During our countdown to the digital 25th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, which opens March 16, let's take some time to celebrate our team of curators. They are the crew who has been crisscrossing the state to assemble one of the largest prison exhibitions in the world.
Before COVID-19 hit the world last March, our curators saw almost 2,000 pieces of art created by some 660 incarcerated artists. About 800 of these pieces will be featured in the show, which recognizes a diversity of both artists and artistic choices and portrays a broad array of artistic media and subject matter.
Vince Mountain has worked professionally as a designer for a range of theatres, including small experimental companies, regional theatres, opera companies, commercial theatres and television/film. He has also served on the U-M faculty as Professor of Scene Design.
How did you get involved with PCAP? For how long?
Mountain: I got involved with PCAP in the fall of 2017 through an invite from Graham [Hamilton]. He and I had worked together on exhibits for an Ann Arbor group called Gallery Project, and he asked if I would be interested in going on any of the selection trips. That fall I went on the selection trip to Lakewood CF with a group of curators. It was a great experience and after helping with the exhibit set-up in March for the 24th Exhibition, PCAP invited me to be a curator in training for the 25th Exhibition.
For that exhibit I went on seven of the selections trip, participated in the curatorial second pass, and helped set up the exhibit, well, as far as we got until COVID shut everything down. Also, last year I helped design and build the video kiosk, which is a portable 3-projector and screen pipe structure used to present the 24th Exhibition DVD in various locales. It was first used at the School of Social Work, then at Stamps, and also in the lobby at the [PCAP fundraising] auction last year.
What is the best/and most challenging part of serving as a PCAP curator?
Mountain: For me the best part is the selection trips. Talking with the artists is so gratifying, humbling, inspiring, enriching... I love to talk about art, so talking with the men (I have not been to Huron Valley [women’s prison] yet, but hope to at some point) is a great shared human experience. Hearing where their ideas come from, or about ideas in the artwork, discussing techniques, future projects, is a fulfilling experience. And, hopefully my comments about the work is also helpful to the artists. What is your personal curatorial intention?Mountain: Obviously technique and degree of artistry are very important, but I am also equally interested in the ideas behind the artwork; does the work speak to larger socialor political issues, does it express a clear point of view from the artist, does it touch me on some emotional level, or does it portray common subject matter in a new light. Also, is the work from an established artist, or someone just starting out. I think it is important to encourage new artists to keep making work and exploring new ideas and methods. Sometimes celebrating a personal achievement in the creation of the work is enough to validate the artist's inclusion in the exhibition.
Could you share with us a special moment that happened during your work with PCAP?
Mountain: I can't think of a specific moment, but in general, the generosity of the artists has been special. At Lakewood CF, for example, having been there two years in row, it was nice to see some of the guys a second time. Also, there they provided us with cookies and juice from their kitchen, so it was a little bit of a party after we were done talking and selecting artwork.
Please, tell us about your artwork. What are you working on nowadays?
Mountain: I trained as a set designer for the stage; theatre and opera mostly. Along with teaching in the BFA Design & Production in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance for 26 years, I worked as a freelance stage designer at theatre companies around the U.S. About 10 years ago I also started working on Film & TV, and since retiring from U-M in June 2020, I work full-time now in the art department on films and TV series. Over the years, in addition to model-making, drawing, painting, and hand drafting for my theatre projects I have dabbled a little in painting and print-making, but I don't generally make my own artwork. My theatre artwork was always collaborative, so I guess I don't tend to self-generate artwork. That may change now that I have more time between film projects.