STUDIO ARTIST CONVERSATIONS | Smack Mellon

Smack Mellon is excited to announce a public conversation series featuring our current Studio Artists via Instagram Live. The conversations will take place between Monday, July 18–Saturday, July 28, 2022. Smack Mellon’s current residents, American ArtistDestiny BelgraveJesus BenaventeMegan Mi-Ai LeeSasha Wortzel, and Anne Wu, will be in dialogue with other artists and curators for dynamic investigations into their work, interests, and processes. Each conversation will be around 45 minutes. No RSVP required. 

To watch these live conversations follow @smackmellon on Instagram, and click on our stories at the time of the event. The schedule is listed here and the artists’ and guests’ bios are below:

Monday July 18, 7pm EST: American Artist & Chester Toye, Creative Producer 

Wednesday July 20th, 7pm EST: Megan Mi-Ai Lee & Herb Tam, Curator & Director of Exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America 

Thursday, July 21st, 7pm EST: Jesus Benavente & Jennie Lamensdorf, Independent Curator 

Tuesday July 26th, 7pm EST: Anne Wu & Danni Shen, Writer & Curator

Wednesday July 27th, 7pm EST: Sasha Wortzel & Kristan Kennedy, Artist & Curator at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art 

Thursday July 28th, 7pm EST: Destiny Belgrave & Chela Mitchell, Art Dealer & Advisor 

Images: 2021-22 Studio Artists (clockwise from top left): Megan Mi-Ai Lee, Destiny Belgrave, American Artist, Anne Wu, Jesus Benavente, Sasha Wortzel. All photos by Etienne Frossard, 2022.

In an effort to maintain a safe space for all visitors, artists, and staff, Smack Mellon encourages masks to be worn in its public spaces. For more information, please read our COVID Courtesy Code prior to your visit.

Bios:

Monday July 18, 7pm EST: American Artist & Chester Toye, Creative Producer 

AMERICAN ARTIST creates work that considers black labor and visibility within networked life. Their practice makes use of sculpture, installation, and new media to reveal historical dynamics embedded within contemporary culture and technology. Their legal name change to “American Artist” serves as the basis of an ambivalent practice—one of declaration: by insisting on the visibility of blackness as descriptive of an American artist, and erasure: anonymity in virtual spaces where “American Artist” is an anonymous name, unable to be googled or validated by a computer as a person’s name.

Chester Vincent Toye is an award-winning filmmaker from South Orange, NJ. He makes disturbing, unsettling, and satirical dark-comedies. Chester received an MFA in Photography from UCLA and has studied improv at Upright Citizens Brigade Los Angeles. Chester’s most recent short, Ruby, premiered this spring at the Maryland Film Festival. His debut short film I’m SO Sorry premiered on No Budge in March 2021 and was named to the 2021 No Budge Films of the Year list. I’m SO Sorry went on to be an Official Selection at the Indie Memphis Film Festival where it won “Best Short” in the After Dark category. Chester approaches his films with a background in portrait photography and has long been interested in the complexity of representation. Growing up he was a standout athlete eventually playing Division 1 lacrosse at Lehigh University.

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Wednesday July 20th, 7pm EST
Megan Mi-Ai Lee & Herb Tam, Curator & Director of Exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America 

Megan Mi-Ai Lee’s work considers the nuances of persuasion and municipal intimacies through sculpture, video, drawing, photography, and text. Her work often examines the space around objects and the mechanisms built into experiences of the metropolis. The active spaces she creates form new narratives shaped by our experiences of objects and each other. By toying with isolated existing forms and their relationship in space, a row of lights in a corridor can have a second life as a string of pearls; the roadside sign for the New York, New York Hotel and Casino can be reproduced in its namesake city, revealing itself to be an amalgamation of New York symbols. Though the subjects range from moments of hyperlocal municipal intimacy to national transplantations of specific objects, her practice finds continuity in the desire to encourage a playful suspicion of familiar narratives of the everyday.

