The RISD Museum of Art Presents Siebren Versteeg: In Advance of Another Thing

The RISD Museum presents Siebren Versteeg: In Advance of Another Thing in the Spalter New Media Gallery. Versteeg (American, b. 1971) uses online mass media to explore themes of contemporary life. Organized by Judith Tannenbaum, the Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, the show features Versteeg’s 2007 work Boom (Fresher Acconci) from the Museum’s collection, along with New York Window (2008), Flag (2008), and Triptych (2009). Exhibition open through Sunday, October 10, 2010.

Versteeg writes computer programs that pull imagery from the Internet based upon subjects or criteria that he specifies. The images then appear on monitors within the gallery space. Although Versteeg determines the types of things that might appear on the monitors, the artwork—like the Internet it draws from—is constantly growing and changing. He has noted, “As the nature of the images presented by the work is random, the artist assumes both all and no responsibility for their presence and content.” This tension between creative control and the endless stream of images is of particular interest to the artist.

“Versteeg rethinks traditional formats and imagery, in the process making them very much his own and giving them new meanings that resonate in today’s world,” explains curator Judith Tannenbaum. In the work entitled Triptych, Internet images appear across three LCD screens in gold-leaf frames. This type of composition in three parts, and the use of gold-leaf decoration, recalls medieval and Renaissance triptych altarpieces. In Flag, he uses images drawn from the Internet to create a patchwork version of the American flag. Here the artist refers to the iconic flag paintings of Jasper Johns, adding his own interpretation. By bringing together Internet imagery with the symbol of the flag, the work makes a statement about the democratization of information in contemporary society and the role of popular imagery in the shaping of national identity.

Boom (Fresher Acconci) is inspired by Vito Acconci’s 1976 video The Red Tapes, currently on view in Subject to Change: Art and Design in the Twentieth Century. Versteeg’s title refers to a section of The Red Tapes in which Acconci summarizes important moments, or “booms,” in American history. Versteeg’s Boom (Fresher Acconci), which shows a series of Google images, extends this theme of Acconci’s, adding the Internet boom and the information boom. New York Window employs what the artist calls “computerized painting actions,” a phrase that serves as a direct reference to Action Painting, a term synonymous with Abstract Expressionism and the New York School. By referring to the work of past artists, Versteeg creates dialogues between his own creations and earlier art history.

In placing his works within a gallery space, Versteeg separates technology from its everyday contexts and allows viewers to approach mass-media imagery in a more reflective environment. Loose narratives and unexpected associations are revealed, and the speed at which we browse imagery becomes apparent. Versteeg pays attention to the aesthetic details of this presentation: for example, rather than hiding his wiring, he uses conspicuously colored cables that, when seen against the wall, mimic the lines of gestural drawing or painting, and in Boom (Fresher Acconci), his selection of an old-style 20-inch monitor to display the images suggests the rapid rate of change in computer technology.

Siebren Versteeg was born in 1971 in New Haven, Connecticut. He received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also studied at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and the School of Visual Arts, New York. He has had solo exhibitions at the Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita, Kansas; the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; Max Protetch Gallery, New York; Bellwether Gallery, New York; Ten in One Gallery, New York; Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; and 1R Gallery, Chicago. His work has been exhibited in group shows at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC; Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, Maryland; Krannert Art Museum, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois; the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia; the National Museum of Art, Czech Republic; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Versteeg lives and works in New York.

The RISD Museum of Art, a world-class museum in Providence, RI, was founded as part of Rhode Island School of Design in 1877. Its permanent collection of more than 84,000 objects includes paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, costume, furniture, and other works of art from every part of the world, including objects from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and art of all periods from Asia, Europe, and the Americas, up to the latest in contemporary art. In addition, the Museum offers a wide array of educational and public programs to more than 100,000 visitors annually.