Art Slam pits two men in debate over work by Ansel Adams

Friday, April 9, 2010
gelatin silver print photograph by Ansel Adams (Vernal Fall, Yosemite Valley, California, 1948)

This isn't your father's art debate. The second Art Slam at the Crisp Museum will unfold as a no-holds-barred verbal cage match of sorts to entertain and provoke the audience.

Art Slam pits two individuals in a debate-style atmosphere discussing a particular exhibit. In this case, Dr. Christopher Rieger of Southeast Missouri State University's English Department will be debating Dr. Zenon Duda, a podiatrist and sculptor.

The exhibit that will be caught in the middle is "Ansel Adams: Masterworks," currently on display in the Crisp Museum. The exhibit features 48 photographs hand-picked by Adams as representative of his greatest work and is on display until June 27.

"We had a great turnout for the first [Art Slam]," said Peter Nguyen, museum director and organizer of the event. "And we're hoping to have the same type of turnout for this one coming up."

Audience participation during the debate is encouraged. People can shout responses to arguments or questions to the debaters. Nguyen said the first debate had some great feedback from the audience.

"We're changing it up a little bit in terms of where we're actually going to hold it," Nguyen said. The debate will be held in the permanent gallery, which is next to the exhibit gallery, to allow for more space. Adams' images will be shown using a projector.

Adams' works have been seen all over the world, and his photography of American landscapes and natural environments is widely known, making his subject matter perfect for the Art Slam.

Rieger shared how he plans to approach the debate.

"My angle is that I'm a literature professor, but my area that I deal with a lot is environmental approaches to literature, looking at nature and the environment in literary works," he said. "A photograph is a text, and a novel, poem or short story is a text, and so really it's kind of the same process, interpreting both."

Rieger said his "ecocriticism" is finding what Adams is trying to represent in his subject matter, as well as what viewers are trying to get out of it, whether that is what Adams intended or something completely different.

Nguyen said he thinks it will be interesting to see a podiatrist and a literature professor debating art.

"It's not going to be a straight 'gallery talk,'" he said. "They'll be kind of prodding and poking each other in terms of what they are going to be saying."

Nguyen suggests getting there early to get a good spot. Art Slam starts at 6:30 p.m. April 15 at the Crisp Museum and is free to the public.

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