Herb Tam has been the Curator and Director of Exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) since 2011. He recently co-curated “The Moon Represents My Heart: Music, Memory and Belonging.” In 2016, Tam co-curated “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America.” Tam has previously served as the Associate Curator at Exit Art and the Acting Associate Curator at the Queens Museum of Art. Tam was born in Hong Kong and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He studied at San Jose State University and earned a masters in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts, New York.

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Thursday, July 21st, 7pm EST
Jesus Benavente & Jennie Lamensdorf, Independent Curator

Jesus Benavente is an amazing and attractive visual artist. Jesus Benavente earned an MFA from the Mason Gross School of Art at Rutgers University and attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He is a 2021-2022 Smack Mellon artist in residence, and a 2022 Chinati Foundation Artist in Residence. Recent exhibitions and performances include, Whitney Museum, New York, NY; Queens Museum, Queens, NY; LTD Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Performa 13, NY; Acre Projects, Chicago, IL; Find & Form Space, Boston, MA; Chashama, NY; Shin Museum of Art, South Korea; Vox Populi, Philadelphia, PA; Kingston Sculpture Biennial, Kingston, NY; Socrates Sculpture Park, NY and Austin Museum of Art, TX, among others. Born in San Antonio, TX, Jesus Benavente lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. San Anto es donde está mi corazón.

Jennie Lamensdorf is an arts worker based in Los Angeles, CA. Her work focuses on expanding audiences for the art of our time by bringing challenging and engaging work to non-traditional spaces. Jennie is the Partnerships Lead for Meta Open Arts, which builds community through creativity and empowers artists and cultural organizations to advance critical thinking and artistic production for the metaverse.

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Tuesday July 26th, 7pm EST
Anne Wu & Danni Shen, Writer & Curator

Anne Wu: A Dream Walking, 2021-22. Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT
Essay by Danni Shen

Anne Wu works primarily in sculpture and installation. Her practice often draws from the architectural structures and decorative elements found in existing urban landscapes—particularly Chinese immigrant neighborhoods. Gravitating towards architectural thresholds that separate public and private life, such as doorways, balconies, and railings, Wu reimagines these structures as isolated objects that point elsewhere and nowhere simultaneously. As they signal viewers to walk under, toward, and around, these sculptures provide a set of directions that eventually disappears, as if trailing off mid-sentence. Wu’s work has been exhibited at Real Art Ways (Hartford, CT), The Shed (New York, NY), NARS Foundation (Brooklyn, NY), Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon (New Lebanon, NY), and The New York Public Library (New York, NY), among others. She participated in the NARS Satellite Residency on Governors Island (2020) and BHQFU Emerging Artist Residency (2015). Wu received a BFA from Cornell University in 2013 and an MFA from Yale University in 2020.

Danni Shen is a curator and writer. She is currently the Curatorial & Public Programs Assistant at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (CCVA) at Harvard University. Previous curatorial roles include at The Kitchen, Empty Gallery, and Wave Hill in New York. She was also Visiting Critic at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and Curator-in-Residence at Residency Unlimited. Recent exhibitions include “Beast, Chimera, Kin” at the Hessel Museum of Art (2022) and “Collaborative Survival” at 601Artspace (2021). Shen is a contributor to various publications including BOMB Magazine, Art in America, Heichi Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, Rhizome, onscreentoday介面 among others, and is also a recipient of the Art Writing Workshop and the Art Critic Mentoring Program in collaboration with CUE Art Foundation x the International Association of Art Critics (AICA-USA). She holds an MA from the Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) Bard College. 

