

One would never suspect that Jessica Stockholder’s ivy-covered studio was originally a barn. The one-story building on the edge of the University of Chicago’s predominantly Gothic-style campus has high ceilings inside, skylights, windows and clean white walls. While it may be a far cry from those iconic red structures peppered across the Midwest, it is perfectly suited for artistic production. Given Stockholder’s ongoing dialogue with architecture–her ability to intervene and transform architectural sites into multicolored environments, it seems fitting that this unique, well-nested spot would house her creativity. The site was originally converted to a studio in 1906 by Lorado Taft, a sculptor and professor who remains the building’s namesake. In 1965 it was designated a National Landmark and, until recently, was a main hub of the University’s MFA program, where Stockholder now teaches.

“I’ve been here for two years and I am beginning to feel settled. I like Chicago. It was hard to move; I felt like I was a plant uprooted.” Since her New York debut in the late ’80s, she has influenced a generation of artists with her site-specific installations. She has made a vibrant career “drawing in space” around the world. From the Whitney Museum of American Art to the Palacio de Cristal, from the Centre Pompidou to Art Basel, Stockholder appropriates a wide range of every day materials–like desk lamps, freezers, or bathtub bottoms–arranging them in space as one composing on a canvas. She’s also enjoyed an academic career. For over a decade, until 2011, Stockholder worked as the Director and Professor of Graduate Studies in the Sculpture Department at Yale. Thereafter, she accepted a position at the University of Chicago as the Chair of the Visual Arts Department. In every aspect of her work, Stockholder responds to structure, whether considering a traditional, square canvas, the boundaries of an exhibition space, an intersection of a city, or even the administrative structure of a school.

Stockholder originated from the West Coast. Born in Seattle in 1959, she was raised in Vancouver and worked closely alongside Mowry Baden at the University of Victoria. With a BFA degree in hand, she left the mountainous landscape of British Columbia for graduate school. Although Stockholder had already begun composing sculptural interventions that addressed the space between and outside of painting, she applied and was accepted into Yale’s painting department. “I applied to the painting department because I thought of myself as a painter,” she says. After one year, and partly due to administrative practicalities, she switched over to the sculpture department, where she would later graduate.

Yale contrasted greatly from the University of Victoria. “At Yale I met artists, like Judy Pfaff and Mel Bochner, whom I had heard about at U Vic. It was like, ‘Oh, these are real people.'” Artists she’d read about in magazines walked around campus. “I got there in the early ’80s, when David Salle was getting a lot of attention,” she says. The art market was booming, especially for painters. “[Yale] is really close to New York. But it isn’t in New York. It provides a certain enclave of its own–though life there intersects what goes on in NY.” read more