Last year the Savannah College of Art and Design celebrated its 40th year anniversary and this coming week, the “university for creative careers” will celebrate another important milestone.

From Feb. 26 to 28, SCAD will present the 10th season of deFINE ART, an annual program of “new commissions, exhibitions, lectures and performances that brings together an international roster of emerging and established artists and visionaries.”

 

On the cutting edge

SCAD's deFINE ART is one of the most relevant and cutting-edge contemporary art showcases not just for Savannah, but for the region and beyond. The exhibitions and other programming that take place during deFINE ART are exceptionally well thought out and curated by an impeccable team that includes head curator Storm Janse van Rensburg, along with Ben Tollefson, Humberto Moro, and many other exceptionally capable faculty and staff.

“What's important to know is that our programming is going to be really diverse,” says van Rensburg. “Meaning there's going to be things that are kind of more intense and more content driven, but then there's also... other performances and things that go in another direction.”

In fact, this year's deFINE exhibitions include a number of challenging, provocative, and downright weird works meant to cause viewers to reflect and question their relationship to the world and issues of race, gender, consumer culture, technology, social media, and other culturally relevant topics. Issues, quite frankly, that contemporary art is particularly poised to address.

 

Multiple exhibits

Some of the standouts of this year's deFINE include 2019 honoree Lawrence Weiner, who made a name for himself during the boundary-breaking days of the 1960s conceptual art movement of which he was an instrumental figure, working predominantly in text-based mediums. Lee Bul is another art world star who established herself in the late 1980s with performance-based work focusing on gender identity. Her current work takes the more tangible form of sculpture and installation that deals with motifs like future architecture and technology and are absolutely eye-popping to behold.

Some of the more newly established artists in this year's deFINE include SCAD alumna Monica Cook, whose exhibition “Liquid Vessels” is a personal favorite. Cook's work takes various forms, including painting, sculpture and ornately detailed blown glass creations. Her work is beautifully weird, some of it bordering on the grotesque, but if your aesthetics lean toward the strange and otherworldly (as mine sometimes does), then you are guaranteed a visceral sort of thrill from Cook's work.

There are over a dozen exhibitions at this year's deFINE, with many additional performances, gallery talks and lectures. It's impossible to list everything here, but some other notable draws include South African artist Nicholas Hlobo's fantastic tangled brass, bronze and copper sculptures; Carla Fernández and Pedro Reyes' fashion-forward exhibition “Think Twice,” which includes musical instruments made of weapons and socially conscious couture clothing; painter Alex Gardner's “Guest Room,” which is the artist's first museum exhibition in the U.S.; and an extraordinary series of photographs from the late Karl Lagerfeld from SCAD's own collection.

 

Performances and more

That's really just the tip of the iceberg. There will also be an “audience-as-subject” interactive exhibition and a number of performances, including musical guest and Afrofuturist BOSCO; a puppet theater play with the characters of Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand, Karl Marx and Elon Musk; and an opening night block party at SCAD Museum of Art that will include DJs, food trucks, an illustration battle and some captivating video projections by artist Sean Capone on the museum's “lantern,” the vertical element of the building that can be seen from blocks away.

As van Rensburg explains, the video projections are a way for SCAD to activate the museum as a civic building and perhaps a beacon for the community.

“This is one of the spaces that we love to work in, but it's such a challenge sometimes,” says van Rensburg, adding that the projections will be on view day and night throughout the duration of deFINE. “At night the show will also change quite dramatically.”

There are many other elements of this year's deFINE ART programming that include not just visual art and performance, but just about every discipline in SCAD's degree programs like fashion, photography, immersive reality, and more. The deFINE programming is free and open to the public. See the details on all of this year's exhibitions, events, and guest speakers at scad.edu/defineart2019.

Museum a 'rare gem'

SCAD's president and founder Paula Wallace, of course, couldn't be more pleased with this year's offerings.

“Where else can you see a satirical puppet show by a multi-platform artist, party to live DJs and electronica, and travel to fantastical worlds created by painters, sculptors and game designers?” says Wallace. “Only at SCAD deFINE ART! These masterful artists, like their thought-provoking exhibitions, are on display — they are mentors and actors in this interdisciplinary pageant rooted in SCAD's collaborative mission and professional values.”

Wallace also points to the uniqueness of the SCAD Museum of Art building itself and SCAD's importance as a contemporary cultural institution.

“In the past, Savannah was known for house museums,” says Wallace. “Today the SCAD Museum of Art has achieved renown for presenting avant-garde contemporary art experiences in Georgia's oldest city. The frisson of the storied old cityscape and the fresh art is truly something to behold.

"The SCAD Museum of Art is a rare gem — a carefully curated teaching museum open to the public. I am immensely proud of everything the museum affords our city's residents and visitors. But the museum is just one of SCAD's artistic and architectural masterpieces.

"Our campus is composed of repurposed and re-imagined buildings that ground Savannah's art scene and serve as galleries for student and alumni creations. The Hive residence hall complex alone has over 100 such works. SCAD has renovated more than 80 historic buildings that were formerly cast aside. All are filled with extraordinary art. All SCAD buildings, including our museum, empower everyone to aspire for the best in our city's future.”

Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at savartscene@gmail.com and follow on Twitter @savartscene.