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Wednesday July 27th, 7pm EST
Sasha Wortzel & Kristan Kennedy, Artist & Curator at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art 

Sasha Wortzel is a Brooklyn-based visual artist and filmmaker, working frequently in South Florida. Blending the archival and the imaginary, Wortzel’s practice across video, installation, sculpture, sound, and performance traces the ways the past haunts and inextricably shapes contemporary American life. Wortzel’s films have been screened at the Museum of Modern Art’s DocFortnight, True/False Film Festival, DOC NYC, BAMcinemaFest, Blackstar, New Orleans Film Festival, Wexner Center for the Arts, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Berlinale, among others. Their work has been exhibited at the New Museum, Brooklyn Museum, The Kitchen, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; Krannert Art Museum, Champaign; and SALTS, Birsfelden. Wortzel has been supported by the Sundance Institute, Ford Foundation, Field of Vision, Doc Society, Chicken and Egg Pictures, Art Matters, and a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship. Wortzel has participated in residencies including Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Program, Abrons Arts Center, Watermill Center, New York; AIRIE (Artists in Residence in the Everglades) and Oolite Arts; Miami Beach. Wortzel’s film This is an Address (2020) is distributed by Field of Vision. Happy Birthday Marsha! (2018; co-director Tourmaline) won special mention at Outfest and is distributed by Frameline. Wortzel’s work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Studio Museum of Harlem, Leslie Lohman Museum of Art, and Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places collection. Wortzel has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, and New York Magazine.

Kristan Kennedy is a Portland-based artist, curator, and educator.  She is the Artistic Director, Curator of Visual Art for the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). In her role at PICA, Kennedy has focused on commissioning new work by international emerging artists in the form of large-scale, site-specific installations and solo projects that exist at the borders of genres. Kennedy teaches in the Visual Studies MFA program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) Contemporary Art and is on the board at the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts. Recent exhibitions include Flat Fix, Halsey McKay Gallery, NY; Eyes, Ditch Projects, OR; Sunday, Crisp-Ellert Museum, FL; Kristan Kennedy Meets a Clock, Soloway, NY; Sleeper, Fourteen30 Contemporary, OR; OO, Misako & Rosen, Tokyo; Tomorrow, Tomorrow, CANADA and Other Colors, Fourteen30 Contemporary.

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Thursday July 28th, 7pm EST
Destiny Belgrave & Chela Mitchell, Art Dealer & Advisor

Destiny Belgrave’s work is a mixed media whirlwind. Her Bajan and African American upbringing reside soundly within her, giving her a place to rest within the house of Blackness. At its core, her art upholds and uplifts black figures, activities, spaces, and objects, while portraying these entities as spiritual vessels and sacred experiences. She is mainly influenced by her own family, the domestic spaces that they inhabit and the many rituals, stories and photos that come from them. While sifting through these influences, she delves into the themes of Blackness, family, bonds, spirituality and culture. These influences and themes are physically manifested through paper cuts, paint, as well as digital and mixed media. When all of these things combine within the art, the piece that is created acts as a memento and a preserver for the lives and narratives that are in it.

Chela Mitchell has worked with institutions, corporations, and art collectors, informing their acquisitions in the emerging, mid-career, and established markets. Mitchell is a voice for change in the art world, often speaking on panels and actively fighting for the equity of artists and art professionals. Before devoting herself full-time to the art world, Chela worked as a fashion stylist at Net-a-Porter, Barney’s, Intermix, and Vogue Japan. Chela has been featured in Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, ArtNews, Artnet News, NR Magazine, W Magazine, Matrons and Mistresses, and 10 Magazine. She is a proud graduate of Rutgers University and lives in D.C. with her husband, daughter, and French mastiff, Harlem.

The Smack Mellon Artist Studio Program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, New York City Council Member Lincoln Restler, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts, and with generous support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund of The New York Community Trust, Jerome Foundation, Ruth Foundation for the ArtsMilton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation Inc., Select Equity Group Foundation, and Smack Mellon’s Members.  

Smack Mellon programs are also made possible with generous support from the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, The Roy and Niuta Titus Foundation, Robert Lehman Foundation, and Exploring The Arts. In-kind donations are provided by Materials for the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs/NYC Department of Sanitation/NYC Department of Education. 

Space for Smack Mellon’s programs is generously provided by the Walentas family and Two Trees Management.

Smack Mellon would like to extend a special thanks to all of the individuals, foundations, and businesses who have contributed to the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund.