Guest Editor Interview (Mckeown interviewed by Duran) – William McKeown

Bill McKeown is currently associate professor of art history at the University of Memphis. He is the guest-editor of the 82nd issue of Number: Inc. magazine. Bill received his PhD in the History and Criticism of Art from Florida State University, and his Master of Arts in Art History and Criticism from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His research interests have centered on nineteenth-century European art, with a particular focus on Victorian painting and the art writings of John Ruskin. I recently spoke with Bill over the phone.

So, Bill: I know you, and I think most people know you, as a historian of nineteenth-century art. I was curious how you found yourself as the editor of a contemporary art journal.

Actually, what happened was that Jennifer Sargent ran into my wife Kim at the Metal Museum, where she [Kim] works. It came up in their conversation that Number: Inc was looking for a guest-editor of their upcoming art criticism issue, and that’s how I got involved. Art criticism is actually not that far removed from my background, as there’s always been a big dose of art criticism going back to my days at Stony Brook, where it was the principal focus of their art history program. So whether it’s nineteenth- or twentieth- or twenty-first century art, art criticism has always formed a parallel field for my art historical research.

Do you think that art criticism still has a public role to play? Or has it become too insular, and separated too much from the average citizen for it to really bear on their cultural experience?

I think art criticism exists in this difficult place where if it’s overly theoretical, it definitely runs the risk of becoming overly insular, where it’s just art critics talking to other art critics about theory. But the opposite extreme is art criticism that simply reviews shows as a means of publicity without offering any critical perspective. I think it needs to be somewhere in the middle, where criticism not only encourages the public to get out and look at art, but also offers some kind of theoretical framework by which one can approach and understand art.

I have a follow-up question. I’ve always been struck by what Susan Sontag says about interpretation, in that interpretation is a way by which we control artworks, and strip them of their supernatural power. And that it’s a very human desire to control our environment. Do you think art criticism might be complicit in a removal of the more visceral, or emotional, or immediate responses? Do all of the words eliminate the feelings at some point?

It could do that, if you’re relying on just words for gaining any kind of access to art. Speaking for myself, whenever I go to a museum or a gallery, I like to avoid reading anything if I can help it—whether it’s the artist’s statement or whatever—so that my first go-round is just to look, and hopefully avoid any biases in reading the art in a particular way. But after having that (or trying to have that) ideal, visual, maybe even unmediated encounter, at some point it’s good to have a conversation with other people, to get their perspectives and insights into things I may have completely overlooked—and then go back to the art a second time, having hopefully benefited from further discussion. I don’t think any text should be a substitute for the visual experience, but it’s part of what you do after that experience.

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Interview with Number: 81 – Art of the South guest editor Elaine Akin

Elaine Slayton Akin is currently working at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN. She is the guest editor of the 81st issue of Number: Inc. magazine. A former member of the Board for Number: Inc., Elaine received a Master of Arts in Art History from the University of Memphis and has continually worked in the arts pretty much everywhere Number: Inc. magazine covers (Memphis, Little Rock, AR, and now Nashville). I met up with her recently after an East Side Storytellin’ literary/music event that I hosted that she and her husband Tim attended, and we discussed our mutual love of Number: and how the art of the South has pleasantly affected our worlds and how we see everything.

Can you give me a short bio as if you were making a new website for your life right now?

Picture of Elaine Akin

Elaine Akin, photo courtesy of Heather Canterbury

My “right now” is all about being new in Nashville, so I’d say I’m an Arkansas transplant navigating my way through Music City and hoping to take in as many art, culture, and people experiences as possible in the process.  It’s ironic—I never thought that moving away would put me more in touch with my roots.  I just started a new position at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and am now constantly surrounded by…wait for it…country music; catching bits and pieces of early ‘90s songs by George Strait, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, or Trisha Yearwood as I walk through the building reminds me of my very Southern, very rural childhood.  Although I miss Little Rock for a myriad of reasons, I couldn’t be more excited about this adventure and opportunity to explore a totally new slice of the South.

Maybe tell us a little more about yourself beyond the bio too: interests, goals, and fun things you haven’t done or accomplished yet but want to do so going forward, in art and life in general.

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Face It Memphis!

Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery
Christian Brothers University, Memphis, TN
August 15, 2014- October 2, 2014

A coextensive space was created in this quaint gallery on the bottom floor of the Plough Library at Christian Brothers University. This surprisingly intimate and relatable show made of 106 Memphian faces was exhibited by a group of nineteen photographers from the Memphis Camera Club. The photography cohesively represented a selected, diverse body of men, women, and children. The demographics were varying.

Memphis Camera Club, Face It Memphis!, Black and White Photography. Photo Courtesy of Kirill Mazor.

Memphis Camera Club, Face It Memphis!, Black and White Photography. Photo Courtesy of Kirill Mazor.

Memphis Camera Club, Face It Memphis!, Black and White Photography. Photo Courtesy of Kirill Mazor.

Memphis Camera Club, Face It Memphis!, Black and White Photography. Photo Courtesy of Kirill Mazor.

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Juvenile-in-Justice: Photographs by Richard Ross

Art Museum of the University of Memphis

September 19, 2014 – November 26, 2014

 Entrance to the Juvenile-in-Justice: Photographs by Richard Ross exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis. Photograph courtesy of AMUM.

Entrance to the Juvenile-in-Justice: Photographs by Richard Ross exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis. Photograph courtesy of AMUM.

Juvenile-in-Justice: Photographs by Richard Ross was on view last fall at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis (AMUM) last fall.
More than aesthetically pleasing compositions, Ross’ project explored the living histories of over 1,000 children and teenagers at over 200 institutions in 31 states. An experienced photographer and a recipient of both the prestigious Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, Ross contextualized his images with captivating text and excerpts from interviews. Rich in content, the exhibition leaned heavily to the documentary side of photography—providing the viewer with what appeared to be a rather truthful depiction of America’s youth and their relationship with our legal system and state facilities.
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Regional Update: Mississippi


Chris Martin, Candied Culture, 2014

The Mississippi Museum of Art currently has three noteworthy exhibitions on view, with the famous American painter Robert Henri as the focal point of two. Spanish Sojourns: Robert Henri and the Spirit of Spain, located in the Donna and Jim Barksdale Galleries, includes forty paintings of Henri’s created while living in Spain. Henri’s Spanish portraits reveal inspiration from Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya.